Understanding workplace Diversity: Where are we?

Understanding workplace Diversity: Where are we? Although there is little agreement on the definition, we have chosen to define diversity as the ways in which people differ that may affect their organizational experiences in terms of performance, motivation, communication, and inclusion. Our definition is broad enough to recognize the impact of multiple dimensions of diversity and the ever-changing categories of group memberships that matter to people. To understand where diversity management is today, it is necessary to examine where it has been.

Understanding Workplace Diversity diversity training focused on how to avoid lawsuits. This approach often led to hiring unqualified workers to fulfill what was interpreted as a “quota” of women and minorities. At times, people were hired or promoted simply because of their race or gender which set them up for failure. Even when qualified women and people of color were selected, they were often expected to behave, dress, and talk like white men. The analogy often used then was that of a “melting pot” where everyone was expected to blend into the organization and minimize their differences. This led to poor morale, job turnover, and even backlash against the very groups the legislation was designed to benefit.

Understanding workplace Diversity

Rather than making systemic changes, some organizations interpreted “valuing differences” superficially by having ethnic food days, providing training that involved playing diversity games, or assigning diverse employees to jobs without much authority that involved taking care of other diverse employees and/or investigating discrimination claims. Yet, there were some organizations like IBM and Xerox where the leadership believed that diversity could be a competitive advantage (see the Pitney Bowes’ case); diversity was taken more seriously and resulted in significant organizational change. Thomas and Ely (1996) developed a model that classified diversity management into three organizational paradigms, or ways of viewing diversity: • Discrimination and fairness as exemplified more in the first era • Access and legitimacy that corresponds to the second era, where differences are emphasized and valued because they help organizations to understand and market to growing diverse and global markets • Learning and effectiveness where organizations connect diversity and its advantages to the organizational mission and goals which was at the time a novel idea for most companies

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