Three Approaches for Promoting Diversity in the Workplace

Though, diversity can have a wide range of meanings, some companies use the traditional Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition of diversity, which deals with differences in gender, racioethnicity, and age. Other companies tend to favor the broadest definitions of diversity, ones that encompass differences in gender, racioethnicity, age, physical abilities, qualities, and sexual orientation, as well as differences in attitudes, perspectives and background. Many individuals rely on a more detailed definition of diversity considering diverse people as being in the non-dominant social system who have been traditionally under research and under served. While there is no correct definition of diversity, the three diversity initiatives discussed in this article seem to target a definition that encompasses creating a diverse work environment that is inclusive to  everyone, specifically focusing on the inclusion of minorities and non minorities.

Three Main Approaches to Workplace Diversity

Three Main Approaches to Workplace Diversity

1. Colorblind Approach

The colorblind approach is similar to the well-known American concept of the “melting pot”. The melting pot implies that everyone melts together in one pot, meaning that people assimilate to become one.  The colorblind approach seeks to have people see everyone as ‘colorblind’. This means not paying attention to the color of ones skin and seeing everyone the same. Efforts to promote a colorblind principle in which all people were to be judged as individual human beings without regard to race or ethnicity, was intended to eliminate racism and discrimination, promote justice, and generally improve the economic and social climate for Blacks in the US. An example of using the colorblind approach in the workplace is to structure rewards that foster greater nonminority-minority collaboration, bringing important deep-level characteristics to the foreground while pushing demo- graphic differences, such as racial and ethnic diversity, to the background. Using a colorblind approach in the workplace entails pushing back ones background/culture aside and focusing on the persons individual characteristics. The way that this approach focuses on finding unique and similar qualities in one seems to have some promise at both the theoretical and empirical levels in facilitating positive intergroup consequences. Focusing on a common in-group identity (“we”), which transcends intergroup distinctions (“us” vs. “them”) has been found to improve intergroup attitudes. Though, the problem with this approach is that there doesn’t seem to be an “we” group formed. The process of assimilation that this approach entails creates a resistance to forming a “we” mindset. Assimilation seems to have negative consequences, especially for members of lower status societal groups.  Assimilation is not necessarily successful or desirable for non- dominant group members. This information should not be surprising as the process of assimilation strips ones identity and seeks to create an accepted identity. The colorblind approach seems to only identify with non-minorities. Nonminority’s who believe strongly in individual merit or have a high need to belong are likely to identify highly with an organization that espouses colorblindness. A colorblind approach works best for making nonminority’s feel included but does the opposite for minorities. The idea of putting someone’s identity to the side does not lead to less bias but is actually associated with higher levels of increases bias. While the intentions of this approach were sincere, it does not seem to be an approach that truly values diversity.

2. Multicultural Approach

The multicultural organization is an organization that has within its vision, mission, goals, and values, explicit policies and practices that are intended to ensure that all members of the diverse workforce feel fully included and have every opportunity to contribute to achieving the mission of the organization. A common thread through definitions and goals of multiculturalism is that race and ethnicity should be given attention (as opposed to being ignored) because prejudice develops in part from a lack of knowledge of and respect for other groups. This approach embraces the idea of having different cultures/backgrounds and makes it a mission to be aware of these differences in the workplace. Some examples of multicultural initiatives range from networking and mentoring programs that provide additional resources for demographically underrepresented groups of employees, corporate “diversity days” where employees backgrounds are celebrated, diversity luncheons where food of different nations is served, and workshops or seminars that focus on aspects of diversity. Other companies may require or strongly encourage employees to attend diversity training, which is designed to diminish bias and increase cultural awareness among nonminority employees. While minority groups appreciate the value put on their culture and individual characteristics, non-minority groups have found a weakness in this approach. One study found that as potential job applicants, nonminority’s reported less positive attitudes toward promotion opportunities and less attraction to an organization when policies were specifically framed as benefiting minorities than when the policies were more generally framed. While attempting to value diversity, this approach does not make all employees feel valued.

3. All-Inclusive Multiculturalism

The all inclusive multi cultural approach recognizes the importance of differences and acknowledges such differences, which is essential for gaining minority support. The all inclusive multi cultural approach recognizes the important role that non-minorities play in workplace diversity, addressing their concerns of exclusion and disadvantage. Essentially, the AIM approach addresses deficiencies in the standard multicultural ideology without reverting to colorblindness. By encouraging employees to feel included and valued, the AIM approach fosters organizational commitment and trust, internal motivation, and satisfaction for both minorities and non minorities alike. An example of using an AIM approach would be to use word choices in an organization’s diversity materials (e.g., mission statement, corporate brochures, etc.) that communicate the inclusion of all employees. This simple change in an organizations diversity materials can make it clear that the term diversity is an inclusive term that is meant to target everyone in the organization. An example of an organization that has successfully utilized aspects of the AIM approach is IBM. The initiative resulted in development of cross-cultural competence, deeper knowledge of major markets, and attraction, development, and retention of employees. The AIM approach promises to enhance positive relationships across difference, resulting in heightened employee engagement and individual and organizational performance. By making sure non minorities know they are included in the diversity initiatives and still valuing individual differences, this approach seems to be effective for both minorities and non minorities.

Evaluation of Three Workplace Diversity Approaches

Out of the three approaches described above, all-inclusive multiculturalism seems to have the best outcomes when making non-minorities and minorities both feel included in the workplace. Though, this approach needs to continue to be tested as it is a fairly new approach and there are few studies to prove the positive effects. As of now there have been no negative effects of this approach found but it is important to be continue to challenge our theories in order to make them better. One concern with this approach is that it changes the traditional concept that many people use to identify who is diverse. Diverse populations are defined as people in the non-dominant social system who have been traditionally under research and under served. Changing this definition to include whites may lead to negative feelings from people who strongly identify with this specific definition of diversity. The simple fact that whites feel excluded/ threated by diversity shows that many of them use this definition as a construct for who is diverse. Another concern with this approach is that its simplicity may not be enough to get through to the people with strong bias and stereotypes. The purposes of diversity initiatives are to highlight individual differences, inter race collaboration, trust, respect, inclusion, and more. Simply making an employee feel included in the initiative does not mean that they are going to make the same effort to include others. It does not mean that they will make the effort to rid of their pervious stereotypes and bias. Though the all inclusive multi cultural approach has been proven to be a positive measure, it is important to continue to test this approach in various ways in order to eliminate any concerns with the approach.

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