In an ideal world, the term “diverse” would apply to everyone as each worker brings a distinct perspective, background, and skills to any organization. The sum of these unique contributions is a diverse workforce. In reality, however, the term typically applies to specific groups of people who have experienced discrimination (e.g., racial bias) or incidental conditions (e.g., no access to office buildings for people with disabilities) that created obstacles to opportunity.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives are aimed at eliminating obstacles and bringing people from these groups into full participation in the workforce. Understanding the opportunities these groups provide and the challenges they face is critical to building an effective D&I strategy. Examples of different types of workplace diversity follow.
There are more women in the workplace today than at any time in history, and women (34 percent) are more likely than men (26 percent) to have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 29, according to the U.S Department of Labor. Yet, female workers continue to encounter significant obstacles. Pew Research found women earned 83 percent of what men earned in 2015. In leadership, the gap is more significant, with women making up only 5.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 20 percent of Fortune 500 board members.
Beyond pay and representation, women face issues of bias and harassment. High-profile stories such as Uber’s internal sexual harassment investigations have shed light on a male-dominated culture in IT, but gender bias extends across industries. From unfair pay and limited career advancement to policies and practices that unnecessarily burden female workers, companies are recognizing a variety of contributors to gender bias.
A further complication for women is the supply of talent in some skills. Women with expertise in STEM-related fields are outnumbered by men, so hiring is limited by availability. At the same time, talent acquisition is also prone to areas of unconscious bias, with job descriptions and interview questions often slanted toward traditional, male-oriented responses.
A 2015 McKinsey study of more than 300 public companies found that “those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians.”
As organizations consider race and ethnicity in their D&I strategies, a few factors are important to note. For example, identities are evolving. The U.S. Census Bureau acknowledges established racial backgrounds as social constructs rather than as biologically defined categories, and the increasing self-definition of “mixed race” further reinforces the idea. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is based largely on the idea of a shared history, cultural, or geographical background (e.g., Latino or Mexican). This agreed-upon cultural reference point of ethnicity can make it a positive force in the workforce conversation without many of the controversies associated with race.
In facing the challenges of ethnic diversity, companies are elevating the conversation among employees by opening lines of communication and interaction, and, notably, shifting away from mandatory programs to focus more on providing voluntary resources. Likewise, talent planners recognize that views on ethnic diversity are influenced by a variety of factors, from social backgrounds to generational identity. Bringing the conversation to life is essential to promoting inclusion as companies foster understanding and acceptance among all employees.
On the talent acquisition front, ethnic groups are subject to bias in hiring, as well as limited representation in the supply of available talent. A conscious effort to target sourcing toward specific areas is essential for improving the representation of ethnic groups in the talent pool. Organizations are stepping up their sourcing to boost ethnically diverse hiring, and they are tracking results; nevertheless, there remains much work to do.
Numerous surveys reveal that LGBT workers continue to experience high levels of discrimination in the workplace, yet the LGBT population represents a powerful part of the consumer market and corporate workforce. According to one study, the buying power of the LGBT market in the United States is roughly $800 billion. Likewise, their influence on the total workforce is significant as a company’s treatment of LGBT workers also impacts the view of “allies,” people who are not part of this group but agree with and advocate for the rights of LGBT persons in the community. One study found that, all things being equal, 72 percent of ally job hunters would choose a potential LGBT-friendly employer over a less supporting company in their career decisions.
Care is needed in developing any strategy for the LGBT community because it comprises multiple, distinct groups of people with unique experiences, interests, and challenges. The transgender worker, for instance, will have a different perspective (and often experience a different type and level of discrimination) than gay, lesbian, or bisexual workers.
In the United States particularly, veteran hiring represents a significant social need and business opportunity. The country affords veterans official Equal Employment Opportunity status, and the U.S. Department of Labor issues specific veteran hiring benchmarks for federal agencies and contractors based on the percentage of the workforce comprised of veterans. This benchmark has hovered roughly around seven percent since the guidelines went into effect in 2014 (6.9 percent in 2017).
Veterans carry many of the scarce skills that are in demand today, ranging from leadership and management to engineering and many other STEM fields. Likewise, organizations look to veterans as having strong discipline, teamwork, and problem-solving skills based on their military training and experience. Not surprisingly, veterans in the U.S. enjoy a low unemployment rate, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.
Despite the advantages veteran workers bring to the table, many organizations have difficulty hiring them because military job titles, skills, and experience do not translate into language that companies understand. Today, some public organizations are devoted to helping veterans navigate the transition to civilian careers, and U.S. companies are either engaging these organizations directly or implementing their veteran outreach strategies.
People with disabilities have been recognized as the largest U.S. minority group, comprising almost 50 million people with nearly $200 billon in discretionary spending power. Globally, people with disabilities represent approximately 10 percent of the total population or 650 million, according to our research.
Workers with disabilities differ from other groups in the D&I discussion by the sheer diversity within the group. It is likely that physical disabilities come to mind for many, but the total range of impacts vary greatly from vision, movement, and thinking to learning, communication, mental health, and social relationships. At the same time, the negative connotations of disability are changing. For example, in some cases, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) bring with them skills that surpass non-ASD workers, notably in the world of IT. Today, many companies such as SAP, Microsoft, and IBM are implementing programs for hiring what is known as “neurodiverse” talent with great success.
By 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects people over age 55 will include 41 million workers or roughly 25 percent of a total 164 million strong U.S. labor force. Unfortunately, older workers are excluded through many types of bias, conscious or otherwise. For example, companies may rely heavily on campus recruiting to fill certain positions, automatically excluding older workers, or job descriptions may skew toward “entry level,” cutting off interested older workers who may be considered overqualified.
Younger generations experience age discrimination, too. Today, such discrimination often occurs as employers take on widely held stereotypes of younger Millennial workers, or organizations tacitly seek out “mature workers.”
Companies are taking several approaches to improve inclusion of both older workers and professionals across generations. Apprenticeships can be available to workers of all ages. Mentoring across generations helps drive knowledge-sharing. Programs to bring workers back into professional life after extended absences are highly effective in connecting companies to the older workforce. Finally, education and awareness-building about generational differences can improve collaboration among workers.
Everyone has the potential to bring a different perspective to an organization. Drawing from a workforce with a diversity of thought and background, companies can assemble more effective teams, tackle difficult tasks, and drive innovation. While diversity of thought is an open area that does not lend itself to tracking and measuring that can be done with formalized diverse groups, an increasing portion of workers, most notably Millennials, value coworkers with diverse views. Removing bias from all aspects of the employee experience enables many workers with unique views and perspectives to advance. Moving forward, this category has the potential to lead the redefinition of what diversity and inclusion in the workforce means.
Are you ready to embrace the different types of workplace diversity and create an inclusive environment where diverse candidates thrive? Then download our white paper, “Talent, Business, and Competition: A New World of Diversity and Inclusion.” Based on an extensive survey of senior HR executives plus expertise from talent acquisition leaders, the report explores core D&I issues and trends, and provides insight on how companies build inclusiveness into the employee experience.