The Concept of Workplace Diversity is Evolving

Sollah Contributor and Subject Matter Expert - Kari Heistad

The Concept of Workplace Diversity is Evolving

The concept of diversity in the workplace has steadily evolved over the last couple decades. Originally it focused primarily on race, but later broadened to include the promotion of women, people with disabilities and the LGBT community. Now, the definition of diversity is expanding further to include aspects such as physical characteristics, background, family status, military service, personality and work style. Today, in essence, diversity is all of the ways that we are similar and different to one another.

The evolution of the concept of diversity over the years has also changed how the diversity field views itself and many organizations now are adding the word “inclusion” to the term “diversity.” Inclusion is an important addition as the field has realized that diversity on its own was not sufficient to describe the work being done as the work is shifting. The old focus was on helping employees to respect and work with people who are different. The new focus is on helping employees understand and include the differences that exist among them to drive results. The evolution from diversity to inclusion is not just a matter of semantics. It is a fundamental shift in seeing the work and purpose of diversity.

While the concept and purpose of diversity is evolving, so too is the practice and application of diversity as an organizational initiative. Diversity work is changing from being stand-alone training and events led by human resources to an organizational development initiative where diversity work becomes restructured as a continuous education system. As this organizational change process takes place, the way that diversity is approached must evolve. When diversity learning stops taking place solely in training rooms and spreads to the hallways, offices and desktops of employees, it becomes a more comprehensive and continuous learning environment. With this environment, new opportunities emerge to engage leaders and employees in powerful ways that drive business results. This increased engagement results in workplaces that are more respectful and inclusive.

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