Being Proactive

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Organizations who address diversity proactively will have the most success implementing and enhancing diversity programs.

Encouraging Diversity in the Workplace

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There are many compelling reasons to encourage diversity in the workplace. A diversity program offers the following benefits to an organization:

  • Increased productivity
  • Fewer lawsuits
  • Retention and growth of the business
  • Increasing marketing capabilities
  • The fostering of a wider talent pool
  • Becoming and being perceived as an employer of choice
  • Better morale
  • Increased creativity of the workforce
  • Improved decision-making processes and capabilities.

Several key traits are common to successful organizations that encourage and support diversity in their workplaces. They:

  • Behave proactively
  • Support top-down, leadership-driven initiatives, clearly communicated throughout the organization
  • Promote ownership of issues throughout the organization
  • Think and behave inclusively
  • Make diversity a part of as many initiatives as possible.

A strategic plan allows the organization to begin to work the vision initiatives. This task may be handled by a task force, or a change management team, or a diversity council. Having a diversity council (or similar group) is often a good approach, because its members represent diverse ethnic and other groups. They serve in an ongoing role, advising about — and even overseeing — diversity initiatives.

Conducting a Diversity Audit

The diversity council or team will want to conduct a diversity audit to gauge where the organization is now, and where it wants to be. Audits typically consist of three parts: a document review, one or more surveys, and focus groups.  Typical projects that emerge after a diversity audit include:

  • Creation of a corporate diversity policy
  • Diversity awareness training
  • Revision or enhancement of a job development system using neutral language about diverse groups
  • Use of job postings to attract diverse talent to new or open positions
  • Marketing and promotion of the diversity program without and outside the company using the corporate intranet (internal) and extranet (public web site).

Building a Diversity Training Program

Often the next step is to conduct a needs analysis and create a diversity awareness training program. It typically includes topics such as:

  • Why implement a diversity program in the organization?
  • The dynamics of discrimination
  • Results of the initial diversity audit
  • Understanding the issues of discrimination and the investigation process
  • Creating an inclusionary culture
  • Action plans for personal and workgroup follow-up.

Other, more specific courses may follow, dealing with topics such as culture bias, or management training specific to diversity. Organizations may also set up mentoring programs, designate an affirmative action officer, or create outreach programs to inform its constituency of its work — and to help to attract a diverse talent pool.

Instituting Diversity Recruitment

To build a diverse workforce, an organization must have a broad candidate pool. Some initiatives to consider are to:

  • Maintain a list of educational institutions with a qualified and diverse student body
  • Model the diversity of the organization to potential recruitment sources
  • Utilize a diverse recruiting team so that the organization is appealing to candidates
  • Perform recruiting outreach in potential recruiting communities
  • Employ a wide range of advertising venues
  • Make sure the website explains and celebrates the diversity program
  • Seek out internal employees and liaise with suppliers and vendors to identify appropriate candidates.

Large organizations in the United States who are known for proactive diversity initiatives undertaken over a period of time and with significant change management activity include Xerox, American Express, Digital, Pepsi, and the federal government. While these large organizations have spent significant dollars, many activities to foster diversity in the workplace cost little or nothing — and can be undertaken by organizations of any size.

Preventing Discrimination

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To prevent discrimination from occurring, you must take firm steps within your organization to educate managers and employees about what constitutes discrimination and how people must behave in order to avoid committing discriminatory actions. 


  • Make sure you understand federal laws, and any additional laws enacted in your state.  In a larger organization, look to the human resources department to provide up-to-date information. If you work in a smaller organization, visit web sites to keep up with them yourself, and purchase books or periodicals.
  • Maintain open communications about fairness, diversity, and discrimination.
  • Work to understand the unique needs of each ethnic, cultural, disability or lifestyle group.
  • Consider joining a professional organization such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), where cost-effective resources, forums and industry networking opportunities are available. Visit for more information.

Policy development

The organization should develop the following policies.

Anti-discrimination: Define discrimination. Include language about prohibited conduct, complaint procedures, intolerance of retaliation, responsibilities of managers, and corrective action the company will take with anyone who violates the policy.

Anti-harassment: Define harassment, clearly state it is prohibited, describe the complaint procedure, explain that retaliation is prohibited, lay out managers’ responsibilities, and explain what process the organization will follow for investigation and corrective action.

Other Policies: Similarly, create and publish policies for complaints, anti-violence, and how your organization handles open door procedures so communications can flow between employees and management.

Ways to Discourage Discrimination

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Even with strong prevention initiatives in place, discrimination occurs. Organizations have formal and informal systems. While the formal systems ensure that policies are written and decisions are implemented, informal or individual systems govern the interaction between members of the workforce and in day-to-day practices.

Hiring practices provide an example. If a candidate is brought in based on the referral of a hiring manager, the opportunity for human resources to recruit a diverse pool of people is diminished. Likewise, challenging or desiring work assignments that come through people in positions of power in an organization often go to similar people, excluding opportunities for other employees potentially equally or better qualified.

Below are several tips for stemming potential discriminatory or offensive behaviors and actions:

  • Always work within the framework of federal and state laws.
  • If you hear or observe something questionable or disconcerting, speak up. If you are in a group setting, discuss the issue in a proactive way, rather than pinpointing specific individuals.
  • Understand the unique needs of each ethnic, cultural, disability or lifestyle group.
  • Create an atmosphere where protected group members feel comfortable.

Module Seven: Case Study

Rashid called his team together and he said, “I noticed from the last diversity training that it seemed as though many of us didn’t fully understand all the rules, laws, and policies on diversity in our company. We are a very culturally competent staff, and I believe we can become even more knowledgeable about diversity. I know we’ve talked about building a diversity council in the past. While we’ve never fully gotten a council off the ground, there’s no time like the present. Is there anyone who will volunteer to be on the council as well as help promote its helpfulness in the workplace?”

Rashid smiled at his team as he saw three hands and then a fourth hand go up, volunteering for the job.