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Workforce Diversity:
Changing the Way You Do Business

By: Rob McInnes, Diversity World

As we enter the 21st century, workforce diversity has become an essential business concern. In the so-called information age, the greatest assets of most companies are now on two feet (or a set of wheels). Undeniably, there is a talent war raging. No company can afford to unnecessarily restrict its ability to attract and retain the very best employees available.

Generally speaking, the term “Workforce Diversity” refers to policies and practices that seek to include people within a workforce who are considered to be, in some way, different from those in the prevailing constituency. In this context, here is a quick overview of seven predominant factors that motivate companies, large and small, to diversify their workforces:

As a Social Responsibility

Because many of the beneficiaries of good diversity practices are from groups of people that are “disadvantaged” in our communities, there is certainly good reason to consider workforce diversity as an exercise in good corporate responsibility. By diversifying our workforces, we can give individuals the “break” they need to earn a living and achieve their dreams.

As an Economic Payback

Many groups of people who have been excluded from workplaces are consequently reliant on tax-supported social service programs. Diversifying the workforce, particularly through initiatives like welfare-to-work, can effectively turn tax users into tax payers.

As a Resource Imperative

The changing demographics in the workforce, that were heralded a decade ago, are now upon us. Today’s labor pool is dramatically different than in the past. No longer dominated by a homogenous group of white males, available talent is now overwhelmingly represented by people from a vast array of backgrounds and life experiences.  Competitive companies cannot allow discriminatory preferences and practices to impede them from attracting the best available talent within that pool.

As a Legal Requirement

Many companies are under legislative mandates to be non-discriminatory in their employment practices. Non-compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity or Affirmative Action legislation can result in fines and/or loss of contracts with government agencies. In the context of such legislation, it makes good business sense to utilize a diverse workforce.

As a Marketing Strategy

Buying power, particularly in today’s global economy, is represented by people from all walks of life (ethnicities, races, ages, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, etc.) To ensure that their products and services are designed to appeal to this diverse customer base, “smart” companies, are hiring people, from those walks of life - for their specialized insights and knowledge. Similarly, companies who interact directly with the public are finding increasingly important to have the makeup of their workforces reflect the makeup of their customer base.

As a Business Communications Strategy

All companies are seeing a growing diversity in the workforces around them - their vendors, partners and customers. Companies that choose to retain homogenous workforces will likely find themselves increasingly ineffective in their external interactions and communications.

As a Capacity-building Strategy

Tumultuous change is the norm in the business climate of the 21st century. Companies that prosper have the capacity to effectively solve problems, rapidly adapt to new situations, readily identify new opportunities and quickly capitalize on them. This capacity can be measured by the range of talent, experience, knowledge, insight, and imagination available in their workforces. In recruiting employees, successful companies recognize conformity to the status quo as a distinct disadvantage. In addition to their job-specific abilities, employees are increasingly valued for the unique qualities and perspectives that they can also bring to the table. According to Dr. Santiago Rodriguez, Director of Diversity for Microsoft, true diversity is exemplified by companies that “hire people who are different – knowing and valuing that they will change the way you do business.”

For whichever of these reasons that motivates them, it is clear that companies that diversify their workforces will have a distinct competitive advantage over those that don’t. Further, it is clear that the greatest benefits of workforce diversity will be experienced, not by the companies that that have learned to employ people in spite of their differences, but by the companies that have learned to employ people because of them.


© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 1999
(If not used for commercial purposes, this article may be reproduced, all or in part, providing it is credited to "Rob McInnes, Diversity World - www.diversityworld.com". If included in a newsletter or other publication, we would appreciate receiving a copy.)


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