Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and
the Required Managerial Tools1
Kelli A. Green, Mayra López, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner2
world's increasing globalization requires more interaction among people
from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds than ever before. People
no longer live and work in an insular marketplace; they are now part of
a worldwide economy with competition coming from nearly every continent.
For this reason, profit and non-profit organizations need diversity to
become more creative and open to change. Maximizing and capitalizing on
workplace diversity has become an important issue for management today.
Since diversity remains a significant
organizational challenge, staff must learn the skills
needed in a multicultural work environment. Supervisors and managers
must be prepared to teach themselves and others within their
organizations to value multicultural differences in both associates and
customers so that everyone is treated with dignity.
is designed for staff to effectively manage diverse workforce
populations. It provides a general definition for "diversity", discusses
the benefits of diversity in the workplace, the challenges of managing a
diverse workplace, and presents effective strategies for managing
is generally defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting,
valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to age,
class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual
orientation, spiritual practice, and public assistance status (Esty, et
issues are now considered important and are projected to become even
more important in the future due to increasing differences in the U.S.
population. Companies need to focus on diversity and look for ways to
become totally inclusive organizations because diversity has the
potential of yielding greater productivity and competitive advantages (SHRM,
1995). Stephen G. Butler, co-chair of the Business-Higher Education
Forum, believes that diversity is an invaluable competitive asset that
America cannot afford to ignore (Robinson, 2002). Managing and valuing
diversity is a key component of effective people management, which can
improve workplace productivity (Black Enterprise, 2001).
Demographic changes (women in the workplace, organizational
restructurings, and equal opportunity legislation) will require
organizations to review their management practices and develop new and
creative approaches to managing people. Changes will increase work
performance and customer service.
of Diversity in the Workplace
is beneficial to both associates and employers. Although associates are
interdependent in the workplace, respecting individual differences can
increase productivity. Diversity in the workplace can reduce lawsuits
and increase marketing opportunities, recruitment, creativity, and
business image (Esty, et al., 1995). In an era when flexibility and
creativity are keys to competitiveness, diversity is critical for an
organization's success. Also, the consequences (loss of time and money)
should not be overlooked.
Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace
challenges to managing a diverse work population. Managing diversity is
more than simply acknowledging differences in people. It involves
recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination, and
promoting inclusiveness. Managers may also be challenged with losses in
personnel and work productivity due to prejudice and discrimination and
complaints and legal actions against the organization (Devoe, 1999).
attitudes and behaviors can be barriers to organizational diversity
because they can harm working relationships and damage morale and work
productivity (Esty, et al., 1995). Negative attitudes and behaviors in
the workplace include prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, which
should never be used by management for hiring, retention, and
termination practices (could lead to costly litigation).
Tools for Managing Diversity
staff are aware that certain skills are necessary for creating a
successful, diverse workforce. First, staff must understand
discrimination and its consequences. Second, staff must recognize
their own cultural biases and prejudices (Koonce, 2001). Diversity is
not about differences among groups, but rather about differences among
individuals. Each individual is unique and does not represent or speak
for a particular group. Finally, staff must be willing to change the
organization if necessary (Koonce, 2001). Organizations need to learn
how to manage diversity in the workplace to be successful in the future
Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for success. It mainly depends
on the manager's ability to understand what is best for the organization
based on teamwork and the dynamics of the workplace. According to
Roosevelt (2001), managing diversity is a comprehensive process for
creating a work environment that includes everyone. When creating a
successful diverse workforce, an effective manager should focus on
personal awareness. Staff need to be aware of
their personal biases. Therefore, organizations need to develop,
implement, and maintain ongoing training because a one-day session of
training will not change people's behaviors (Koonce, 2001). Managers
must also understand that fairness is not necessarily equality. There
are always exceptions to the rule.
diversity is about more than equal employment opportunity and
affirmative action (Losyk, 1996). Managers should expect change to be
slow, while at the same time encouraging change (Koonce, 2001).
vital requirement when dealing with diversity is promoting a "safe"
place for associates to communicate (Koonce, 2001). Social gatherings
and business meetings, where every member must listen and have the
chance to speak, are good ways to create dialogues. Managers should
implement policies such as mentoring programs to provide associates
access to information and opportunities. Also, associates should never
be denied necessary, constructive, critical feedback for learning about
mistakes and successes (Flagg, 2002).
workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace. Diverse
work teams bring high value to organizations. Respecting individual
differences will benefit the workplace by creating a competitive edge
and increasing work productivity. Diversity management benefits
associates by creating a fair and safe environment where everyone has
access to opportunities and challenges. Management tools in a diverse
workforce should be used to educate everyone about diversity and its
issues, including laws and regulations. Most workplaces are made up of
diverse cultures, so organizations need to learn how to adapt to be
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1. This is EDIS document HR 022, a publication
of the Department of Food and Resource Economics, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Published July 2002. Available
on the World Wide Web at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
Kelli A. Green, graduate student; Mayra López, graduate student; Allen
Wysocki, Assistant Professor; and Karl Kepner, Distinguished Professor;
Department of Food and Resource Economics, Florida Cooperative Extension
Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of
Florida, Gainesville, FL.