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Diversity in the Workplace: 4 Common Challenges and Solutions

Big Think Edge | May 15, 2018

America includes people of all different races, genders, sexual orientations, ages, ethnicities, political affiliations, and faiths. As the melting pot, the United States provides the opportunity for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all people.

As companies and organizations evolve, they increasingly reflect the differences of culture and perspectives that exist in today's modern, American society. "Diversity" is the hot word taking the modern working world by storm. Diverse perspectives, experiences, and skill sets are invaluable to the growth and success of any organization. Although creating an environment of diversity and inclusion is preached, it can be difficult to put into practice.

Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace

Below is a list of four common workplace challenges employees face regarding diversity and diversity training in the workplace. Please note, however, that the lists are not specifically ranked in order of importance.

Ethnic and Cultural Differences

Although the United States is predominantly white, the racial spectrum is changing each year as more people emigrate to the country from around the world.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the racial breakdown of the U.S.’s population, which consists of more than 325 million people, consists of:

  • 76.9% of people who self-identify as white (61.3% of people self-identify as “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino”);
  • 17.8% who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino;
  • 13.3% of people who self-identify as black or African-American;
  • 5.7% of people who self-identify as Asian;
  • 2.6% of people who self-identify as two or more races;
  • 1.3% of people who self-identify as American Indian or Alaska Native; and
  • 0.2% of people who self-identify as Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals who harbor unfair prejudices against people who are different from them in some way — whether it’s racial, faith, age, or other. These intolerances cannot, and must not, be accepted in a professional work environment.

Differences in Language and Communication

Embracing diversity can be more difficult when there are differences in language and communication. Although the most commonly spoken language in the United States is English, the number of people speaking other languages is increasing.

According to data from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five U.S. residents speaks a foreign language, estimating that more than 65 million people are speaking a language other than English. This is an increase of 1.9% over the past decade.

Generational and Age Differences

Each year, new workers are entering the workforce while others are retiring. This denotes a huge shift in the workforce, often resulting in showcasing key distinctions between the different generations, as well as different perceptions among each group.

Based on 2016 ACS study data, the U.S. population is broken down into the following age groups:

  • 25.5% are age 19 or younger;
  • 27.1% are ages 20-39;
  • 26.1% are ages 40-59;
  • 17.6% are ages 60-79; and
  • 3.7% are age 80 or older.

According to research from a recent poll by the Pew Research Center (PRC), millennials are better educated than their Silent Generation (as well as Baby Boomer, and Generation X) counterparts. They’re also:

  • Less likely to be married,
  • Less likely to have served in the military, and
  • More likely to have grown up in metropolitan areas.

Respecting and Accepting the Differences of Others

A particular issue that arises in workplaces is dealing with social or cultural differences. Part of this may stem from a lack of understanding or respect. Examples of this can include refusal by an employer or manager to allow an employee observe their faith by taking time off for any faith-related holidays, or discrimination against a gay or lesbian employee because the manager or another employee disagrees with their lifestyle.

Solutions for Diversity-Related Workplace Challenges

While diversity can present a number of challenges within organizations, it’s important to also recognize and emphasize the overwhelming benefits it creates.

According to an article by Deloitte:

"Diversity and inclusion is not an HR strategy; it is a business strategy… research also shows that teams that operate in an inclusive culture outperform their peers by a staggering 80 percent.”

Some of the ways that business leaders can help to create solutions include:

Identifying and Defining the Issues That Exist Within the Workplace

This may seem like a no-brainer, the first step to handling any diversity issues in the workplace is to first identify what the issues are. While the goal of creating an environment of acceptance and equal opportunity for everyone is important, by identifying the challenges and differences that exist among employees, organizational leaders are better able to examine specific diversity issues to determine what changes need to be made to address them.

Developing, Communicating, and Adhering to Organizational Policies

One way of dealing with some of the issues that stem from diversity in the workplace is to review existing company policies and training, and develop and implement new ones that are relevant to the specific issues at hand, if needed. This can help diversity leaders establish a culture of acceptance within an organization. Diversity-related initiatives also can be integrated into an organization’s mission statement and onboarding process.

Providing Employee Diversity Training Relating to Those Issues

Diversity training programs can benefit an organization in a number of ways, including increasing productivity, retention, and engagement. Trainings can be offered as stand-alone programs or the lessons from them can be integrated into other initiatives.

Additionally, creating opportunities for employees to mentor one another and collaborate and engage daily on different projects is another great way to help bridge the gap between employees of different age groups and to help them to establish relationships.

As pointed out by research cited in another article by Big Think, “people’s stereotypes go away as they get to know people from other groups, especially if they work side by side with them.”

Holding People Accountable for Their Actions

As with any policy, non-compliance with diversity policies by employees or managers needs to be addressed quickly and efficiently. As such, part of this process means providing potential victims of sexual harassment, prejudices, and discrimination a channel through which to report abuses without fear of retribution.

If any inappropriate behaviors are addressed between the involved parties but the behaviors continue, more severe disciplinary actions should be taken.

Regardless of how people personally feel about working with others who differ from them in some way, a workplace is a professional environment and needs to be treated as such by everyone regardless of rank or title.

Learn more about diversity and inclusion training and initiatives through Big Think Edge’s diversity & inclusion video learning program. Click on the banner image below to get started.

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