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March 31, 2009

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Does your company suffer from a lack of diversity - or from a lack of diversity awareness? If you're unsure, look for the signs. There are the no-brainer indications: racial slurs in the office, overt or covert sexual advances, an executive boardroom without a single female or minority face. But there are other, more subtle hints too. Chronic complaints among employees and managerial homogeneity can signal diversity-related turmoil. Contrary to the myth of powersuits and hardball, the office is actually a very delicate ecosystem. A single infraction - diversity-related or otherwise - can lower the morale of an entire company. One poor decision or inappropriate comment can create resentment among employees and contribute to turnover, poor productivity, and a generally hostile working environment.

If you are unsure about whether your company is "diverse enough," ask yourself a few simple questions:

    * What percentage of women at your company rank on the managerial level or higher?

    * What percentage of minorities at your company rank on the managerial level or higher?

    * Does your company include "sexual orientation" in its anti-discrimination policy?

    * What kind of mentorship programs does your company sponsor?

    * Does your company provide benefits to single-sex domestic partners?

    * What kind of assistance does your company give to employees with small children?

    * Does your employer offer part-time opportunities for parents with small children? (And do part-time employees receive full benefits?)

    * Is there a private forum or source that employees can turn to with a diversity-related problem?

    * What percentage of minorities stay at the company long enough to attain senior-level positions?

    * Does your company endorse or sponsor clubs and associations for women, gays and lesbians, and/or minorities?

If the answers to even a few of these questions are restrictive or negative, your company may be in need of some kind of diversity training. Diversity trainings bear no resemblance to their soft-and-fuzzy stereotype. Indeed, with the demographics of the workplace in a constant state of flux, diversity education has become the smartest and most pragmatic move for many employers. Eager to take advantage of this fact, diversity consultants and trainers are vying for the chance to instruct anyone - from small businesses to whole corporations. But quality and results differ, and employers are best served by researching the market.

Although trainers differ, the substance of diversity trainings is the same across the board. In general, there are three basic types:

    * Awareness-Based Diversity Training, which aims at increasing knowledge of diversity issues and revealing workers' unexamined assumptions and tendencies to stereotype;

    * Skill-Based Diversity Training, which attempts to empower workers with diversity-related tactics and tools; and

    * Integrated-Based Diversity Training, which combines both Awareness- and Skill-based methods and objectives.

Regardless of the type, most trainings address the same issues: race, gender, stereotypes, business objectives, work-family issues, age, sexual harassment, national demographics, disabilities, and sexual orientation. The University of Berkeley has compiled an excellent explanatory site on what a diversity training is and what it has the potential to do. The site also explores diversity-related challenges and concerns, as well as the most effective training programs.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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