Survey: Most Workplaces Want Diversity, Vague on Definition

Organizations believe workplace diversity is important, but only 30 percent have an official definition of it, and there is no common language to guide companies in managing their diversity efforts. Those are among the findings of the Society for Human Resource Management, which partnered with the American Institute for Managing Diversity Inc. in conducting a year-long study on the status of diversity in the workplace to create the "2007 State of Workplace Diversity Management Report."

The good news from the study, the groups say, is evidence of greater awareness of diversity in a general sense. That makes this a good time for organizations to focus more on how diversity can have a positive impact on the bottom line. Yet the study also found that diversity management remains a challenge. Respondents to a survey that was part of the project said that, among other hurdles, the field is not well-defined or understood, focuses too much on compliance, and places too much emphasis on ethnicity and/or gender.

The survey asked more than 1,400 HR professionals and diversity practitioners to gauge the extent to which diversity practices accomplish specific business objectives. Fifty-two percent said that to a "large extent," diversity practices created a work environment or culture that allows everyone to contribute all that they can to the organization, and 49 percent said the practices achieved appropriate representation of racial and ethnic groups. Similarly, 48 percent said that to a large extent, the practices enhanced the ability of people from different backgrounds to work together effectively. But only 38 percent said diversity practices actually eliminated or minimized prejudice.

Small companies--those with 99 or fewer employees--are the least likely to have an official definition of diversity, the study found. Public/government organizations are more likely than private non-profit and for-profit organizations to define diversity. Some 75 percent of HR professionals said that, from a strategic perspective, leveraging the diverse talents of the workforce was extremely important to their organization, and they would like to see greater emphasis made on the positive relationship between diversity and business results, according to the report.

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