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Arguably, both the federal government and the business community reflect more diversity in their respective ranks than ever before. Does that mean – as was said in some corners when President Obama was elected in 2008 – that we’ve entered a “post-racial” era? Or, when it comes to ethnic and other types of diversity representation, are we still a work in progress?

An article in Forbes earlier this year examined diversity trends in the workplace and found mixed results, though mainly positive. In both a 2014 study of HR Trends by Deloitte and a corroborating SHRM report, diversity and inclusion were found to be a surprisingly low priority among Fortune 1,000 executives.

More than 20% of respondents to SHRM’s survey indicated their organizations didn’t have structured diversity initiatives, with 41% citing the underlying reason being that they’re “too busy” to pay attention to such initiatives. Those findings, coupled with a long-standing reputation of white male dominance in Silicon Valley and technology companies, seem to be rekindling a fire under many long-dormant corporate diversity departments and initiatives.

The article cited a number of reassuring trends:

  • Corporate CEOs are becoming much more vocal about diversity and inclusion than in recent years, from de rigueur statements on company websites to putting their money where their mouths are at places like Intel and Lockheed Martin.
  • More organizations are appointing Diversity and Inclusion officers to senior HR positions, and even linking the titles with “Innovation.”
  • Beyond defining diversity in terms of race, gender and/or sexual orientation, forward-thinking firms are striving for “diversity of thought” and in thought leadership as well.
  • Businesses are finding that their customer bases are demanding diversity and are willing to purchase products and services from companies who practice it. Employees are increasingly making similar demands of their own workplaces.
  • Larger companies are investing heavily in “diversity data” and other forms of HR technology to aid in things like more diverse recruiting, hiring and job postings. The Forbes author is bullish on workplace diversity being more than just a meme or a subject that’s given mere HR lip-service in 2015 (as it once was).

Do We Still Stereotype in the Office?

On a more granular, day-to-day level, a recent blog on the SHRM website looked at hidden biases and preconceptions that many employees harbor regarding their colleagues – in many cases, perhaps unconsciously. It cited the findings of motivational speaker Michael Miller, who did a presentation on unconscious bias in the workplace at the SHRM’s annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference and Exposition last month.

Miller’s premise is that, while reactions we have to co-workers who may speak with a foreign accent or seem somehow “different” than we are may be out of our control, they may be indicative of preconceptions or misconceptions that are formed out of ignorance. Such reactions, Miller holds, often result in hurtful behavior toward others.

What does Miller suggest for dealing with our unconscious biases? Do our best to make them conscious; acknowledge them; and strive to honor and respect colleagues for their work and their talents. Awareness is the key to action, as Miller demonstrated in his workshop with small groups at the SHRM event to try to instill greater self-awareness of hidden biases.

He also recommended some practical, easy-to-remember steps for employees to take:

  • Ask questions of your co-workers, thereby including them in the conversation.
  • Strive to understand and celebrate others’ different backgrounds and paths that led them to the same place you are.
  • Give individual attention to staff members wherever possible, along with examples of what constitutes success in the organization.
  • Invite staff members to be a more active part of your team, thereby promoting inclusiveness.
  • Be energetic, motivated and passionate about tracking and promoting inclusiveness in your department and on your team.

Although more corporations than ever before now boast CEOs and members of senior management who are female, openly gay and/or individuals of color, the fact that it continues to be a topic of conversation indicates that our workplace is indeed a work in progress when it comes to diversity. The same can be said of our government: even though the current administration (and even the nation’s High Court) reflect more diversity than was visible during the last administration, or the one before that (or the one before that), this hardly makes us a “post-racial” society.

The good news is that these issues are being thought about, discussed and acted upon with more frequency than ever before. The more diversity and inclusivity we can encourage in our organizations, the stronger, more productive and competitive our workforce will be.

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