What is “Diversity“?
“It’s hard to define what diversity is because everyone has an opinion.”
– Goldman Sachs diversity ad, 2000
Defining diversity is not something that is easy because diversity doesn’t have a true meaning. Everyone holds there own opinions on the definition of diversity. Although there are some scholars that define diversity. The University of Maryland defines diversity as, “…the representation of multiple…groups within a prescribed environment, such as a…workplace.differences between cultural groups.respecting cultural differences by recognizing that no one culture is intrinsically superior to another.”
Cultural diversity created measures of diversity that were independent of race or gender (for example, life experiences, socio-economic background, language proficiencies, and more) and therefore could benefit all employees, which includes white males. While the cultural diversity movement made strides in correcting the perception that diversity existed to benefit exclusively women and minorities the application of cultural diversity has also occasionally created absurd results when, for example, employers are encouraged to view “every employee as a minority of one,” or when diversity has been water- downed to merely another “soft” management skill.
The Origin of Diversity
The first modern equal employment legislation was introduced in Congress in 1943. In 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to desegregate the armed services which some scholars cite as the first diversity initiative in the workplace. The Executive Order 9981 required equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed services, however it did not expressly forbid segregation. As a result of this order, by 1953, 95% of African American Army soldiers were serving in integrated units.
In the 1960’s, social and political changes resulted in the passage of civil rights legislation that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and later on, age. For example. the legislative history of Title VII reflected a concern that a particular racial or ethnic composition of employees in the workforce should not be mandated. People that opposed Title VII feared that the Act could be interpreted to require employers with a racially imbalanced workforce to grant preferential treatment to racial minorities.
In 1987 the secretary of labor, William Brock commissioned a study of economic and demographic trends that became the landmark book Workforce 2000 – Work and Workers in the Twenty First Century. Workforce 2000 highlighted five demographic factors that would impact the U.S. labor market and the motivation for diversity initiatives in the workplace:
- The population and the workforce will grow more slowly than at any time since the 1930s.
- The average age of the population and the workforce will rise, and the pool of young workers entering the labor market will shrink.
- More women will enter the workforce.
- Minorities will be a larger share of the new entrants into the labor force.
- Legal and illegal immigrants will represent the largest share of the increase in the population and the workforce since World War I.
To some citizens, the trends suggested that diversifying the workforce was an important economically if companies were to remain competitive and able to attract workers, and were able to create a diversity industry. As a result of these trends, companies began focusing their efforts on creating the “business case” for their diversity efforts. Companies sought to measure diversity in terms of turnover, retention, productivity, succession planning, public image, revenue/market share and even stock value. Diversity initiatives were broadened dramatically to include flexible schedules, emergency daycare, flexibility in dress requirements, non-standard career paths, phased retirement and domestic partner benefits.
Diversity and Affirmative Action
Diversity is often referred to interchangeably with affirmative action. Due to this diversity often suffers from some of the same negative perceptions as affirmative action has. While affirmative action and diversity seek to address imbalances in the workforce, the concepts differ. First, affirmative action is often imposed on an organization involuntarily. Diversity, is a voluntary and deliberate undertaking meant to provide specific, tangible business benefits, with the change in the racial or gender composition of the workforce. Second, the focus of affirmative action is on the hiring process, while hiring is but one of several processes and aspects of the business to which diversity is applied. Finally, affirmative action is limited to race or gender issues, while most progressive diversity initiatives are “inclusive of all group identities.”
Workplace diversity appears well-entrenched in corporate America. Despite an entire industry devoted to applying diversity principles to change corporate culture, diversity remains an ambiguous and misunderstood concept to most that can clearly benefit from continued frank and thoughtful dialogue.
McCormick, Kate. “The evolution of workplace diversity.” Hous. Law (2007): 10.