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Work Place Diversity

In the next 10 to 15 years, work in the United States will be influenced by a number of forces, including demographic trends, advances in technology, and the process of economic globalization. In many respects, these key factors have already played a role in defining the world of work in today’s economy. They have influenced the size and composition of the labor force, the features of the workplace, and the compensation structures provided by employers. How these factors continue to develop will further influence the workforce and the workplace, often in ways that can be predicted.

In some cases, however, conditions will change in ways that are, as yet, more uncertain. The evolution of these trends and their eventual consequences will clearly depend, to a great extent, on the decisions made by workers, employers, educators, and policymakers. Workplace Diversity in Today’s Context A liberal interpretation of diversity ranges from work style, personality , race, age, ethnicity or gender, to secondary influences such as religion, socioeconomics and education, to work diversities such as management and union, functional level and classification or proximity/distance to headquarters (Cole 2004).

Six central reasons to tie workplace diversity to organizational strategic goals and objectives are: 1. Greater adaptability and flexibility in a rapidly altering marketplace 2. Attracting and retaining the best talent 3. Abridging costs associated with turnover, absenteeism and low productivity 4. Return on investment (ROI) from several initiatives, policies and practices 5. Gaining and keeping greater/new market share (locally and globally) with an amplified diverse customer base 6. Enhanced sales and profits Topic for Discussion: Demography of the U. S. Labor Force

The United States, at the turn of the century, was described as a “melting pot,” where the immigrants flooding in, especially from Europe, were effectively blended into a homogeneous composite that lost much of the differences and characteristics that defined the various cultures. Even those groups that retained identity, through establishing subcultures, adopted American business norms and the free market economy foundations. These groups, most notably Chinese and Hispanics, often preserved the homogeneity of organizations by restricting social and economic interactions, thus creating separate and homogeneous subcultures.

(Michal 2005) Figure 1: Components of a Diversified Workforce This homogeneity leads to segregation of opportunities as well as restriction of perspectives and ideas. A more visionary, and useful, concept of diversity suggests that differences in characteristics such as age, gender, race, culture, and so forth, should be recognized and valued, not lost in conformity that produces people who all “look” the same. One Human Resources executive stated “We work hard to understand and value differences and we celebrate our diversity” (Rosen and Lovelace 1991).

Another perspective from Reed and Kelly (1993) suggested that diversity not only includes race, sex, age, and so forth, but also includes goals, values, role expectations, and thoughts. A logical extension of this position suggests including beliefs, subcultural norms, and personal histories. This fact has been corroborated by the perspectives of Triandis et al. and Reed and Kelly (1993), casting the net widely in defining diversity, incorporating both physical demographic characteristics as well as social and psychological differences reflected in attitudes, beliefs, values, and norms.

Organizations claim they seek to maximize diversity in the workplace, and enhance the capabilities of such a diverse workforce. The other is that traditional human resources systems will not allow diversity, only similarity. Until these two fundamental realities are reconciled, it is clear that diversity objectives will not be achieved. The actions of organizational decision makers to reinforce this notion of “fit” in their staffing decisions led Kanter (1977) to coin the term “homosocial reproduction” to refer to such staffing and promotion systems because only those are allowed to pass through (i.e. , to the next job or level in the organization) who share in common the characteristics reflected by the decision maker, dominant coalition, and/or the organizational culture.

The impact of such systems has been to create highly homogeneous work environments where people look, act, and think alike, and where conformity, not diversity, is the valued objective. In addition to self-selection by individuals, selection practices by organizations also tend to lead towards homogeneity in the workforce.

This may result from a conscious choice, such as indicated by the notion of “fit” as a basis for hiring. Organizations may likewise not be cognizant of such a tendency. Schneider (1987) argues that even when organizations recruit and hire on the basis of the various competencies required, they actually end up with persons highly similar in other attributes. Thus, in the long run, the triple mechanisms of attraction-selection-attrition ultimately result in homogeneity in organizations.