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Diversity in the Workplace - Part 1

The Employment Clinic

By Lawrence D. Alter

This is the first of a two-part series on diversity and discrimination in the workplace.

Josephine Baker (1906-1975), an internationally famous African American entertainer was quoted as saying, “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

The United States is perhaps the greatest cultural melting pot in the chronicle of civilization. We are a marriage of different ethnic groups, skin tones, religious heritage, and political ideologies that have come together to form the greatest country, and the greatest democracy in the history of our ever shrinking planet. No one should be denigrated or discriminated against based upon age, culture, ethnicity, skin color, religious belief, gender, or sexual preference. We certainly should not victimize those that are physically or mentally challenged. Yet prejudices abound. Discrimination is alive and healthy – and not just in the United States. The Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the northern and southern Chinese, Muslims and Hindus in India, Jews and Arabs in the middle east, ethnic hatred in the former Yugoslavia, the ages old genocide in African countries, and anti-Semitism – all examples of how hatred, fear, and territorialism have bred discrimination and dramatically altered the course of human events. Yes for minorities, just as for women, there are glass ceilings and sticky floors.

A recent study done at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and the University of Chicago Graduate school of Business demonstrated that people with “white-sounding” names are 50% more likely to get a response to their resumes than those job seekers with “black-sounding” names. Those people with Arabic or Middle Eastern sounding names face major hurdles, especially since 9/11, in overcoming stereotypes and eliminating prejudices. What can you do to overcome those small minds which create road-blocks along your career highway?

What is Diversity?

Everyone is unique. Each of us has value to contribute to an organization. Diversity is when an organization recognizes our individuality and promotes awareness, understanding, and respect for those differences, emphasizing quality of work experience. It focuses on helping an organization to reach its mission while meeting the needs of all within the group. It permeates an organization from its recruitment efforts, to compensation and benefits, awards and recognition, employee growth and development, providing a nurturing work environment, and fostering mentoring relationships. The ultimate focus is on the quality of its employee’s work-life experience. Diversity is not a problem; it is the solution, and an opportunity for all employees to play a significant role. It also provides an environment for all within the group to benefit through new ideas and concepts learned only in a diverse cultural environment. When an organization emphasizes and promotes diversity, everyone wins including the company. It creates advantages in advertising and public relations campaigns, provides a larger pool of talent from which to draw employees, contributes to the flow of new and often innovative ideas, and increases the organization’s effectiveness in developing successful multicultural marketing programs to meet the needs of a wide-ranging customer base.

A 2003 research study conducted for the New York Times Job Market showed that 67% of all organizations surveyed were actively recruiting diversity candidates. The research conducted by Beta Research Corporation identified workplace diversity trends. It involved 500 hiring managers and 350 minority jobseekers nationwide. More than half of the hiring managers and two-thirds of the job seekers defined diversity as a mixture of different people encompassing different religious, ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. The majority of those organizations surveyed found their minority candidates through referrals by current employees, newspaper and Web advertising, communicating with groups representing minority associations, and sponsoring mentoring programs for diverse employees.

How can you benefit from diversity?

View your differences as advantages. Differences are desirable. Your heritage is a source of strength. Being fluent in more than one language, having conducted business internationally or having familiarity with different cultural traditions is a definite asset to an organization that prides itself on its diversity. Having a heterogeneous workforce is a significant advantage to any company that wishes to appeal to a wide variety of customers or market its products and services globally. Traditionally people try to minimize their differences. Yet it is these very differences that make us unique as individuals and help to create a more vibrant and dynamic workplace. Regardless of the origin of those differences, they are the things that make us who we are. Although being a diversity candidate can be an advantage, your success in achieving an offer will be determined by how effectively you present your particular skills, demonstrate your ability to be part of a cohesive team effort, and the way in which you conduct yourself.

Part 2 to follow: how to benefit from your diversity and conquer discrimination.

Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Call (952) 697-3663 or send ideas and questions to: LDA@EmploymentClinic.com