Diversity is a broad term that refers to a wide range of differences in gender, age, race, disability or condition, sexual orientation, religion or nationality. Relating to the workplace, diversity simply means that the population in the workplace is not homogeneous. Diversity is important in today's business environment for several reasons, including the necessity of compliance with anti-discrimination laws, an increasingly multicultural world and a recognition that different perspectives are important.
Diversity is important in the workplace in part to comply with the law. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed Title VII, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, color or national origin. All state, local and government employers and private companies, along with employment agencies and labor organizations, are subject to the mandates of Title VII, as long as they have 15 or more employees. Title VII requires companies to make hiring decisions without considering any of the prohibited factors. To ensure that companies are complying with Title VII mandates, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires many large companies to report demographic data of all employees they hire. Title VII authorized both civil and criminal penalties for discrimination, so employers who want to ensure compliance need to have a diverse workforce.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also stresses the importance of diversity in the business environment. It requires employers to hire and make reasonable accommodations to hire disabled individuals. By ensuring that all Americans have equal access to jobs, the ADA has made it clear that this type of diversity is essential to a strong business culture in America.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
Diversity in the business environment extends to age as well. Although technology has evolved dramatically over the past several decades, it is still beneficial to business environments as a whole to hire and maintain older employees with different or diverse experiences. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act mandates that companies cannot discriminate against older workers (workers over the age of 40) in hiring, promotion, compensation, terms and conditions or termination of employment. Along with the need for the lifetime experience of older workers, complying with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ensures that diversity in ages is paramount in the workplace.
Aside from complying with the law, diversity is also important due to an increasingly international business landscape. Business travel has increased dramatically, and more people than ever telecommute to work from different cities, states or countries. The increase in travel, along with the increase in technology, means that more companies and customers are international. Understanding different cultures and different countries is thus essential for success in the global environment. Working with people of different cultures, races or backgrounds can help provide this insight.
With increased diversity comes an increase in perspectives. People from different religious, cultural, national or racial backgrounds may have different experiences that provide them with unique perspectives on solving problems, attracting customers and interacting with co-workers. These fresh perspectives and ideas may help a business to grow and expand in exciting new directions.