Diversity is a buzzword in contemporary organization research. Hundreds of books and articles were published to explore the meaning of diversity for organizations’ performance and culture. This paper provides a brief discussion of the diversity concept and its key dimensions. Differences in the meaning of diversity and inclusion are discussed. The paper evaluates the importance and weaknesses of diversity training in the workplace and offers recommendations to improve organizational culture.

Thinking About Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity has become a buzzword in contemporary organization research. Much has been written and said about the value and implications of diversity for organizations. The growing competitiveness in the market mandates the development and implementation of various diversity initiatives. Unfortunately, not all organizational leaders realize what it really means to be diverse and how the meaning of diversity differs from that of inclusion.

Diversity Dimensions

Despite the growing amount of diversity research, the meaning of diversity remains poorly understood. Definitions of diversity vary across studies and books. For example, Harvey and Allard (2009) define diversity as “the ways in which people differ that may affect their organizational experience in terms of performance, motivation, communication, and inclusion” (p.1), whereas Roberson (2004) relies on the assumption that diversity is a combination of “the varied perspectives and approaches to work which members of different identity groups bring” (p.6). Whatever the definition, it is clear that diversity encompasses numerous dimensions and aspects. Most researchers agree that the main diversity dimensions include race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation (Harvey & Allard, 2009; Schaefer, 2011). Racial groups are set apart from the white majority because of obvious physical differences (Schaefer, 2011). Skin color usually serves as the basic measure of racial belonging in the developed world. Ethnicity is another important dimension of diversity, and ethnic minority groups differ from the dominant group in language, parenting and marriage patterns, cultural traditions and food habits, etc. (Schaefer, 2011). Gender is another physical attribute that often creates a wall of misunderstanding between the dominant and subordinate groups. However, diversity dimensions are not stable and vary, depending on the context and circumstances of diversity discussions (Schaefer, 2011). Therefore, every time the topic of diversity comes into play, the dimensions of diversity in question should be specified (Schaefer, 2011).

Diversity: What I Am?

I consider myself a multiracial person since I represent a complex mixture of black, Asian and Indian racial/ ethnic backgrounds. I know that my identity does not match any of the prescribed standard racial/ ethnic categories, but I also believe that it makes me positively distinct, diverse, and open to everything new. I was raised as part of the high middle class, and my mother held a Doctorate degree in Global Communication. Today I am one of the many middle class representatives, made of all races, ethnicities, gender, religious and cultural backgrounds imaginable. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to identify and discuss what members of my social class and I have in common. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that the middle class is a point of transition between the lower social strata and the higher social position and vice versa. The higher the social status the less diverse members of the social class become, and the more difficult it becomes for biracial and multiracial individuals to pursue their goals and dreams.

Diversity versus Inclusion

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The meanings of diversity and inclusion are often taken for granted. Moreover, the concepts of diversity and inclusion tend to be used interchangeably. However, that diversity differs dramatically from inclusion cannot be denied. Diversity is defined as the presence of the varied perspectives, beliefs, and work approaches brought by different identity groups, whereas inclusion is essentially about the degree to which these identity groups and individuals can access information and resources, participate in work groups as well as influence organizational decisions (Roberson, 2004). In other words, diversity is a static concept. By contrast, inclusion is a dynamic process of giving diverse members and identity groups voice in organizational decisions and empowering them to participate in various organizational processes. It is possible to say that diversity is the goal that organizations seek to achieve, and inclusion is the means by which organizations can meet their diversity goals. Also, it is not enough to ensure the presence of diverse employees in the organization; more important is to empower diverse employees to participate in the most important decision making processes.

Diversity Training in the Workplace: Does It Matter?

Diversity training is usually claimed to benefit organizations. Diversity training in the workplace raises employee awareness of diversity, enhances multicultural communication and conflict management skills, empowers professional development and creates the foundation for recruiting and retaining diverse staff (Holmes, 2004). However, not all diversity training programs are effective, and the presence of a diversity training program does not guarantee diversity and effective performance within organizations. Everything depends on whether the diversity training model chosen fits in the cultural conditions of particular organizations and how these training models are implemented. For example, recent findings suggest that mandatory diversity training does not bring any positive results (Vedantam, 2008). By contrast, when diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance organizations’ business goals, managers and employees improve their diversity attitudes and develop skills needed to improve organizations’ performance results (Vedantam, 2008). In summary, only models that encourage employees to participate in diversity training and reflect the needs and goals of the organization can have the potential to improve diversity attitudes and decisions made by managers and employees. There are no universal training solutions, and organizations should choose training models that best align with their goals and resources.

I sometimes experienced the pressure of misbalanced cultural attitudes in the workplace. My mixed racial background has made me extremely sensitive to the issues of diversity in the workplace. I often notice the gap between organizations’ diversity goals and values and the real state of diversity things in the workplace. Very often, organizations announce themselves to be diverse and inclusive; meanwhile, employees lack diversity knowledge, and recruitment policies remain predominantly unfavorable to female applicants, employees with mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds, and religious or gay/ lesbian employees. In these situations, diversity training is highly recommended. Diversity training can inform managers’ selection and recruitment decisions. When properly implemented, diversity training holds a promise to close the intentions-actions gap in organizations’ striving to improve performance. With diversity training, organizations can become more decisive when changing their culture and becoming more inclusive.

Diversity is a buzzword in contemporary organization research. Unfortunately, not all organizations are aware of its meanings and can distinguish diversity from inclusion. In simple terms, diversity is the goal organizations seek to pursue, whereas inclusion is the means by which they can meet their diversity ideals. Diversity training does have the potential to raise diversity awareness in the workplace and inform managers’ selection and recruitment decisions. However, only voluntary participation in diversity training initiatives can bring organizations and employees to the desired diversity goals. 

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