Diversity Issues in Work Places

by Jennifer Burton

Diversity issues are important in early 21st century workplaces. Ethnicity, race, economic background, religion, gender and age are all critical components of a company's environment. Diversity in an organization can create tensions, but it can also foster creative cooperation among people from a variety of backgrounds, education, and experience. These differences can benefit a company greatly, or they can tear it apart at the seams. Managers and leaders must be cognizant of the effects of diversity and also be willing to promote a team environment.

Cultural Factors

Each individual brings a unique cultural background comprised of ethnicity, race and religion. A person's ethnic heritage influences his belief system, traditions, and relationships with others. Similarly, someone's color can affect how he interacts with employees based on his environment growing up. For instance, an African American man will generally have a different perspective from an Asian young woman.

Religion and Money

Economic background also plays a role in the varying viewpoints of two individuals. Being raised in a rich community versus a neighborhood in which the residents are always struggling can definitely affect an individual's outlook on life. Managers should be aware of these possibilities and treat all employees equally, regardless of their cultural background. Further, religion may have a huge impact on an organization's diversity, as religious holidays can affect an employee's involvement in certain activities within the company such as holiday parties or after hours events.

Gender Differences

The age-old comparison between women and men can be applied to the issue of diversity within the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 46.6 percent of the United States workforce as of February 2013. Women and men are genetically, physically and emotionally different. Thus, men and women bring a different perspective to the company, which can be very beneficial for organizations in creating a comprehensive view of all projects and decisions. Managers should encourage team building exercises in all departments, joining diverse groups of people to collaborate for the good of the organization.

Generational Gaps

Within the 2013 workforce, several generations are working within the same industry, and often, as employees of one organization. The baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) do not understand their co-workers of Generation X (those born in the 1960s and 1970s) and especially the Millennials (or Generation Y, born after 1980). The priorities and view of work of each generation has been influenced by the circumstances surrounding their childhood and professional lives. According to Lauren Rikleen in an interview with Dan Schawbel of Forbes magazine, "Millennials are about the size of the baby boomers, and the generation in between the 2 – Gen X – is significantly smaller.

Diverse Leadership

As boomers approach retirement, there are simply not enough Gen Xers to fill the leadership gap. It is necessary to the sustainability of the workplace to develop future talent and train tomorrow’s leaders. Tomorrow’s leaders happen to be Millennials." With this in mind, it is crucial that managers train the leaders of tomorrow to work cooperatively with individuals from all different backgrounds culturally, economically, religiously, as well as taking into consideration the generational gap and the gender differences in the workforce.

About the Author

Jennifer Burton is a human resources professional based in California. She holds an M.A. in American studies from California State University, Fullerton.

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