Diversity and the Changing Role of Human Resources

Mary Gormandy White
Employee Retention Incentives

When discussing the changing role of human resources, diversity is a topic that must be included. One of the most pressing challenges facing human resources practitioners is to foster a working environment characterized by tolerance and inclusion for workers from very diverse backgrounds.

Understanding the Changing Role of Human Resources Diversity

The face of the workplace has changed greatly throughout history and is expected to continue to evolve as time goes by. As society changes, the workforce reflects these changes. The workforce in the United States was once strongly dominated by male Caucasians, but that has not been the case for quite some time. The modern workplace includes men, women, people of all ages, and from all ethnic backgrounds and religions.

Diversification of the workforce is not a change that came about quickly or easily, nor was it voluntary. The first issues related to the changing role of human resources diversity were triggered by the Civil Rights Act and what the passage of this law in 1964 meant for employers and workers.

As HR practitioners began the struggle to implement changes designed to foster a working environment characterized by equality as mandated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the workforce started to change more rapidly than it had at any point since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Ever since that time, the idea of diversity has been at the forefront of the practice of human resources management.

The fact that laws were passed to remove barriers for minority groups to enter the workforce does not mean that the resulting changes were welcomed with open arms. That's why HR professionals have to play an active role in encouraging dialogue and understanding among the different groups represented within their companies. Educating workers about workplace diversity is an important part of the changing role of human resources managers in organizations of all sizes.

Dealing with Increasing Diversity

Civil Rights issues such as racial equality and gender equity are still major concerns in the modern business world. However, since 1964, the concept of workplace diversity has been expanded greatly. While issues related to race and gender are what often come to mind when thinking about diversity, they are not the only matters that HR professionals must take into consideration when implementing diversity initiatives in their companies.

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For example, additional legislation has been passed to extend protections to older workers (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), individuals with disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act), and to workers who become ill or who are responsible for the care of seriously ill family members (Family Medical Leave Act). The fact that four generations are represented in the workforce at the same time also contributes to an increasingly diverse workforce. Employers must also make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals who are qualified to perform jobs in their organizations. Other diversity issues in the modern workplace include an increase in cultural, linguistic, and religious differences among workers.

Human resources professionals are tasked with helping foster a positive working environment regardless of the amount or degree of diversity represented within their companies. They are tasked with ensuring their organizations remain compliant with all applicable anti-discrimination legislation while also facilitating a culture where people who are very different from one another are able work together in a productive manner.

Resources for Workplace Diversity

If you're interested in learning how to implement a diversity program in your company, the following resources can help you get started:

Diversity and the Changing Role of Human Resources