Diversity Training at the Workplace

Work in Progress at the University of Illinois

by Rosemary Wentling

Changing World, Changing Work

By the year 2000, more than 90 percent of the new entrants into the workforce will be women and minorities. This changing workforce is one of the major challenges facing U.S. organizations. Businesses that recognize the need to fully develop all members of the workforce are already using various approaches to manage diversity. A project at NCRVE's University of Illinois site is studying diversity in the workplace in the context of these demographic trends. Initial findings from case studies of exemplary diversity training programs at large organizations are presented below.

Definitions of "diversity" range from narrow to very broad. Narrow definitions tend to reflect Equal Employment Opportunity law, and define diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, age, national origin, religion, and disability. Broad definitions may include sexual/affectional orientation, values, personality characteristics, education, language, physical appearance, marital status, lifestyle, beliefs, and background characteristics (such as geographic origin, tenure with the organization, and economic status). This report focuses on diversity in the broadest sense, including all the characteristics that make one person different from another.

Diversity in Society and the Workforce

The current demographic changes embrace women and men of all races, ethnic backgrounds, ages, sexual/affectional orientations, and physical abilities. By the 21st century today's racial and ethnic minorities, who now constitute about 25 percent of the U.S. population, will constitute nearly one-half of all Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census 1994 projections. In the next century, African Americans, Asians, and Latinos will outnumber whites in the U.S.

These demographic trends will affect the makeup of the U.S. labor force. Throughout the 1990s, people of color, white women, and immigrants will account for 90 percent of the net growth in our nation's labor force. By the year 2000, women will account for more than 47 percent of the total workforce, and 61 percent of all American women will be employed. In 1980, African Americans made up 10 percent of the total workforce and Hispanics accounted for 6 percent. By the end of the 1990s, African Americans will make up 12 percent of the total labor force. Hispanics will account for 10 percent and Asians another 4 percent (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1993).

Johnston and Packer in their 1987 book Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century indicated that the American workforce will continue to mature. The average age of the workforce is expected to increase, from 36 in 1986 to age 39 by the year 2000. Those in the 35-54 age group in the workforce will increase from 38 percent in 1985 to 51 percent by 2000. These changes in the age distribution of employees, along with new flatter organization structures, mean that several generations of workers will often be working side by side.

Even though the average age of the workforce will rise, an increasing number of youth in the 16-24- year-old group will enter the job market by the end of the 1990s. These youth are likely to be more ethnically diverse than the workers in today's workforce. Businesses must learn to fully utilize the talents of minority youth. Although racial and linguistic bias continue to stifle employment opportunities for minority youth, as our nation's economy improves employers will have to turn increasingly to young people.

People with disabilities have also been stereotyped and discriminated against, though the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act states that workers with disabilities must be integrated into the labor force. The increase of this group in the workforce benefits society as well, because their employment helps decrease government subsidies and increases tax revenues and productivity.

In the near future the labor market will become more and more a seller's market. The shrinking workforce and the shortage of skilled labor will force employers to compete to attract and retain all available employees, including previously underrepresented groups. These demographic changes have led many organizations to begin changing their cultures in order to value and manage diversity better.

Purpose of Study

This research project will be completed this fall. We aim to identify policies and practices that create work environments favorable to a diverse workforce. Data has been collected via case studies of selected exemplary diversity training programs, focus groups with school-to-work directors, an in-depth literature review, and interviews with diversity experts.

The project's descriptions of exemplary diversity training programs will help school-to-work program coordinators select sites for work-based learning. The research can also be used to prepare work-site supervisors to work with students who are ethnically, culturally, and in other ways different from their current workers. Because the students in work-based learning programs are likely to be younger and more ethnically diverse than people in today's workforce, business and educational organizations must strive to foster an environment in which all individuals can reach their full potential. The research will also provide guidelines to businesses seeking to create workplace environments that help diverse workers fulfill their potential.

This study seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the social barriers that have inhibited the employment, development, retention, and promotion of underrepresented groups in the workforce, and are likely to affect the success of school-to-work programs?
  2. What are the goals of effective diversity training programs?
  3. What criteria relative to diversity should be used to evaluate the quality of work-based learning sites?
  4. What are appropriate ways for school personnel to assist students?

Findings To Date

  1. The six barriers that have most inhibited the employment, development, retention, and promotion of underrepresented groups, as well as the successful transition of minority youth into the workforce are: discrimination, stereotypes/prejudice, poor career planning, unsupportive work environment, qualification and performance questioned, and lack of mentors.
  2. Training is a widely used strategy in managing diversity in the workplace. Other strategies for managing diversity include: initiatives to change the organizational culture; policy revision to support diverse needs; mentoring programs; nontraditional work arrangements; employees' strategic career planning programs; and communication activities, such as handbooks, newsletters, meetings, and policies about the organization's diversity goals, vision, and successes.
  3. Diversity training programs can be grouped into the following categories: awareness-based training, to increase employee knowledge and sensitivity to diversity issues; skills-based training, to provide workers with a set of skills to enable them to deal effectively with workplace diversity; and integrated training, which merges diversity concepts with previous training programs.
  4. The most effective workplace diversity training programs are inclusive. These programs aim at enrolling all employees; obtain the support of senior management; keep their definitions broad, in order to include everyone as part of the diversity that should be valued; conduct needs assessment and customize programs to meet organizational needs; follow action plans; and provide accountability.
  5. The most appropriate ways for school personnel to assist students are by providing the following: career guidance, work teams/groups activities, mentoring, role models, cultural diversity awareness, and activities to raise educational and performance expectations.

A Model Diversity Plan for Businesses

What is the difference between companies that support diversity in the workforce and those that don't? According to experts (see references below), businesses that support diversity link it to the company's strategic vision. These businesses monitor recruitment, promotion, and development trends, and reinforce the value of diversity in hiring. They are committed to technical re-education, and pay attention to subtle reinforcements of a homogenous ideal.

Northern State Power in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an organization with a model diversity plan, has initiated the following activities:

More information is available from: Rose Mary Wentling: phone: (217) 333-0807, fax: (217) 244-5632 email: rmcwent@uiuc.edu Mildred Griggs: phone: (217) 333-0960, fax (217) 333-5847 email: m-griggs@uiuc.edu
National Center for Research in Vocational Education
University of Illinois
345 College of Education
Champaign, IL 61820

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