Improving Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Workplace

Improving Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Workplace

In the modern workplace, companies are placing greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion initiatives to strengthen organizational adaptability, gain competitive advantage and reduce legal risks. Despite this trend, many companies still struggle with racial and ethnic discrimination and policymaking.

In fact, According to data collected by the EEOC, $112.7 million is collected from employers for racial discrimination violations on average each year. In this post, we outline what constitutes racial and ethnic diversity, its benefits to companies and best practices when it comes to implementing and monitoring a racial and ethnic diversity policy in the workplace.

The Benefits of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Workplace

ethnic diversity

Companies increasingly understand the value of recruiting and retaining diverse employees, as these workers play a critical role in a company’s ability to adapt, grow and sustain a competitive advantage in the modern business landscape.

However, some companies fail to recognize the benefits of having a racially and ethnically diverse workforce. Factors such as prejudice and stereotypes towards certain racial or ethnic groups, whether conscious or unconscious, can lead to discriminatory practices in hiring.

What’s more, to combat prejudice and internal resistance, companies need to create a business case for diversity by outlining the benefits of a racial and ethnically diverse workplace such as:

  • Gains in worker welfare and efficiency
  • Reduced turnover costs
  • Fewer internal disputes and grievances
  • Improved accessibility to new and diverse customer markets
  • Higher productivity and increased revenue
  • Increased innovation
  • Development of new products and services
  • Improved company reputation management
  • Greater flexibility and adaptability in a globalized world
  • More efficient risk management (e.g. legal risks due to non-compliance)
  • Prevention of marginalization and exclusion of categories of workers
  • Improved social cohesion

Companies are more likely to reap these benefits when they go beyond meeting the minimum requirements for legal compliance. Companies should strive to understand both the social and cultural complexities inherent in embracing diversity and strive to be diversity leaders in their industry.

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Key Racial and Ethnic Diversity Definitions

diversity statistics in the workplace

To effectively improve racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace, companies need to understand some of the key terms and definitions including:

Racial Discrimination: Racial discrimination in the workplace can be defined as any exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose of impairing an employee’s ability to exercise their rights to equal standing in the workplace.

Ethnic Group: The term “ethnic group” refers to a group of persons whose members identify with each other through such factors as common heritage, culture, ancestry, language, dialect, history, identity and geographic origin.

Ethnic Minority: Ethnic minority does not only refer to ethnic groups that are a numerical minority. Instead, it refers to any ethnic group that is not dominant socially, economically or politically.

Implicit Bias: Also known as unconscious or hidden bias, implicit biases are negative associations that people unknowingly hold. They are expressed automatically, without conscious awareness.

Inclusion: Authentically incorporating traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.

For more diversity definitions and terms, visit Racial Equality Tools.

Employer and Employee Responsibilities

Both employers and employees have responsibilities when it comes to promoting and monitoring racial and ethnic diversity policy in the workplace. Both stakeholders have to work together to ensure the success of a company’s diversity initiatives.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers should act as facilitators and purveyors of knowledge to improve relations among their diverse workforce. Employers should also continuously work on the development of diversity policy and implementation. Management should also be trained to ensure the improvement of awareness on racial discrimination and ethnic diversity in the workplace. Furthermore, employers can help build the capacity of managers to ensure that the ethnic diversity policy is effectively applied within the company.

Employee Responsibilities

Employees and organizations tasked with protecting workers rights should lobby companies for strong ethnic diversity policies, ensuring that all workers enjoy equal opportunities at all stages of the employment cycle, including access to employment, training, promotion and retirement. Employees also have an important role in raising awareness amongst themselves on the right to a workplace free from racial discrimination and in supporting their coworkers when they issue complaints.

Introducing Racial and Ethnic Diversity Initiatives in the Workplace

lack of diversity in the workplace

Improving racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace often challenges the values and worldview of current employees. For this reason, introducing diversity initiatives is both challenging and necessary for companies looking to create a more inclusive corporate culture.

How companies introduce racial and ethnic diversity initiatives matters. To successfully introduce diversity initiatives, companies need to take a structured approach that involves assuaging feelings of uncertainty about the future of the company and effectively communicating new policies aimed at protecting workers belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups.

At the same time, companies should communicate realistic expectations to members of minority groups regarding the new policies to ensure they understand the goal and scope of the initiative.

Companies can communicate new racial and ethnic diversity policies by creating a consistent message delivered and sent to all hierarchical levels through email, internal media networks (including social media) and placing posters in high traffic areas. Messaging should also be designed to accommodate the different languages and literacy levels of employees to ensure everyone understands the new policies.

Creating an Effective Response to Complaints

race vs ethnicity

Making it easy for workers to raise complaints helps demonstrate a fair and concerted effort to understand their concerns and issues surrounding diversity. If it can be shown that the complaints procedure is confidential, backed by prompt and effective action to investigate and settle them transparently and seriously, there will be not only greater acceptance of the policy but also greater commitment to practice the policy throughout the company. There are two processes to resolve complaints:

Formal Process

A formal complaint process is one that provides a written summary of the full investigation to the complainant and the alleged offender. Both parties should be given the opportunity to provide comments on the content of this summary before the full report is finalized. The final report should include who was interviewed, what questions were asked, the investigator’s conclusions, and what possible remedies, sanctions or other action may be appropriate.

Informal Processes

An informal process involves conciliation, mediation, counseling or discussions in order to resolve complaints. Peer mediators should be used instead of HR staff to facilitate dialogue between the parties but not making any recommendations, sanctions or hand down rulings.

In addition to the two processes of resolving complaints, companies should also look to the following persons, departments and organizations for help in resolving diversity-related issues:

Focal Point: Regardless of the size of a company, it is important to have one or more officials dedicated to overseeing that diversity policy is upheld. These “focal points” should be reliable, approachable and respected by staff and management, such as members of the executive board, department heads or employee relations staff. The size of the company will determine the number of focal points and how many workers are covered by each one.

Human Resources: If a company is large enough to support a human resources, transformation or diversity department; then consideration should be given to appointing the main focal point from within these departments.

Unions: If the employee base for a company is comprised of members of a union, they will need assurance that they have union support to raise issues regarding racial discrimination. Some workers, therefore, prefer to call their union representative when dealing with discrimination issues. Companies need to make sure that they have open and clear channels of communication with unions representing their employees and an established protocol when it comes to dealing with ethnic diversity policy.

Call Center: For large companies, it may be cost-effective to establish a call center for employees who are not yet ready to lodge a formal complaint with focal points, human resources or their union. These employees can anonymously contact the call center if they wish to voice concerns and seek further advice about an incident. Call centers can also be an effective means of monitoring incidents to ensure they are being tracked and followed up by managers who are responsible for the work or by the department where racial discrimination is alleged to have occurred.


To thrive in the current diverse times, companies need to lead the way in inclusion by creating workplaces that promote and celebrate racial and ethnic diversity. By creating diversity-friendly environments, companies gain an advantage in the competitive search for skilled talent.

Post by Eric Dyson