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Managing diversity in the workplace: 7 tips for success


Remember the last time you went to a lively dinner party? One with a mix of different people with plenty of interesting things to say?

You may not have noticed, but the host was busy bringing people together, making them feel welcome and moving the conversation along.

Managing diversity in the workplace is much the same as hosting a lively dinner. Assembling the right mix of employees on your team and in your business is the first step, but you’ll need to be vigilant and committed to make it a success.

What is workforce diversity?

Before you can start managing diversity in the workplace, you have to know what it is. And the definition may surprise you.

Diversity is anything that makes people different from one another. I’m sure you know you shouldn’t discriminate based on race, gender, national origin or disability. But there’s more.

Religion, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, political affiliation or opinions, military service, mental and physical conditions, personality, education, favorite sports team – all of these fall under the umbrella of diversity, which, if not managed correctly, can open the door to charges of discrimination or employee relations matters.

What are the benefits of managing diversity in the workplace?

Building a diverse environment and team has some challenges, but the advantages far outweigh them. Employing people with various backgrounds has the potential to give your company a leg up because it can:

  • Spark creativity with an infusion of new ideas and perspectives
  • Give you a head start on innovation because you’re drawing ideas from different types of people
  • Help you relate better to your target audience
  • Align your culture more closely with the reality of our nation
  • Broaden the appeal of your sales pitch and provide insight into client demographics
  • Improve how your team interacts with clients and the public, and increase customer satisfaction

How do I create and manage workplace diversity?

In order to create and maintain a diverse workplace, you first must learn to:

  • Identify with others who are different from you
  • Be willing to take other perspectives into account
  • Be able to embrace those very traits that make us different
  • Recognize everyone’s contributions

Now what about those challenges? How do you handle them?

1. Hire the most-qualified people

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But it’s often hard to look beyond the “this is the way we always do it” mentality to get to the true qualities of the person sitting across from you during the interview.

First of all, your goal should not be to force a diverse environment or impose any artificial rules. If you hire the most-qualified people, those with the right education, experience and skill set, a diverse workplace will naturally follow.

Level the playing field by putting uniform and equal practices in place. Are you documenting every interview in a consistent manner? Are all applicants for a position asked the same type of questions?

Managers may need to be trained in the basics of interview techniques, documentation and what can and cannot be asked. For example, questions about an applicant’s personal life, such as how many kids they have or where they go to church, are strictly off-limits.

2. Recruit outside the box

Finding candidates who have different backgrounds and experience can be difficult in some industries or areas. If that’s your situation, look for better, more creative ways to recruit.

For instance, if you’d like to include highly qualified engineers who are women, expand your recruiting efforts to professional organizations in which they might be members. Try job fairs in other parts of town or other cities.

3. Put your policies in writing

Confirm that all of your personnel policies include documentation about equality, including hiring, pay and promotions based solely on performance. Your employee handbook should address diversity in the following sections:

  • Code of conduct should outline the company’s policy toward diversity
  • Communication plan should detail non-discriminatory communication
  • Non-discrimination policy lets people know about the laws and exactly what is not allowed
  • Compensation and benefits policy
  • Employment and termination policy 

4. Enforce a zero-tolerance policy

Off-color jokes about people’s differences or stereotypical slurs have no place in today’s workplace. Put policies in place to handle transgressions and let it be known they will not be tolerated.

Encourage employees to report any instances of this type of behavior. Establish formal grievance policies and procedures so that employees know exactly how to report issues and managers can respond promptly. Managers must be responsible for holding people accountable.

5. Stay current

Keep abreast of changing employer-related laws and trends. Be sure your human resources policies, especially those around harassment and equal opportunity, reflect the most current information.

Remember laws vary from state to state, and they can change at lightning speed. What’s accepted this month may not be the next.

Good resources to stay abreast of news are websites for the Society of Human Resources Management and Bloomberg BNA (Bureau of National Affairs).

6. Secure executive buy-in

Executives and upper management need to be on board and model open-minded behavior. For example, they should:

  • Treat all employees with respect and not show favoritism toward a particular group
  • Act swiftly if there is a diversity breach, such as an employee making jokes about a pregnant woman’s weight gain
  • Communicate about the value of diversity at company-wide meetings

If you meet resistance, you may want to counter with a list of ways that diversity in the workplace can be good for business and a reminder of the legal consequences for ignoring it.

7. Invest in sensitivity training

Some people might be reluctant to get on the diverse workplace bandwagon, especially in an industry or business that has been a particular way for a long time.

Even if this is not the case in your business, sensitivity training is a good investment in your culture, and in some states it’s required. It can help employees:

  • Examine and adjust their perspectives about people who are different than they are
  • Appreciate the views of others
  • Learn exactly what is offensive
  • Communicate calmly if someone offends them
  • Apologize if they unknowingly offend someone

All employees should be included in the training; adding special training for managers makes it even more impactful. Some companies even offer sensitivity training online.

If possible, it’s best to offer sensitivity training before problems occur. Prevention is often easier and more effective than damage control.

In addition to managing diversity in the workplace, want to learn more about creating a harmonious, effective workplace? Download our e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.