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'Managing Diversity In The Workplace

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John F. Kennedy once said " If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity."

Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools1

Kelli A. Green, Mayra Lуpez, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner2


The 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.

Supervisors and front-line managers could benefit from reading this paper. Supervisors and managers are the targeted audience because they need to recognize the ways in which the workplace is changing, evolving, and diversifying. Since managing diversity remains a significant organizational challenge, managers must learn the managerial 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.

This paper is designed for managers 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 diverse workforces.

Diversity Defined

Diversity 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 al., 1995).

Diversity 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.

Women in the Workplace

The need to understand diversity is also driven by women in the workplace. Today's workforce has the highest levels of employment participation ever by women. The number of dual income families and single working mothers has increased. Change in the family structure means that there are fewer men and women in traditional family roles (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1998). Therefore, diversity issues cut across both race and gender.

Organizational Restructuring

There have been significant changes to organizations as a result of downsizing and outsourcing, which has greatly affected human resource management. Work practices have changed due to the impact of globalization and technology and there is a trend toward longer working hours (Losyk, 1996). Generally speaking, reorganizations usually result in fewer people doing more.


Federal and State equal opportunity legislation make discrimination in workplaces illegal. These laws specify the rights and responsibilities of both associates and employers in the workplace and hold both groups accountable.

Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity 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

There are 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.



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