Diversity in the Workforce

Topics: Affirmative action, Cultural diversity, Minority group Pages: 10 (3313 words) Published: December 16, 2012
In today’s fast-paced work environment, a successful organization is one in which diversity is the norm, and not the exception. A primary concern for most businesses, workforce diversity is a complex phenomenon to manage in an organization. Its complexity is more readily understood when one considers that diversity encompasses race, gender, ethnic group, age, tenure, organizational function, education, background and more. Despite its complexity, the successful business, be it corporate, governmental, or private, is the one that recognizes the importance of effectively managing workforce diversity given the makeup of today’s labor pool. In fact, as far back as 1987, the Hudson Institute published Workforce 2000, which predicted that minorities would increasingly constitute a larger percentage of the net new entrants into the workforce. The report also noted that the labor force participation of women would continue to rise and that the median age of workers would increase due to the aging baby boom generation (Jamieson & O’Mara, 1991). In essence, the American workforce was changing on a par with America's demographics. As such, the success of businesses would necessarily need to recognize the changing demographics of the workforce and institute practices to maximize management of this diverse workforce. Generally speaking, the term “Workforce Diversity” refers to policies and practices that seek to include people within a workforce who are considered to be, in some way, different from those in the prevailing constituency. A true diverse workplace generally includes a proportionate number of ethnic minorities and male and female workforce that reflect the racial and religious makeup of society and the local community. In recent decades, the notion of a diverse workforce has expanded to include people with disabilities, including AIDS and cancer sufferers. As might be expected, diversity in the workplace in the United States was virtually non-existent for the first 150 years after the country's founding. With few exceptions, the modern workplace from the late 18th century to about 1930 was typically a man's world with women gaining a foothold in the American workplace only when men went to war in 1917. Although women returned home when World War I ended, they possessed new skills. Minorities, typically African Americans, on the other hand, were segregated to work in the service industry, usually as servants, porters or manual laborers. To safeguard women in the workplace, the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor was formed in 1920. Further, the National Council of Negro Women was founded in 1935 to lobby Congress against racism, sexism and job discrimination. Additional legislation was enacted that legally secured not only women’s places in the workforce, but minorities as well. President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. military in 1948, sparking mass change in the workplace (Stillman, 1968). President John Kennedy in 1961 established the Commission on the Status of women to improve hiring practices and maternity leave. The Equal Pay Act followed in 1963, making it illegal to pay a woman less than a man. Finally, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson, which among other things, prohibited discrimination with regard to any personnel action, based upon race, color, sex, national origin, or religion (Edwards, 1999). Yet, even with the passage of federal laws and the formation of activists groups, racial and gender equality in the workplace has not been guaranteed or realized. On the contrary, many companies today fail to follow the spirit of diversity legislation and continue to pay women and minorities less money than their colleagues. Further, affirmative-action legislation, designed to level the employment playing field for whites and minorities, has been attacked as being unfair to whites. However, the basic tenants of affirmative action were upheld in...

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