Workplace diversity can be defined as a culture of fairness and opportunity among employees from different racial, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds. A diverse workforce can provide a powerful advantage for any business as long as it’s managed effectively. Consider expanding the concept of diversity beyond any protected class, to include diversity of thought, viewpoint and ideas.
Bank of America understands this view of diversity. “At Bank of America, we respect and value not only differences related to race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation, but also diversity of viewpoint, experience, talents and ideas. We strive to empower all associates to excel on the job and reach their full potentials, and reward and recognize associates based on performance and results.” Trust is a core value of Bank of America.
Open and consistent communication is a key factor in building trust. Trust is the foundation of the perception of fairness. Inclusion is an increasingly important workplace value. Americans believe in a level playing field and that people should be treated with respect.
Companies that do not listen to different thoughts lose. Failure to listen to employees sends a message that quickly degenerates to low morale and lack of commitment.
Accepting different viewpoints as potentially significant makes good business sense. DuPont Merck provides an example of an Hispanic manager who made note that a drug was only labeled in English. The drug’s label and instructions were translated into Spanish and 15 additional languages, subsequently bringing in millions of dollars in new business.
A Wal-Mart employee suggested replacing light bulbs in the ceiling fans with condensed fluorescent lamps (CFL) to save on their own energy costs. CFLs use 75- 80% less electricity. Wal-Mart saves $6 million a year. By changing long fluorescent bulbs, they anticipate $1 billion in savings annually. Listening pays off.
Leadership needs to set the tone since managing every human interaction in the workplace is impossible. Incorporating inclusion as a business strategy will send the message beyond a workplace that is free of discrimination. The message is a workplace that values diverse ideas, personalities and talents.
Developing an engaged workforce requires a commitment on the part of all management to listen actively and openly. Many senior-level initiatives are undermined by supervisors and managers who are uninformed and /or untrained. Supervisors who are unsure of what information to disclose or are unable to listen to diverse thoughts create an environment that separates employees and management. Open, two-way communi- cation dispels guesswork; guesswork that can lead to thoughts of discrimination.