Diversity in the workplace is a topic that occupies a great deal of business literature and is a vital issue to nearly anyone in a management position. The issue spans a variety of sub-topics. One of the most important is whether or not a company can foster an environment of open communication in which diverse perspectives are encouraged and respected. Additionally, what methods can be utilized to encourage these diverse perspectives? Diversity in the workplace is an increasing reality that must be addressed. Minority populations, specifically African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans, are thought to increase to make up fifty percent of the total population by 2050 (Hostager & De Meuse, 2008). This alone indicates that diversity is a reality that must be addressed.
This issue of whether a company can foster an environment in which diverse perspectives are utilized and equally encouraged is important to any manager. It must take into account both the positive aspects and negative aspects of an increasingly diverse workplace. According to studies, workplace diversity can carry with it some negative effects, including a decrease in job satisfaction, increased divisiveness between groups including conflict and competition (Hostager & De Meuse, 2008). This is not always the case, but the reality is that there is potential for negative ramifications of workplace diversity. Increased efforts to foster diverse perspectives may worsen already heightened tensions if the workplace is already suffering from these negatives. This is one consideration to keep in mind when attempting to increase communication and the voicing and acceptance of diverse perspectives.
In contrast, some studies and theorists suggest that the only way to avoid negative ramifications (such as high turnover among highly-qualified minority employees), is to foster an environment or workplace culture of inclusion (Pless & Maak, 2004). In order to achieve this culture of inclusion, theorists encourage managers to build relationships among diverse employees by encouraging employees to recognize differences while looking for common ground (Pless & Maak, 2004). This can be done through various team building activities that allow employees to interact with one another in a non-threatening environment.
Some managers encourage the idea of treating all employees as separate but equal as a way in which to foster the acceptance of diverse perspectives. However some employees may resist such measures and policies based on personal biases or presumed group loyalties. In order to attempt to overcome this managers can employ a variety of techniques when addressing diverse groups and encouraging their opinions. The nominal group technique for problem-solving and decision-making is one way in which diverse perspectives may be encouraged with equal weight. This is a method in which individuals are given time to generate a list of ideas themselves and write them down, then ideas are shared round-robin style until all ideas are heard. Then finally the ideas are discussed by the whole group in an open forum (Van De Ven & Delbecq, 1974). This method as with any, has potential flaws, such as withholding of ideas for fear of rejection, or rejection of ideas based on group or personal biases. No method is perfect.
All-in-all, it can be said that efforts to foster an environment of open communication in which diverse perspectives are encouraged and accepted, are important given the increasingly diverse workforce. The issue of whether or not this is possible or positive is one that requires further exploration. There are a variety of methods that are available to managers to attempt to do so, but each much be adapted to the particular company and situation. Because there are negative and positive aspects associated with diverse workplaces, there are also positives and negatives to attempting to foster an environment where all diverse perspectives are given equal merit. Given all of this, this is a subject that certainly warrants further exploration and study.
Hostager, T.J., & De Meuse, K.P. (2008, Dec.). The Effects of a Diversity Learning Experience on Positive and Negative Diversity Perceptions. Journal of Business and Psychology, 23(3/4). 127-139.
Pless, N.M., & Maak, T. (2004, Oct.). Building an Inclusive Diversity Culture: Principles, Processes, and Practices. Journal of Business Ethics, 54(2). 129-147.
Van De Ven, A.H., & Delbecq, A.L. (1974, Dec.). The Effectiveness of Nominal, Delphi, and Interacting Group Decision Making Processes. The Academy of Management Journal, 17(4). 605-621.