APU Business Careers Careers & Learning Original

The Complicated World of Employment Discrimination (Part VIII)

By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University

Note: This article contains content adapted from lesson material I wrote for APUS classes. It is the final article in an eight-part series on employment discrimination law and sound employment practices. In this article, we’ll weigh up workplace diversity strategies and how they can help employers not only with avoiding liability for employment discrimination, but also with harnessing unique and valuable ideas from different types of people.

The Advantages of Workforce Diversity in Employment

Mainstream American employer values have changed considerably in the last 30 or so years. The first use of the term “workforce diversity” was in a publication called Workforce 2000, published in the 1980s. The report was a prediction of the detailed characteristics of the first world workforces at the turn of the millennium.

Recognizing the reality that different races, ethnicities, genders, disabilities and other attributes would inevitably alter the typical American work environment, employers have chosen to focus on the value that this diversity brings to organizations. Businesses have quickly grown to learn that people of different circumstances bring with them different perspectives, values and ideas. As a result, this intellectual capital is invaluable for organizational development.

A Diverse Workforce Prevents ‘Groupthink’ and Promotes Better Problem Solving

Consider the well-established psychological phenomenon of “groupthink.” Groupthink occurs when people of similar thinking and perspectives working as a group suffer from limited thought differentiation, and they grow to value conformity and cohesion over optimization.

But when a problem is presented to this type of group, group members with similar backgrounds tend to think in similar ways and arrive at similar conclusions. Additionally, they tend to prioritize agreement and loyalty to the group over hashing out the very best solutions to a problem.

However, sociological research has delivered strong evidence that diverse groups are much less likely to suffer from groupthink. Because members are diverse and do not think in the same ways or value all of the same things, alternative points of view are much more likely to be heard. Consequently, these groups are much more likely to arrive at the best decisions for a company.

Suppose, for example, that a project team at an automotive company is developing a new car concept. The team is comprised mainly of American white males, but the company recently added a female who was born and raised in India.

Normally, this group would suffer from the limited perspective of white men in the United States. Because of their new addition, they benefit from the perspective of a female driver and someone who is experienced with traffic customs, laws, and demands in an entirely different market. As a result, their new teammate can provide priceless insight toward developing a better, safer, more versatile and more marketable product than they might otherwise have developed by themselves.

Smart Companies Should Hire Diverse Workforces for Moving into International Markets

Aside from better products, services and solutions, globalization provides yet another strong reason for the development of a diverse workforce. The economic world is indeed getting smaller every day.

As successful companies in all different nations consider their first steps into foreign markets, they would do well to hire and integrate employees who are native to the international markets they seek. No one knows laws, customs, cultural norms and business practices in a particular country better than someone who is born and raised there.

With these powerful reasons in mind, employers are wise to frame their perspectives on workplace diversity not just in terms of legal compliance, but also in terms of a strategy for competitive advantage and organizational strength. If employers genuinely value the diverse contributions of employees, then the legal mandates of non-discrimination tend to take care of themselves.

About the Author

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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