Until recently, organizations took a “melting pot” approach to diversity. It was assumed that people who were different would somehow automatically want to assimilate. But today’s managers find that employees do not set aside their cultural values and lifestyles preferences when they come to work. The challenge for managers, therefore, is to make their organizations more accommodating to diverse groups of people by addressing different lifestyles, family needs, and work styles. The melting pot assumption is being replaced by the recognition and celebration of differences. Interestingly those who do celebrate the differences are finding that their organizations’ profits are higher.
What does the workforce look like today?
Much of the change that has occurred in the workforce is attributed to US federal legislation prohibiting employment discrimination that was enacted in the 1960s. Based on such laws, avenues began to open up for minority and female applicants. These two groups have since become the fastest growing segments in the workforce and accommodating their needs became a vital responsibility for managers. Furthermore, during this time, birthrates in the United States started to decline. The baby boom generation had already reached its apex in terms of employment opportunities, which meant that as hiring continued few baby boomers were left to choose. And as globalization became more pronounced, Hispanic, Asian, and other immigrants came to the United States and sought employment.
Workforce diversity: The varied backgrounds of organizational members in terms of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.
Projecting into future is often an educated guess at best. Trying to predict the exact composition of our workforce diversity is no exception, even though we do know it will be heterogeneous: made up of males and females, whites and people of color, gays and straights, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, the disabled, and the elderly. Another group that has a significant impact on the workforce is the aging baby boom population. Commonly referred to as the graying of the workforce, the number of individuals who desire to work past retirement age continues to show a steady increase. Brought about by necessity (a need to have a greater income to sustain current living standards) or desire (to remain active) more individuals over age 55 are expected to stay in the workforce, with more than 80 percent of the baby boom generation indicating that they expect to work past age 65. Couple this statistic with the fact that the US Congress passed the Senior Citizen’s Freedom to Work Act, which eliminated the benefits penalty for those individuals of Social Security who earn more than $17,000 per year. In short, we can expect our workforce to continue to get older, with 70 and 80 year old workers no longer uncommon.
The increase participation of women and the elderly is not the only diversity issue reshaping the labor pool. Another is multiculturalism. Globalization has been reducing barriers to immigration. In the United States, the proportion of Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Africans has increased significantly over the past two decades, and the tend will continue. Moreover, multiculturalism is not a US phenomenon. Countries such as Great Britain, Germany, and Canada are experiencing similar changes. Canada, as a case in point, has large populations of people who have recently emigrated from Hong Kong, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Middle Eastern countries. These immigrants are making Canada’s population more diverse and its workforce more heterogeneous.
As organizations become more diverse, management adapts its human resource practices to reflect those changes. Many organizations today, such as Bank of America, have workforce diversity programs. They tend to hire, promote, and retain minorities, encourage vendor diversity and provide diversity training for employees. Some, including Coca-Cola, Motorola and Mars, actually cultural audits to ensure that diversity is pervasive in the organization.