Our world has changed significantly in the last 35 years. As a result of these social changes, the workplace has also changed (EEOC, 2011). Although there have been several societal changes, one of the largest has been expanding opportunities for women. As late as the sixties, the workplace was dominated by men while women, especially those with families, stayed home to supervise their children and maintain their households. The sixties saw the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. Many people associate this era as providing additional opportunities for Blacks. Realistically, the movement provided additional opportunities for all races—and for all genders (Barber, 2002). By the beginning of the seventies, the national economy took a turn for the worst and a single income, usually that of the male, could no longer maintain the American standard of living. The economic changes of the seventies provided workplace opportunities for females (Borstelmann, 2012).
As early as the 19th Century, women discovered job opportunities as nurses, maids, and schoolteachers. However, true opportunities to work as equals in the “men’s world” were much slower in coming. By the seventies, colleges were accepting women and society was discovering that women, given the same academic opportunities as men, could work in equal or sometimes greater areas of responsibility than positions previously held by men. Added to these greater opportunities for women were changes in the American workplace. During a previous era, artisan income was replaced by the Industrial Revolution where employees, usually men, earned income by “the sweat on their brow.” By the seventies the Industrial Revolution had given way to the Information Age and both men and women gained income opportunities through computer use and associated robotics (Houle, 2011).
Although the equality of men and women now play a major role in our ever-changing workplace, other social justices are also being called into play. Recent courtroom decisions expanded workplace opportunities for individuals with physical handicaps (Houle, 2011). New technology has also expanded these roles. Wheelchairs are now motorized. Stairs are being replaced with elevators or with wheelchair accessible ramps. Hearings aids and telephones with special devices to accommodate the hard of hearing are now readily available (Superville, 2010). Our world is becoming more aware that physical disabilities do not affect intelligence and that people who have physical disabilities may have as much to offer an employer as those individuals without physical disabilities.
The nineties, the last decade of the 20th Century, has expanded business into a global economy. America’s workforce cannot survive without input from people of other nations. In some cases these diverse nationalities have immigrated to the United States. In other cases, American businesses are sending workers to foreign lands, either temporarily or permanently. In order to do business, American entrepreneurs need to gain a better understanding of diverse cultures, different religions, and different social classes. A simple example of getting along with different groups is the training provided to employees at Florida’s theme parks. Employees are instructed to give directions using their entire hand to point (almost in a military salute fashion) because certain cultures think of a single finger point as being a personal insult (Disney, 2011).
The workforce that was once strictly men and then became a combination of men and women has now grown to include ethnic and racial minorities. Some of these people are natural born citizens while others are immigrants. Although many workers have no recognizable disabilities, others possess physical, and sometimes mental, impairments. All of these individuals can further be identified by gender, age, religion, lifestyles, skill levels, educational attainment, and veteran status. Workforce diversity is not simply a corporate issue. Although they may be employees in the same corporation, people of different cultures often distrust each other. Years, and sometimes centuries, of differences and mistrust among different ethnicities are not simply erased when, for the first time, these different groups are brought together in a common workplace. In addition to simple distrust between different groups, there also exists the possibility of stereotyping different colleagues. Different groups need to be categorized by what they can contribute to the workplace instead of according to their gender, race, or religion. In a diverse workforce there is often lower cohesiveness and usually greater difficulties in maintaining effective communication (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2007).
For corporate diversity to be successful, it must begin with the highest levels of leadership and commitment. The support of top management is critical. The Human Resources Department of corporations employing a diversified workforce need create mission statements, strategic plans and objectives that solidify employee cohesiveness. In addition, rules need to be created that encourage and set the parameters for diversity. These rules need to include behavior modifiers for rule breakers. By themselves, rules will not work without the professional development necessary so that employees can understand diversity issues. Both the company and its employees need to monitor and understand organizational policies, practices, and attitudes. Where policies work effectively, the employer needs to be appraised of that and likewise, where policies are ineffective, feedback mechanisms and suggestions for improvement need to be given to top management. Corporate values and norms should be critically identified. Likewise, their impact and necessity should be constantly evaluated. In today’s marketplace, companies with the greatest workforce diversity maintain the strongest competitive advantage in the labor market. When employees feel that their differences are valued they are usually more loyal, productive, and committed.
The once male dominated, labor intensive factories have given way to the more current information age. Women and other minorities have become prevalent employees in the marketplace. The global economy has targeted workers of diverse cultures, religions, and beliefs. All of these different people, working toward common goals, have made a totally different workplace than what existed only a few decades ago. The diverse marketplace has created difficulties as many people, once enemies, now struggle side by side for their daily bread. Top management has found it necessary to instruct human resource professionals to find ways to create an environment where all people, regardless of differences, can work together in harmonious existence.
Barber, L. (2002). In the great tradition: The march on Washington for jobs and freedom, August 28, 1963, in Marching on Washington: The forging of an American political tradition. Berkley, CA: Berkley Press.
Borstelmann, T. (2012). The 1970s: A new global history from civil rights to economic inequality. New York: Princeton University Press.
Boudreau, J.; & Ramstad, P. (2007). Beyond HR: The new science of human capital. Boston, MA: Harvard School of Business Press.
Disney, W. (2011). Internal human resources brochure. Unpublished document. Lake Buen Vista, FL: Author. Houle, D. (2011). The shift age. Seattle, WA: Surgebook Publishers. Superville, D. (2010, October 8). Obama signs technology access bill for the disabled. Associated Press.
United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (EEOC, 2011, November). Facts and statistics regarding recent changes in employment in the United States. Washington, DC: Author.