Diversity, Discrimination and the Workplace

Living in one of the freest countries on Earth means that the people here should be free as well. Unfortunately not everything is equal and fair. We spend a large part of our waking hours at our jobs, trying to make a decent wage. Discrimination in the workplace still exists and is here to stay. It is increasingly u p to companies to do the right thing and protect their employees and treat them as the valuable assets they are. Today’s workplaces are undergoing great change and experiencing pressure in many different aspects. One challenge that frequently comes up is diversity in the workplace.

Our country is a melting pot ethnically, socially and more and of course this has had an effect on the workplace. Companies have had to adapt and adjust their policies in order to maintain morale and employees. One problem companies must face as an ongoing threat is discrimination. Discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person or group based on prejudice, according to the Word reference dictionary of English. Discrimination in the workplace is on the rise. The EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reported a record number of cases filed in 2008, 95, 402 discrimination cases in all.

The most common were based on race, retaliation and sex-based. (Angel, 2010) It can take on many forms, such as gender, age, sex, race, color, religion, ethnicity and more. Two areas that are quite common and stick out when it comes to discrimination challenges and issues in the workplace are gender and sexual orientation discrimination. These incidents can cost companies in lost wages, employees, legal costs and etc. Federal laws to protect workers in the workplace have been enacted. Enforcement of these laws can be difficult.

Workers facing discrimination may feel intimidated and afraid to cause any problems and jeopardize their jobs. Retaliation, fear of retaliation and harassment are very real problems. They are also considered forms of discrimination and against the law. The first major Federal law enacted to protect workers was called the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination against workers on the base of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. The second is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against workers aged 40 years old and older.

This was amended by the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act which prohibits discrimination in pension benefits and requires disclosure. Another major Federal law enacted to protect employees was the Family and Medical Leave Act. This requires employers to grant eligible employees unpaid time off for family or medical leave up to 12 weeks per year without losing their job. The next law is called the Equal Pay Act which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act and prohibited the payment of different wages to men and women for the same work.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to protect disabled workers with actual or perceived physical or mental disabilities. It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees for essential functions of their jobs. And the last major Federal law enacted was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This amended the Title VII and prohibited discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions as a form of sex discrimination under title VII. Pregnant women must be treated in the same way as other employees.

Many states as well as local entities have enacted laws to deter discrimination in the workplace and further protect certain categories of people. (Gross 2010) Amazingly enough, despite our country’s huge strides and advances in all aspects of life, equality in the workplace among minorities is still a lagging problem. It would seem that in the United States equal work would equate with equal pay. This unfortunately is still not reality. Women with the same experience and education are only making 77 cents to men’s $1. 00 according to 2008 Census Bureau information.

(Census Bureau 2008) Experts often try to chalk this difference up to the “Mommy Track” or the time women spend taking care of children and less hours worked as a result but no data or studies have concluded this as fact. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was supposed to equal the playing field between men and women, equal work meant equal pay. Yet, many mothers are struggling just to make ends meet, no matter how hard they work and how good intentions. Single mothers make up 27. 7% of total people living in poverty in this country according to the latest Census Bureau statistics.

79% of the single moms in the United States are employed and 44% are divorced. These figures paint a grim picture of families that are already in anguish and at a disadvantage, further perpetuating problems with the strain of stress, financial problems and poverty. Only 31% of single parents receive government assistance, despite many thinking to the contrary. They could be considered the working poor. (Census Bureau 2010) Another common problem in many companies exists among management. Males still hold the majority of high level executive and management positions.

Although women have come a long way in breaking tradition and are entering the workforce in record numbers, their climb isn’t as high as their counterparts. This is unfortunate as they do have many exclusive skills which help them excel in leadership positions and be a major benefit to their company. One enormous bonus women, or anyone for that matter, can make use of to get ahead and stay ahead is education. Education is the great equalizer. Many companies offer tuition assistance for employees furthering their education.

This can help an employee enhance their education and qualifications, get a promotion or break the glass ceiling and become management material. The wage gap still exists but women today do have options to get ahead. Extra effort now can pay in the long run. At a minimum, many companies could have ongoing training in career enhancing classes, if not within the company itself, than having an online capability and access to resources would help tremendously. The ability to get ahead and be empowered is life changing.

Another difficulty that workplaces are battling with is discrimination against employees of differing sexual orientation. Discrimination can take many forms, but mainly the one that affects employees the most is in their wallets. According to M. V. Lee Badgett author of the article The Wage of Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review at Cornell University, homosexual or bisexual male workers made 11-27% less than heterosexual male workers with the same education and job. The effects of discrimination against gays in the workplace are real and genuine.

It can cause increased stress, tension and disharmony. Some people may be so bothered they feel left with no alternative but to quit. This is unfair. Instead they should feel supported enough by their management or human resource staff that they can approach them and divulge their problem with confidence. The issues have to be dealt with swiftly and seriously. Some have called for civil rights legislation for gays to be drafted. Opponents oppose this stating they do not need special protection and rights. Sexual orientation conflicts and discrimination in the workplace are becoming more and more common.

It is something that every company should have a plan of action already in place before it becomes an issue. The actual number of people of alternative sexual orientation or gay in the country is unknown but they are no longer hiding in the shadows and aren’t something that can be ignored. Ignoring diversity will not make it go away but instead can cost a company additional time, money and wasted productivity. Companies need to have human resource departments, who are prepared for and able to respond to employee’s allegations and reports of misconduct in a proper and adequate manner.

They must treat each case delicately and make sure the employee feels protected, acknowledged and supported. Any misstep or attempting to sweep the problem under the rug could be used against the company. It is best to be prepared, take the extra precautions to address the incident and manage it effectively. Penalties and lawsuits against companies for discrimination can be costly and potentially be the downfall or ruin of a small company. Managers should be aware of what is going on within their departments and in tune with arising conflicts.

They also should attempt to treat all employees fairly and equally. Keep personal beliefs and opinions private and encourage those around you to do the same. Try to maintain a professional attitude at work, avoid gossip, telling crude and biased or rude jokes or conversations and etc. People come to work to earn a living and support themselves and families, not be insulted, discriminated against or harmed. Understand that people are all different, act, think, and say a variety of things. What one person can think is a joke, another can take as a put down or insult.

It is best to err on the side of caution and just learn to avoid the entire issue of joking around. Ongoing discrimination training for human resource staff should be required. As well, literature or meetings should also be held for the rest of the company employees so they can become aware of and educated about discrimination, what it is and isn’t, what the law says and how to deal with it appropriately and let the management or human resource staff know of any issues. In some states training is mandatory for companies and their employees, so it is important to be in compliance and know the laws.

Adding an anti discrimination policy to your employee handbook and posting it within your company will aid in reminding others the serious nature of the threat and that the company has a zero tolerance for such behaviors. And then back up that policy with actions if something arises. (All Business 2010) Creating employee surveys and questionnaires is a good way to gauge the company’s effectiveness of anti discrimination and diversity policies. It provides employees with the chance to voice concerns with current practices, their workplace environment and a voice to air their grievances or comments.

Keeping the lines of communication open is good for an organization. Appropriately handling diversity issues for management means acknowledging all types of people from different backgrounds and realizing that the differences are ok, important and valuable. Treating people fairly can’t be translated as the same since a diverse staff means each person is different. The standards expected of employees can be similar but treatment of them may not always be the same. For example, different people learn, understand and communicate in different ways.

What works for one group may not work for another. Before the board meeting begins, it wouldn’t be polite or appropriate for the male staff to launch into a heated discussion or tirade about the latest basketball game and outright ignore the female staff or those not interested in sports. Women and men have different interests generally and it would be wise to keep the conversations general in nature where both sides can contribute to the exchange. Keeping the subject neutral and work oriented is ideal. The key word to making diversity work in a company is to remember inclusivity.

People put forth more effort and do their best work when they feel accepted, fairly compensated, respected and appreciated. The golden rule would also be applicable, “treat others as you would like to be treated” and you will see a noticeable difference in the attitudes and performances around you. People are able to flourish. Another sure fire method to gain credibility as a company is to promote diversity in leadership positions. This can enhance the inclusivity in your company and make all people feel accepted and welcome and let them know that hard work is rewarded, just as it should be.

Diverse leaders bring different talents, abilities and skills to the job at hand. This promotes a powerful and positive message for a company when they put performance above the office politics. Our economy is becoming overwhelmingly more global. As it does, so does our workforce. Diversity can work against a company who is not prepared to understand its effects and how to make it work for them. It also can positively improve a company when properly used to its advantage. People of different backgrounds, racial groups, ethnicity, gender, sex, age and so on each have something unique to offer.

When all these differing resources are put together the result it is stronger and often times far superior. Diversity within a company should be inclusive and not exclusive. As mentioned in an article from Cornell University’s ILR School, “Diversity is about learning from others who are not the same, about dignity and respect for all, and about creating workplace environments and practices that encourage learning from others and capture the advantage of diverse perspectives.

” (Cornell U-IRL School 2010) Being inclusive and equitable in your company will pay off greatly in the short and long term. The potential pool for employable candidates will be expanded. It will help employ and retain diverse and valuable people. It will enhance the diverse ideas, abilities and skills in your work force, and in the long term it will boost morale, employee retention and satisfaction and improve your bottom line. It truly is a win-win situation for both the employer and employee.

Diversity in the workplace in 2010 and into the unforeseeable future will be ever increasing and with that will be the need for companies to get on board and adapt with the diverse changes. Staying the same will mean not moving forward and foregoing many new and exciting opportunities for global growth. With more and more companies going global, the need for intercultural communication and etc will be a given. Companies that can use their diversity to benefit and expand their horizons will succeed.

Using their employee’s skills and assets, like different linguistic abilities and cultural understandings can only help provide better service worldwide. Those companies that are unable to change will not be able to compete in the global market and their business will inevitably suffer. Those companies that are willing to embrace diversity and any challenges that they may encounter will emerge stronger and more viable and ready to move into the next century and compete in our global economy. Works Cited

All Business (2010) Dealing with Discrimination in the Workplace 10, July 2010 <http://www. allbusiness. com/legal/laws-government-regulations-employment/11554-1. html> Angel, Amy (2010) How to Stem Discrimination Claims Daily Journal of Commerce 10, July 2010 <http://www. allbusiness. com/legal/labor-employment-law-discrimination-religious/14061056-1. html> Census Bureau, March 2008, Newsroom: Facts for Features 10, July, 2010 <http://www. census. gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editionscb08-ff08.

html> Cornell University (2010) ILR School Workplace Diversity Introduction 10, July 2010 < http://www. ilr. cornell. edu/library/research/subjectguides/workplacediversity. html> Gross, Barrie (2010) Overview of Major Federal Employment Discrimination Laws, 10, July 2010 < http://www. allbusiness. com/human-resources/workplace-health-safety-employment/4554392-1. html> Budget, M (1995) the Wage of Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Cornell University