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Diversity Through Economic Adversity
by Al Vivian
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The majority of Americans believe that America is currently experiencing an economic recession. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, we all must acknowledge that our nation is experiencing extreme economic challenges -- credit crisis, massive foreclosures, escalating gas prices, and job layoffs, to name a few.

Challenges like these compel organizations to make difficult, often short sided, decisions under intense pressure. These decisions are often short- term fixes, which lead to long-term negative impacts.

A few reasons why economic challenges require organizations to increase their emphasis on diversity and inclusion:


"People are Our Greatest Asset" -- Really?

"Our people are our greatest asset", is a common mantra in practically every organization; however it is a common practice to cut people related programs during economic challenges. When an organization cuts such programs, like training and/or diversity initiatives, it sends a clear message that the organization does not really value its people. When an organization fails to invest in its people, its people fail to invest in the organization. With our changing demographics, increasing interdependence across cultures, and looming talent shortages, diversity and inclusion take on a far greater role. Choosing to overlook them during economic downturns could be catastrophic to the long term success of the organization.


A Slowing Economy = FEAR

A slowing economy and increased layoffs leads to an atmosphere of fear, and fear is the fuel of "diversity disasters". When people are afraid of losing their jobs the first thing they attempt to do is differentiate themselves from their co-workers looking for the "one up" that might save their job. Before you know it, this can quickly spiral into an all out organizational war of "us" -v- "them". The more afraid people become, the nastier the division gets. The end result is a decrease in productivity when the converse is needed. An organization with an inclusive environment where everyone feels included and equitably valued, regardless of their demographic grouping, is far less likely to fall into the trap of an internal cultural war.


Lay-Offs Increase the Need for Inclusion

A layoff automatically equates to a reduction of workers. However, a reduction of workers does NOT automatically equate to a reduction in the mission or demand. As a result, organizations are required to demand more productivity from fewer workers. This enormous workload causes an increase in stress, which over a prolonged period of time has a negative impact on productivity and profits. If you combine that with the atmosphere of fear mentioned above, it is only a matter of time before it impacts the organization's long-term image in the minds of their clients/customers and investors.


Internal "Safe Haven" -v- External Chaos

People tend to become extremely loyal to organizations that have a history of treating them well, especially during the worst of times. An inclusive workplace where people are valued can become a respite from the external chaos of rising prices and financial frustration. Over the long haul, this can increase the financial coffers of the employer by reducing turnover and retaining institutional knowledge.


Organizations that choose to cut back on their diversity investments due to current economic woes will pay dearly later. On the other hand, forward thinking, diversity-mature organizations that INCREASE their diversity efforts will solidify their lead and fortify their weapons in the war for talent.


© Copyright 2008 | Al Vivian, President & CEO, BASIC Diversity, Inc.