What is the meaning of diversity in the workplace?

Written by sujata srinivasan
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What is the meaning of diversity in the workplace?
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Workplace diversity refers to the differences that people bring to their jobs on the basis of gender, age, race, ethnicity or professional background. Those differences have a direct and/or indirect influence on the work performed. A statement on Merrill Lynch's website from Subha Barry, head of global diversity and inclusion at Merrill Lynch, illustrates this well. "A diversity of ideas is what sets our business apart. We are committed to transforming a wide range of perspectives into opportunities and solutions for our clients," she said.

Diversity Laws

Diversity in U.S. companies is legally enforceable under equal opportunity laws administered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These laws include non-discrimination based on an employee's race, colour, religion, sex or national origin, and prohibition of sex-based wage discrimination, age discrimination and discrimination against employees with disabilities. However, diversity initiatives at the workplace go beyond the letter of the law, where enforcing employee diversity is not merely legal, but beneficial to the company. In other words, diversity of thought and ideas takes an organisation to the next level of innovation and growth.

What is the meaning of diversity in the workplace?

Organizational Benefits

A company committed to diversity hires the best talent from anywhere in the world. Viewed in this context, diversity far exceeds the traditional variables of gender, race, age and sexual orientation. Today, diversity includes the perspectives brought to bear by intergenerational differences, international education and work experience, and a multicultural background. As organisations become increasingly global and/or expand domestic markets to include ethnic minorities, creating a diverse workplace has a strong impact on sales growth and innovation.

What is the meaning of diversity in the workplace?

Research on Workplace Diversity

Extensive research on the effect of organizational diversity indicates that diversity is good for a business. For example, in a study titled "Managing Cultural Diversity: Implications for Organizational Competitiveness," authors Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake of the University of Michigan found that an organisation's ability to attract and retain employees from diverse cultural backgrounds could result in competitive advantages both in terms of cost structures and a superior quality human resource. "Further capitalising on the potential benefits of cultural diversity in work groups, organisations may gain a competitive advantage in creativity, problem solving, and flexible adaptation to change," the authors concluded.


A study by professors Frank Dobbin of Harvard University, Alexandra Kalev of University of California (Berkeley) and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota, published in 2006 in the American Sociological Review (Vol. 71), revealed that diversity training programs at corporations have failed to eradicate bias and failed to increase the number of minorities in management positions despite substantial spending since the 1990s to do so. However, programs that impart organizational responsibility for diversity initiatives, such as equal opportunity employee positions or diversity task forces, have been more effective.

Top Companies for Diversity Initiatives

DiversityInc magazine annually rates companies on the basis of CEO commitment to organizational diversity; human capital in the context of race, ethnicity, gender and age demographics; corporate and organizational communications including employee resource groups, multicultural marketing and diversity branding; and supplier diversity in terms of the percentage of procurement budgets allocated to ethnic minorities. The top 15 companies on the 2009 list are Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Ernst & Young, Marriott International, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sodexo, Kaiser Permanente, Merck & Co., The Coca-Cola Co., IBM Corp., Procter & Gamble, Verizon Communications, American Express Co., Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.

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