Most people instantly associate the term diversity with race, religion or age.   But diversity in the workplace encompasses many more variables, such as tenure, experience, education, industry background and work styles.  By understanding the scope of diversity in the workplace, as well as the challenges it creates, employers can better uncover its benefits, which include enhanced creativity and new approaches to solving problems.

Although workplace diversity can bring many rewards, it also poses challenges by potentially obstructing effective communication and creating roadblocks to consensus and cohesion.  However, there are ways to successfully navigate these challenges. Following are some tips:

  • Encourage employee self-awareness.   At a very basic level, employees should realize that the goal is to understand one’s own work style and how it differs from the work styles of colleagues; it is not necessary to agree with the other work styles.  Ideally, employees should participate in some form of diversity training, which might include assessments and team exercises.   The object of such exercises is for participants to practice active listening, recognize contributions of others, encourage input, maintain an open mind, and seek out similarities among the differences. 
  • Influence group dynamics at the supervisory level as needed.  The Human Systems Dynamics Institute has created a model that illustrates workplace behavioral tendencies among groups, depending upon levels of diversity and interaction.  According to this model, there are four common scenarios, each of which has associated risks:
    1. Highly diverse groups with high levels of interaction experience stress, conflict and exhaustion. 
    2. Groups with little diversity but high levels of interaction often experience low productivity and wasted energy.
    3. Groups with high levels of diversity and low levels of interaction may experience isolation and frustration.
    4. Groups with low levels of diversity and low levels of interaction may experience boredom and inactivity. 

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the risks described in each of the four group scenarios are avoided.  Below are some methods employers should consider:

  1. High diversity/high interaction:  This is when a supervisor should step in and introduce some teambuilding exercises, even if the teambuilding is unrelated to the task at hand.
  2. Low diversity/high interaction:  Solutions include bringing in a new person to the team or assigning individual tasks. 
  3. High diversity/low interaction:  Divide the group into smaller teams.
  4. Low diversity/low interaction:  The supervisor can strive to amplify small differences or play devil’s advocate.

Although the above scenarios vary, the constant is the involvement of a supervisor when business goals are negatively affected by group dynamics.

  • Celebrate diversity.  It sounds like a catchphrase, but there are true benefits to diversity in the workplace.  Firms that ignore diversity limit the pool of ideas, reduce service to a diverse customer base, weaken their own competitiveness, and promote employee dissatisfaction.  In contrast, those that recognize and support diversity are better equipped to increase productivity, creativity, and employee commitment; generate new solutions; and promote expansion and customer satisfaction.

Employee diversity can be a potent stimulant for growth and profit, or merely a source of workplace friction.  The outcome is largely dependent on the willingness of employers to embrace the new dynamics.   

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Article provided by Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 27 years.  Insperity provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance.  Insperity® Business Performance Advisors offer the most comprehensive suite of products and services available in the marketplace.  Insperity delivers administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity through its premier Workforce Optimization solution.  Additional company offerings include Human Capital Management, Payroll Services, Time and Attendance, Performance Management, Organizational Planning, Recruiting Services, Employment Screening, Financial Services, Expense Management, Retirement Services and Insurance Services.  Insperity business performance solutions support more than 100,000 businesses with over 2 million employees.  With 2012 revenues of $2.2 billion, Insperity operates in 57 offices throughout the United States.  For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit www.insperity.com.