The Diverse Workforce: Are You Ready

Two trends will reshape the American workforce in the coming years: the ongoing exit of the Baby Boomers and their replacement by a workforce that is dramatically more diverse in nearly every way possible including race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and marital status.

While these trends may be inevitable, how any one company manages them may be a key factor in separating winners from losers. “A diverse and engaged workforce is fundamental to sustained business,” argues MDB Group, a consulting firm specializing in business growth through diversity, inclusion, and intercultural expertise. ”It is the platform for the productivity, innovation, and creativity essential in today’s marketplace.”

But getting the benefits of a diverse workplace isn’t always a smooth process. Long-time employees may be resistant to change. At the same time, employees who are both new to the workplace and to the culture (e.g., recent immigrants) may find it difficult to manage the transition.

Dr. Linda Manning, a Senior Fellow at the University of Ottawa and a consultant on inclusive talent management practices, likens the change to the entry of women into the workforce. “Women’s entry into the labor force led to adaptations in many work places, including flex-time.  The organization’s goals had to take priority and a means for adapting to the needs of women in the workplace emerged.  The adaptation benefited everyone.”

Surveys, training, onboarding programs, an attitude of openness, etc., are all critical to managing the new workplace. But the transition is a profound one and will require an effort just as profound.

Start by keeping in mind that everyone brings a cultural outlook that drives perceptions, expectations, and behaviors. An otherwise hard-working employee who seems to “lack initiative” may be acting from a culturally ingrained sense of hierarchy and respect. Explain what “initiative” means to you and provide feedback in private. Explain workplace norms—the ‘unwritten rules’ that everyone ‘knows’ but we don’t know we know.

Don’t forget to take into account the role that communications technology plays in managing the new workplace. Explain expectations about the use of communications including responsiveness, availability, using the system for personal matters, etc. Taking the time to do it early on can eliminate misunderstandings down the road.

According to the MDB Group, retention is frequently the “hidden gold” of efforts that improve workforce diversity. It’s easy to lose an otherwise skilled employee because of an unsupportive work environment. A concerted effort around diversity issues can improve retention considerably.

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About Vic Levinson
Telecommunications and IT professional with over 20 years experience in Business Telecommunications. Specializing in voice over IP (VoIP) for business: hosted VoIP, business VoIP phone systems, SIP providers, carriers, T1's - the works. Founded Prime Telecommunications in 1993 and providing business communications solutions. Cloud Applications- everything from hosted network security, hosted Disaster Recovery, hosted printer management, data centers and colocation solutions for businesses.

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