Amid this time of chaos and questions about social injustice and inequitable treatment, it remains important for our emerging leaders to acknowledge the evolving demographics of the workforce, and recognize the benefits of hiring and nurturing a diverse team of employees. The research seems to agree that the variety of backgrounds, experiences and expertise of a varied workforce brings:
- Effective problem-solving
- Strategic flexibility
- Employee satisfaction
- Increased, satisfied customer base
- Increased productivity
Of course, challenges do exist such as communication challenges, cultural unawareness, misunderstandings, etc.
As these topics set the tone for the rest of the curriculum, I always introduce them early in the semester: workplace diversity and discrimination including racial and ethnic disparities, gender inequity and sexual harassment. We talk about how to make inclusion genuine by cultivating openness to new understandings, cultural competency and training needs. I make sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute what they have to offer by focusing on goal achievement and other work-related outcomes.
We talk about the legal environment too. But largely, we discuss how skilled leaders can manage a diverse workforce to capitalize on its benefits and mitigate the possible problems.
In previous years, I’ve had to steady myself for the onslaught of important but uncomfortable comments and questions that develop such as:
“Why should I have to hire someone who’s unqualified just because they’re a minority?
“Men lose their jobs all the time because women lie about being harassed.”
No, they don’t.
“How is it fair if I give someone time to pray? What about everyone else? Do I have to give them time away from work, too?”
If they need it, of course.
This semester, I was ready. Taking a deep breath I gave myself a good talking to about what questions would arise and how best to handle them. But something new happened. Thoughtful questions about how to create an inclusive environment. Lively discussions about what could be considered a hostile work environment. Deliberations about how best to respond.
I was filled with excitement and thankfulness. Despite the seeming rise in violence and violent attitudes of intolerance, my class of 30 young leaders is preparing to take on injustice and change the world.
They just may succeed.
Submitted by Robyn-Jay Bage