Diversity in the workplace means having a group of employees with a wide range of different backgrounds in terms of race, age, gender, and other characteristics. Having a diverse workforce is a good thing, but it can also present some challenges.
Here are some interesting diversity trends that provide some background on why this issue is important:
- Today’s American workforce includes nearly one-third who are minorities, nearly one-half who are women, and more than 10 percent who are aged 55 or older—so it’s already pretty diverse.
- By the year 2020, the percentage of minorities in the workforce is projected to go up to more than 40 percent, and the percentage of older workers is expected to go up, as well
- Finally, by the year 2050, nearly half of the workforce is expected to be minorities, and the percentage of workers over the age of 55 will increase to almost 20 percent.
You can see by these statistics that in future years the American workforce will be even more diverse than it is today.
How Are We Diverse?
Here are some of the ways in which workplaces are diverse:
- By race—but keep in mind that members of the same race can be very different from one another;
- By gender—gender differences are particularly noticeable in jobs that traditionally have been all male or all female, but now increasingly include both males and females;
- By physical appearances—such as height, weight, and hair color;
- By age—age and generational differences are likely to be more noticeable as the number of older Americans in the workforce increases;
- By education—educational differences can affect the way different people approach the same job;
- By cultural background—this may reflect race or country of origin, but it may also reflect how we celebrate different holidays or what language is spoken at home;
- And finally, by physical abilities—these take into account both special talents and special needs, including physical disabilities.
Think about the ways in which your workplace is diverse.
In addition to the diversity that can be obvious among people, such as gender and age, there are also diversities among people that may not be so obvious.
- Mental/psychological disabilities,
- Beliefs and values,
- Sexual orientation, and
- Personal habits.
It’s important that we be aware of these differences, even though they may not come through in the workplace every day.
There are challenges in being part of a diverse workforce if you’re prepared for it:
- Differences among people are OK. Keep in mind that being “different” doesn’t mean “better” or “worse”—it just means “different.”
- Coordinating different styles of working can be challenging because not everyone approaches a task in exactly the same way.
- Learning to communicate across cultural and language differences can also be a real challenge. Clear and open communication is key to working successfully in a diverse group.
- Developing flexibility is another important ingredient in dealing with diversity. It’s important not only to listen to new ideas but also to implement different approaches.
- Finally, we should be willing to adapt to change. This includes both changes in the workforce itself and changes in the way we approach our daily tasks.