Diversity in the workplace has been a top priority since the enactment of Title VII in 1964. With the passage of subsequent anti-discrimination regulations, lawmakers have been engaged in the creation of workplaces that are comprised of a wide range of people from varied cultures, races, and diverse interests. Overwhelming evidence supports diversity in the workplace, yet problems and issues persist, together with several new issues that have arisen out of changes in America's workforce demographic. Here are some of the groups likely to experience challenges due to diversity bias this year.
As of 2011, women comprise nearly half of the American workforce, but earn on average 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. STEM careers (Science, Math, Engineering and Technology) represent a huge area of opportunity in 2012, with half of all math undergraduate degrees going to women, but according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS.org, 2012) after that, parity disappears; only 27% of all math PhD's are awarded to women, and only 27% of individuals in STEM careers are women. Although infinitesimal gender differences may exist, it is most likely social factors causing the gap. There is no shortage of jobs for women in the STEM career job market, and it is projected to continue its growth for the foreseeable future. STEM career companies are making earnest efforts to hire qualified women. A big plus: females in STEM careers earn salaries more comparable to their male counterparts; according to an August 2011 report by the US Department of Commerce, the wage gap is 14% compared to 21% for Non-STEM Careers.
Discriminatory Hiring Practices
Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, sex, age, national origin or other prohibited basis, but new criteria is being used to screen out candidates that carries the potential for arbitrary discrimination. Companies are using credit checks and criminal background checks as part of the evaluative process; this may be against anti-discrimination laws.
This is a tough situation. But it is always better to disclose information if asked on the application.
Older Individuals: Life spans continue to increase, the economy exerts negative impact on retirement portfolios, and the job market for seasoned professionals remains flat. These three factors are creating a growing population of baby boomers who are either continuing their careers past the traditional retirement age, or they are re-entering the job market due to job eliminations at their current employer. The best practices solution for you is keeping your resume current and relevant, while developing your networking skills.
Hiring the Jobless
What if you are unemployed yet no one will consider you due to your lack of a job? This practice, called preemptive discrimination, harms the demographic group most in need of a job, is counterproductive to creating quality workplaces, and arbitrarily disqualifies candidates who may have the skills, knowledge and abilities to succeed in the position in question.
If this applies to your situation, take advantage of your state's unemployment services and resources; including a job board offering employment opportunities.
Diversity Management Training
Diversity management is a relevant topic for both hiring professionals and those managers who lead a team. HR hiring managers must learn to make hiring decisions that reflect our increasingly global society, and managers need a skill set that enables them to effectively manage a team comprised of individuals who may have widely varied cultural, gender and racial differences. Whether the initiative arose out of a company's pragmatic desire to end discrimination lawsuits, or an executive epiphany realizing that fostering a corporate culture valuing diversity creates a workplace environment with a competitive advantage, the result is that learning how to manage a diverse workforce is as important as having a diverse workforce, and there is a specific skill set required by managers in order for the initiative to thrive.
If you are a hiring manager, inquire whether your company offers diversity training, and take it! If the training isn't offered, work with HR to put the training in place. It will be one of the best investments your company makes in 2012.
Diversity means so much more than just hiring minorities. Today's initiative and issues are aimed at creating a paradigm shift in attitudes towards all groups of people in our society. Only then will we be able to create a work environment that is truly oriented towards embracing and appreciating that it is our differences, not our sameness, that makes our whole greater than the sum of our parts.