What Are an Employer’s Responsibilities for Diversity in the Workplace?
by Ruth Mayhew
Employers have an obligation to provide employees with a safe work environment free from discrimination, harassment and intimidation. Without the proper training and management, a diverse workplace can become a breeding ground for behavior and actions that rise to the level of unlawful and unfair employment practices. Therefore, employers have several responsibilities concerning diversity in the workplace.
Since the enactment of early nondiscrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the meaning of diversity changed dramatically. In the 1960s, diversity typically referred to differences such as race, color, sex, national origin and religion. In fact, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on these factors. In later years, the meaning of diversity expanded to include individuals with disabilities, workers age 40 and over, and veterans. However, the definition of diversity in the workplace isn’t confined to the characteristics and status codified by law. Workplace diversity includes differences attributed to generation, culture and work styles and preferences.
The vast majority of employers publish a statement on their websites and employment applications and in their employee handbooks that indicate a commitment to equal opportunity employment. Employers that fulfill their obligations as equal opportunity employers ensure the company is recognized as one that values diversity through its commitment to fair employment practices. Therefore, one very important responsibility employers have where workplace diversity is concerned is widespread communication of its equal opportunity policies.
An employer’s communication policy pertaining to workplace diversity doesn’t end with a simple EOE (equal opportunity employer) stamp, however. Employers also have a responsibility for training employees and managers on topics related to diversity. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission strongly recommends a workplace diversity component within every employer’s training and development offerings. The agency states: “Such training should explain the types of conduct that violate the employer’s anti-harassment policy; the seriousness of the policy; the responsibilities of supervisors and managers when they learn of alleged harassment; and the prohibition against retaliation.” New employees, from entry-level to seasoned workers and from executive leadership to front-line production workers, must receive company training on workplace diversity. Effective training teaches employees how to recognize behavior that’s inconsistent with company policy and actions that demonstrate lack of respect for differences among employees, customers, vendors and suppliers.
Increasing attention to workplace diversity has created a new vernacular which includes buzzwords used to describe employers’ responsibilities for creating workplaces that recognize and appreciate diversity among its employees. Inclusiveness is one such buzzword. Employers have a responsibility to practice – not just advertise –inclusiveness. Practicing inclusiveness means taking inventory of all the talents, skills and qualifications within the workplace and using them for a two-fold purpose: Give employees with diverse talents the opportunity to showcase their skills and improve the company’s appeal to a larger market through utilizing those diverse talents. An example of utilizing diverse talent includes conducting a needs assessment for unchartered territory and untapped markets. Perhaps the company wants to submit a federal proposal for services that require multilingual capabilities. Identifying employees’ foreign language skills may increase the winning the services contract. Likewise, employees with multilingual capabilities gain an opportunity to contribute their talents when assigned to the new project.
Although many employers voluntarily embrace workplace diversity and the social responsibilities that accompany it, other employers’ responsibilities are mandated by federal law, as required by provisions within Executive Order 11246, which governs affirmative action requirements for certain government contractors. A widespread misconception about affirmative action and workplace diversity is the issue of quotas. Quotas are not and never have been required by affirmative action regulations. Government contractor employers are, however, encouraged to expand their recruitment practices through outreach methods that produce a wider pool of qualified applicants. Employers that have reporting requirements under Executive Order 11246 have a legal responsibility to identify how they achieve diversity in the workplace.
For more information or to learn more about this article please contact Diversity Enterprisesat www.diversityprogram.net, Marshall Hennington, Ph.D. at (646)375-2098, (310)205-5510 or (305) 914-3769.