Workforce diversity is a valuable asset for any business that seeks a competitive advantage in the global economy. Learn about the issues associated with workforce diversity and take a quiz to test your knowledge.

Definition of Workforce Diversity

Have you ever learned about another culture from someone you met at work? People from all walks of life come together in today’s business world. Many companies pride themselves on having a diverse workforce, one that is made up of individuals with a wide range of characteristics and experiences. Some of the key characteristics of workforce diversity include race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, ability, and sexual orientation. A company that embraces diversity can broaden its skill base and become more competitive and innovative. Workforce diversity also brings with it a number of issues and challenges.

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Issues and Challenges

You may know someone who has experienced unfair treatment based on a personal characteristic. Discrimination occurs when someone is denied opportunities on the basis of a personal characteristic that has no bearing on job performance. Discrimination causes great harm and is illegal in most cases.

It’s natural that tensions will arise among individuals in a diverse workforce, so it’s important for employers to have diversity management policies in place. Most large organizations have taken steps to promote diversity awareness and understanding. These diversity initiatives contribute to a positive work environment that is free from discrimination. Let’s look at some of the specific issues that arise among the diverse groups in the workforce.

Race and Ethnicity – Racial and ethnic minorities may have different perspectives, customs, or approaches to communication in the workplace. These differences can pose challenges for organizations that seek harmonious employee relations. Such challenges can be addressed through appropriate training and education.

Gender – Women have long struggled to obtain equal pay for comparable work and to remove the glass ceiling, an invisible barrier that keeps women and other minorities out of the top managerial ranks. Women also face gender discrimination and sexual harassment, i.e. sexual advances or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. Although much progress has been made to prevent such conduct, there is still a need for training and education.

Age – Today’s diverse workforce reflects generational differences and differing perspectives about the relationship between age and ability or professional worth. While complaints about age discrimination are not as prevalent as complaints about gender and racial discrimination, managers must still promote awareness and understanding of age differences in the workforce.

Religion – Religious diversity in the workplace raises freedom of expression issues and can lead to conflicts over employee leave for religious observances. Religious discrimination suits are on the rise, so this is another important area for managerial attention.

Ability – Physically and mentally challenged individuals also bring diversity to the workforce. Employers need to address misconceptions and negative attitudes about these individuals and take measures to promote positive relations among employees with differing ability levels.

Sexual Orientation – Gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals face high levels of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. There is controversy over the extent of legal protections that should be in place for sexual orientation. However, managers must still take steps to increase sensitivity and awareness of differences in sexual orientation.

Lesson Summary

A diverse workforce will help a business reach diverse markets. Many companies pride themselves on employing individuals from varying races, genders, ages, religious backgrounds, abilities, and sexual orientations. What’s more, organizations often have diversity initiatives in place to promote diversity awareness and understanding. Training and education play an important role in addressing workplace diversity issues, including discrimination, which is when someone is denied opportunities on the basis of a personal characteristic that has no bearing on job performance. Glass ceiling and sexual harassment issues are additional workplace diversity challenges.

Workforce Diversity: Key Terms

  • Workforce diversity: differences in employee characteristics including ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and ability
  • Discrimination: occurs when someone is denied opportunities because of a characteristic that has no relation to job performance
  • Diversity initiatives: initiatives made to make the workplace positive and non-discriminatory
  • Glass ceiling: an invisible barrier that prevents women and minorities from moving up in business or corporate positions
  • Sexual harassment: unwelcome eadvances or conduct that are sexual in nature

Learning Outcomes

When students finish this lesson, they are able to:

  • Define workforce diversity
  • Explain what discrimination is
  • Describe issues and challenges associated with workforce diversity