Managing a Diverse and Inclusive Organization

As our work expands we are finding that more often supervisors are asking for assistance in managing a workforce that is becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive. This edition discusses the changes managers are experiencing in the ever changing workforce and the next edition will talk about diversity initiatives which may benefit your organization.

Some managers within organizations expect that, as the diversity of the population changes, so too will the diversity of their workforce. They believe that if people within the various diverse communities are “qualified,” then they would be hired into the organization. They believe that change will happen naturally over time.

However, a diverse and inclusive organization does not happen by chance. It requires a commitment from senior management and a plan to identify and address any issues. Diversity and inclusion is a journey that must be deliberately begun, boldly led, and constantly nurtured. Organizations must also recognize that there is no one right approach that fits all organizations. The journey each organization takes will depend on its size, types of services it offers, the organizational culture, current issues, resources and internal knowledge, internal resistance and support, and it current client base.

The diversity and inclusion journey can be challenging for organizations. Beginning and engaging in a meaningful change may challenge the perceptions of those who think the organization is doing well and doesn’t need to change. There may be different views on what diversity and inclusion means, what the issues are within the organization and what change is needed to address these issues. There may also be different levels of acceptance of diversity and inclusion, and different perspectives about how to create a more inclusive and diverse organization.
This dialogue may also lead to a discussion of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression that affect employees. It may lead to discussions of power and privilege and a questioning of the power structure in the organization.

These discussions are not easy. Efforts to make the organization more inclusive may challenge individual perceptions and may unearth unanticipated problems. The temptation may be to shy away from continuing the journey. But, this may just drive the issues underground.

While the process is challenging and requires time and commitment, it can also be rewarding. The payoff for becoming a diverse and inclusive organization will be a more effective, responsive and successful organization.

While the discussions may be challenging, these discussions are part of the process and can be transformative – not only for the organization but for individuals as well. It is one which companies operating in today’s market must undertake.

To begin the diversity journey, organizations need to develop a business case that will help to incorporate diversity and inclusion into all aspects of the organization and broaden its understanding of diversity and inclusion.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the argument for diversity and inclusion was based on a moral imperative. The argument was that “it’s the right thing to do.” Since then, organizations have shifted from seeing diversity only as a moral imperative to seeing it as a strategic imperative. Today, addressing issues of diversity is no longer only an issue of social justice. Instead, organizations are recognizing the business need to address issues of diversity and inclusion.

Over the decades, many organizations have realized that inclusive workplaces lead to increased job satisfaction among employees and lower turnover rates, which then increases productivity and lowers operating costs. In addition, organizations situated in large urban areas, which have been the primary settlement areas for immigrants, have seen significant changes to the diversity of the communities around them. These organizations have come to realize that in order to better serve their clients and to ensure they are able to meet their labour needs; they need to ensure greater diversity within their workforce.

There is a growing body of literature that makes a compelling business case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The literature identifies that diversity initiatives often result in a number of benefits to the organization.

The next edition will talk about the different initiatives that will benefit your organization from improving service to clients to reducing human resource costs and improving productivity.

Thanks to Tana Turner, senior associate with the Aviary Group for submitting this article, Spring 2008.

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