Achieving Diversity in the Workplace

Published: April 30, 2006

Diversity provides the sense that no matter where you come from, who you are or what your background is there is a place for you.
Through the years there has been a lot of talk about diversity in the workplace. Many police agencies attempt to get a foothold on increasing the diversity in their departments and find that this is much easier in theory than it is in practice.

Achieving diversity in the workforce takes more than lip service. The agency must actively recruit the types of people it wants to fill its ranks and put them through a fair and equitable selection process. Once onboard, the agency must have policies in place to protect employees who are “different” from potential discrimination and harassment from the dominant group.

Recruiting and selection is only one piece of the puzzle; retention is the real challenge. Timely and ongoing training and employee development to promote good working relations among this more diverse population is essential. These efforts are often met with significant resistance from the entrenched status quo. It is important to understand the reluctance of many to move forward because change is not easy. We must help them step gently into this new world of diversity. When we have a multiracial, multiethnic, gender, age, ability and in other ways varied workforce, what we achieve is a “snapshot of diversity.” The real test of the diversity of any workplace is in regard to the diversity of minds. There must be depth to the diversity of any workforce; an appreciation for each others’ different talents and abilities, the cultures they represent and even for cultures that may not be represented among them.

One of the best ways to create a successful diversity program is to learn from others what works and what doesn’t and to take an honest look at where you are today. Diversity is not a new concept. Why then has it been so hard to institute?

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For more than half a century, our country has been attempting to give equal rights and opportunity to all without making much more progress than we did moving to the metric system. We struggle to achieve the balance we seek because, beyond its conceptual stage, change does not require discussion – it requires action.

Having employees of diverse backgrounds that more closely reflect the people in the communities we serve and who provide insight from different angles to some of the problems we face is highly desirable, but it is not the final answer. Commitment is needed.

The following goals in relation to achieving diversity require the greatest investment of commitment: balanced workforce representation, leadership accountability, addressing diversity as ongoing culture change and instituting of standards around workplace culture assessments, diversity training and skill-building.

The most fascinating part of this is that the diversity we seek to achieve through procuring a varied workforce can be accomplished by training the minds of the people we already have. When employees truly understand and value cultures and contributions of others who are different than themselves, we are more than halfway there.

Dexter Yarbrough is chief of the Colorado State University Police Department in Fort Collins, Colo. Yvonne Paez is a corporal/public information officer in the department. They can be reached at yvonne.paez@colostate.edu .

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the May/June 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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