THE EVOLUTION OF WORKPLACE DIVERSITY

We would be wrong to say that diversity in the workplace is anything new. In fact, the number of women; members of visible minorities; persons with disabilities; Aboriginal peoples; and LGBTQ peoples actively participating in the workforce continues to grow at a considerable pace throughout the world. This phenomenon is not predicted to stagnate anytime soon either. In 2006, the foreign-born population consisted of almost 20% of Canada’s total population. Increasing numbers of women continue to participate in the workforce and gain access to higher profile positions and pay. Persons with disabilities are equipped with new technological advancements enabling them to adapt the workplace to their needs. Aboriginal people continue to assert their rights and more LGBTQ people live openly than ever before. So why did we choose to address this issue in our HR Trends article in this edition might you ask?

While there is no surprise at the increasingly diverse landscape that is the North American workforce, we are consistently witnessing change in the way diversity is handled within organizations across the spectrum. As the results of more formal studies come out and more and more organizations begin to carefully scrutinize past investments in diversity initiatives, it seems that most are beginning to rethink past approaches in favour of a new type of diversity management which plays a far more integral role within the organization, its workforce, and its operations. A one-time seminar on the fundamentals of cultural sensitivity or a stale policy addressing the issue in a 100-page employee handbook is simply not proving to be an effective means of dealing with organizational realities. While this shouldn’t be any surprise to HR practitioners out there, the fact of the matter is that many previously believed that such methods could serve as a quick-fix to many of the issues that workplace diversity began to highlight. Diversity today relates to more than quotas, legal aspects, ethics and the likes… Diversity today changes the entire dynamic of an organization. It requires that management revisit company culture; HR practices; management and communication styles; policies, practices, and standards just to name a few. We are now talking about the new ‘norm’. We are now talking about creating a synergy from within that takes everyone’s individual strengths, weaknesses, work habits and styles, approaches, personalities and other characteristics and harnesses these differences in order to create an energy and competitive advantage that will enable organizations to perform better, innovate, surpass, and ultimately reap the financial benefits of their investments in human capital.

So what practices are proving to be effective given these new standards? The most reputable ‘diversity champs’ are heading up their efforts with some form of task force, board or committee (call it what you want) consisting of representatives of different departments, functions, levels, etc. The only real thing these individuals have in common is their willingness to invest valuable time, effort, and energy into making diversity a priority in the workplace. That is, they made the decision to be a part of this group believing that their efforts would help support and drive the organizations diversity efforts. They believe that they have the capacity to identify real issues and address them with solutions that are not only suitable, but effective. In smaller organizations, we may be talking less about a committee and more about a small group… Or even an individual. The point is diversity management is now a full-time concern that requires full-time efforts. No ‘quick fixes’ will result in the outcomes that will be most profitable for an organization. Smaller efforts must be aligned with overall vision, practices, and strategies in order for an organization to reap any return on their investment! 

Company culture, vision, mission, objectives… These key words can be found in practically any and all HR-related publications from the past decade. Want to know something else? It may just be time to begin revisiting these once more! A company’s culture should reflect its constituents and a culture that everyone can relate to can be a very powerful medium to help create a sense of belonging internally. Considering how much the workforce has shifted, it is only natural that the company culture would change somewhat to more accurately reflect its members. In addition, corporate visions, missions, and objectives are beginning to incorporate more and more elements of diversity given that the issue is playing a bigger part within the organization.

Coaching, training and development, mentoring, recruitment, on-boarding, employee relations, orientation, support, performance assessments, empowerment, engagement, goal setting, team building, negotiations, organizational development, performance planning, staffing, strategic HRM, workforce planning… Regardless of what an organization is contemplating, diversity can and should be a consideration in the planning of these activities. Each individual has their own way of thinking, doing, and learning which is very likely to impact your efforts either positively or negatively. If these differences are taken into consideration early on in the planning phase, companies can maximize their returns on investments in human capital and ensure that their efforts bring out the best in their workforce.

Please share your diversity-related questions, concerns, challenges, and success stories with us! We would love to further discuss the matter with our readers.

Happy reading,

Ashley Bourque
Assessment and Evaluation Consultant