Today’s managers are responsible for both leading employees and responding to the needs of customers who are more ethnically and culturally diverse, older, and in greater need of child and elder care. Leaders in both the public and the private sectors are focusing more attention on the issue of diversity. Whether the goal is to be an employer of choice, to provide excellent customer service, or to maintain a competitive edge, diversity is increasingly recognized and utilized as an important organizational resource.

One of the major stumbling blocks in discussions surrounding diversity is its very definition. For our purposes, we use the following definition of diversity: "Diversity includes all characteristics and experiences that define each of us as individuals."1 A common misconception about diversity is that only certain persons or groups are included under its umbrella, when in fact, exactly the opposite is true. Diversity includes the entire spectrum of primary dimensions of an individual, including Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Age, Religion, Disability, and Sexual orientation (referred to by the Diversity Task Force as “REGARDS”). Secondary dimensions commonly include: communication style, work style, organizational role/level, economic status, and geographic origin (e.g., East, Midwest, South). It is a simple fact that each of us possesses unique qualities along each of these dimensions. Experience and recent research indicate that when recognized and valued, diversity enhances individual productivity, organizational effectiveness, and sustained competitiveness.2

In order "to maximize the utilization of its human capital, organizations must go beyond merely creating a more diverse workplace. Once there, the value of having diverse employees must be recognized."3 Now is the time to move beyond viewing diversity as merely the numerical representation of certain groups. It is time for a systematic application of diversity concepts to the business of the organization. As one benchmarking partner stated, "We view diversity as something more than a moral imperative or a business necessity—we see it as a business opportunity." Aligning diversity with the mission and business of the organization increases employee satisfaction and retention; improves competitiveness and productivity; increases responsiveness; and adds value to the customer.

Scope of the Study

The United States Department of Commerce and Vice President Al Gore’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) sponsored this benchmarking study. The study identifies best practices used by leading organizations to achieve workforce diversity. The study team identified the following critical success factors to evaluate best practices:

1. Leadership and management commitment;

2. Employee involvement;

3. Strategic planning;

4. Sustained investment;

5. Diversity indicators;

6. Accountability, measurement, and evaluation;

and 7. Linkage to organizational goals and objectives. 

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