Diversity In The Workplace

diversity for employees

Diversity in the workplace refers to when an employer that employs a workforce comprised of individuals with a range of differing characteristics, such as gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and other attributes. Diversity in the workplace is often strived for as it has many benefits for both employers and employees – both from an internal and external perspective. However, that doesn’t mean that having a diverse workplace isn’t without its set of challenges. Despite this many workplaces are implementing a diversity plan such as BHP in Western Australia.

The benefits of diversity in the workplace

  1. Firstly, when you hire people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures, you’re bringing a wide range of perspectives to the workplace. This can lead to benefits like better problem solving and increased productivity as there will be diverse opinions, educational backgrounds, work experience, etc.
  2. Secondly, diversity in the workplace increases the employer’s innovation given the employees’ diversity would lead to creative solutions. A diverse group of employees will contribute unique perspectives that can lead to breakthroughs in thought. It’s the same reason why companies go offsite for important strategy meetings, or why a change in pace can help you solve that problem you’ve been stuck on for days. New circumstances and environments are known to spark fresh ideas.
  3. Thirdly, diversity and inclusion go hand-in-hand. When you create a work environment where employees see a representation of a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and ways of thinking, they’re more likely to feel comfortable about their diverse backgrounds. This, in turn, leads to happier, more productive employees. If employees don’t feel like they can be themselves at work, they’re more likely to fear rejection and not produce their best work.

How to manage a diverse workplace

  • To manage a diverse workplace, employers need to ensure that they effectively communicate with employees the policies, procedures, safety rules and other important information. It should be designed to overcome any potential language or cultural barriers by translating materials or providing easy to understand summaries.
  • Employers should avoid making assumptions about employees from different backgrounds. Instead, look at each employee as an individual and judge successes and failures on the individual’s merit rather than attributing actions to their background. Diverse work teams let employees get to know and value one another on an individual basis and can help break down preconceived notions and cultural misunderstandings.
  • Employers should ensure they set one standard of rules for all groups of employees regardless of their diverse characteristics. They should ensure that all employees’ actions, including any disciplinary action they may be subject to follow a consistent standard, so all employees are treated the same.
  • Employers should encourage employees to recognise talent that diverse employees were hired for. That their background, and culture are not the only value to the organisation. Employers should look for ways to incorporate a diverse range of perspectives and talents into efforts to achieve organisational goals.
Women of colour leading a meeting

Challenges in maintaining a diverse workplace

An employer that embraces and promotes diversity in the workplace also need to ensure that there are policies and practices in place to protect employees’ rights and stay compliant with federal and state discrimination laws. 

It is essential for an employer to consider the impact that their policies and practices may have on a diverse group of employees.

Companies should implement a safe and supportive method in which employees can give feedback. An example is implementing an anonymous survey to encourage employees to voice their concerns and speak out. This will allow an employer to gain a better understanding of how employees feel about diversity in the workplace and any current policies which may affect the diversity. An employer should consider any feedback received, whether it is positive or negative, as a valuable contribution. Employers need to be ready to adapt and modify policies that may be of concern to employees, particularly if they are perceived as discriminatory, restrictive or unhelpful for promoting and managing diversity.

It is also crucial that an employer properly document their diversity policies in order to demonstrate a sincere and genuine attempt to communicate their stance on diversity.

Policies to manage and address diversity should be provided to employees in written form and/or incorporated into the employee handbook. They should be reviewed and updated regularly, and new employees should have their attention drawn to them in the induction process.

Employers should also outline their policies and procedures in the event that these policies are breached by employees. In order to ensure an employer is compliant with discrimination laws, they should have a zero-tolerance to any breaches of diversity policies.

Having a diverse workforce that is inclusive means that there will be many different attributes among employees and some of these may not be physically visible or widely known. Thus, any jokes about gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and other protected attributes, need to be met with zero tolerance in the workplace. Slurs, name-calling and bullying employees for any reason have no place in today’s workplace. Even off handed or seemingly innocent comments with no intention of being discriminatory should be banned due to the potential offence and humiliation it may cause. This zero-tolerance policy needs to have procedures in place to handle breaches or misconduct as a result of a breach, which should be clearly communicated to all employees. Employees should also be made to feel safe when reporting any instances of inappropriate behaviour or potential breaches by establishing a grievance or complaint process. Such a process needs to be handled fairly and impartially, with an employer taking all reasonable steps to remedy the breach and meet their obligations under discrimination and O, H & S laws.

Diversity meetings in the workplace

Employers should also engage in training with current and ongoing employees to ensure any changes in policy are communicated and reinforce the importance of managing diversity.  Employees need to be aware of how to coexist with a diverse range of people to achieve harmony within a diverse workplace. Training sessions can help an employer manage diversity in the workplace by helping employees become more self-aware, which plays a vital role in helping employees understand their own cultural biases and prejudices. Training requires employees to examine and adjust their perspectives about people with diverse attributes. This will encourage employees to learn to better appreciate the views of others and demonstrates what actions are offensive and why they are perceived as such. Training sessions will also teach employees how to calmly communicate that a co-worker has offended them and how to resolve the conflict properly by demonstrating a complaint process.

What if an employee breaches diversity policies?

In the event that a fellow employee breaches policies which support diversity in the workplace, this may be deemed discrimination depending on what attribute you believe you have been treated less than favourably for. In any event, an employee should feel safe and comfortable to tell their co-workers to cease making such comments or engaging in such conduct.  Sometimes, this is enough to make the discrimination or bullying stop and for the employee to realise their actions are affecting you.

If you have told the employee to stop, but the behaviour continues, report the behaviour to your manager or someone in the human resources team. Most companies will have a clear complaint or grievance policy but if they don’t, it is safe to make your complaint up your reporting chain or to HR, particularly if your direct report is the person engaging in the conduct. Whilst complaining may seem daunting and you may be in fear of being treated differently afterwards, most employers will be willing to help and rectify the situation once they are aware. If an employee is uncomfortable by the conduct of their co-workers and potential discrimination, they have the right to speak up and put an end to this behaviour.

If making a complaint fails and the employer has not taken any steps to address or rectify the behaviour, the employee can seek assistance by lodging a claim to an external body. Depending on the conduct that has occurred, the employee can lodge a complaint to the Fair Work Commission or anti-discrimination commissions and tribunals.

If you would like to discuss your workplace situation, diversity in the workplace or potentially lodging a claim against your employer, please give us a call on 1300 766 700 for a free and confidential consultation.