By Holly Hall, CWCC Intern –Summer 2011
According to BusinessDictionary.com, the phrase “workforce diversity” refers to similarities and differences between employees in regards to their age, cultural background, physical abilities and disabilities, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. I believe it also refers to the unique knowledge and skills workers bring to the organization, including their past experiences at other jobs. For example, being a woman who is hard-of-hearing means I am able to contribute with my “excellent grammar skills,” which, I’ve been told time and again, are better than those of others while several employees may be good at accounting and numbers (which I am terrible with). However, I have a constant struggle with trying to communicate in group settings, something the other employees can take for granted, because my hearing loss is rated as being near the “severe” zone. I’ve experienced discrimination in the hiring process simply because employers fail to realize that hard-of-hearing people are just as capable of performing essential job duties like everyone else, with the only difference being that we have to look at whomever we are having a conversation with. Truly, even a blind person can work just as long as he/she is given tasks that allow the use of his/her other faculties!
Thousands of today’s workers owe eternal gratitude to agencies like Vocational Rehabilitation, since they are now able to blend in with the rest and contribute their own talents to the daily workload without having to let the entire world know of their “handicap”. That word is in quotation marks, because even a person’s disability is just as diverse as knowledge, abilities, and skills. In addition, people who do have handicaps hate that word, with the runner-up being “disabled”. I always think it is fascinating to watch the makings of each person’s talents unfold as we learn to work together for the organization’s success – including its competitive advantage – regardless of where they came from. To those of you who ask the perpetual question which is forbidden even to the hiring managers (i.e. – “but just how will you contribute to the organization?”) or secretly judge us rashly with false assumptions which influence your hiring/placement decisions (i.e. – making judgments about what I can and can’t do), I challenge you to remember that the most successful organizations already have an existing mixture of people from all races, religions, education levels, etc. working for them and that they’d be doing themselves a huge disfavor by turning people like me down; in fact, I might be the very person they need to win the battle against their competition!
The workplace is supposed to be a “classroom,” so to speak, wherein we all learn from one another while doing our jobs. Just as everyone has unique talents, so does he/she have his/her own personal beliefs; it is common sense to respect them. Unless a specific dress code is required by the business, it is quite interesting to see how differently people show up to work each day in a particular outfit. Indeed, workplace diversity is a challenge for everyone. I’ve seen a huge difference in how organizations deal with this, from employers struggling to accept promising workers whose religions forbid working on certain days to employees breaking the ice and preconceived stereotypes of their co-workers when they assemble as a team to complete a task through Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing under the guidance of an able leader. At the end of the day, though, doesn’t it feel satisfying to thank your diverse workforce for their hard work and unique efforts in helping to further your organization’s growth and competitive edge for yet another profitable year?