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The perfect mix

Diversity can make a good workplace great

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2006

For years now, companies have been making a concerted effort to include a diverse group of workers as part of the team. But the face of diversity has changed over the years to include more than just racial and ethnic minorities.

Sexual minorities, even single parents and educational status are included in this very broad term. So what are companies doing to attract and - more importantly - retain an employee base that reflects the spectrum of faces in America?

On the whole, creating an inclusive atmosphere that embraces an employee's background and experience, not a stereotype, is key, says Jonathan Segal, vice chair of the employment services group at WolfBlock LLP based in Philadelphia.

"As an example, many organizations struggle with work-life balance, and although women and men both struggle with this, there are still in most industries more women than men who will work part-time," says Segal. "So, could an organization say, 'We want our next COO to be a woman to help with that?'" The answer would be no. But, you could say, 'managing work-life balance is a critical part of our operation, and we want the person to who is going to be our new COO to have successfully worked in a part-time capacity, because we want someone who has been there and done that.'"

Although there are likely to be more women than men who meet the prerequisite, the position cannot legally be filled by a woman based on her gender alone, he adds.

"Diversity initially began as a topic of conversation that focused heavily on race, gender and ethnicity, and those factors are clearly a critical part of diversity," Segal says. "Today, it goes beyond those protected groups. Things like the diversity in problem-solving style, single versus married, children versus no children, high wealth and low wealth, political affiliations and sexual orientation. It's a much broader scope that goes beyond the traditional protected groups."

Unique throughout

Eric Douglas Keene, president of Keene Advisory Group LLC, a Chicago-based executive search firm, says that diversity is about more than what's on the surface.

"Companies fairing the best on the issues of diversity don't inject quotas on the back end of the process, but work with the right executive search and staffing firms from the beginning to gain access to the most robust talent pools available for any given need," he explains.

For the record, quotas are illegal. That means, companies that seek a specific gender, race, ethnicity and so on, for a specific position are going against the law. In actuality, job candidates should be chosen solely on their experience and what they can bring to the company - not the color of their skin.

This is an issue that Myrtle Bell, chair of the Gender and Diversity in Organizations Division of the Academy of Management in Arlington, Texas, discusses with her students every week.

"Attracting [diverse employees] is one thing, but if they aren't treated fairly when they get there, then you're just chasing your tail," she says. "Retention is how well do you treat those employees when they get there. A lot of companies are talking a good game, but they're not doing much."

One and all

For many companies, providing a range of benefits that include domestic partners and elderly workers, for example, are a good start to an inclusion policy. Others go beyond the minimum by celebrating their diverse employees every day. This results in an all-inclusive work environment for everyone.

"Given the war for talent over the next years with a decreasing shortage of available employees for hire, any company wishing to survive and maintain profits in the next decade must have a systematic approach to addressing the needs of a highly diverse workforce," explains Jim Jenkins, president of Creative Visions Consulting in Frederick, Md.

"Diversity is no longer about gender and race for most companies, and now they must consider such dimensions as sexual orientation, parents, behavioral styles and military service. To attract and retain the top talent, a company must become highly public in promoting a sense of diversity and inclusion."



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