The term “equal opportunity” generally refers to legal rules and regulations regarding discriminatory hiring, promotion and firing practices. To expand more opportunities for you and your fellow employees, promote activities that help break down good old boy networks or other cliques and improve sensitivity between managers and subordinates of different races, religions, genders and other backgrounds. You’ll not only win the respect of your peers, but you’ll also raise your profile and potentially boost your career opportunities.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the government watchdog with jurisdiction over hiring and employment practices, harassment of and discrimination against employees and retaliation for reporting unethical practices. The EEOC reviews complaints based on age, race, religion, sex, disability and sexual orientation. If you work for a small business, such as one with a single owner or only two or three partners, volunteer to obtain EEOC documents and explain how they apply to your company. This will help you employer remain compliant, avoid violations and reduce the possibility of lawsuits.
The most effective way to improve opportunities for equality in the workplace is to create recruitment and retention policies that not only don’t discriminate against workers, but that also ensure you find a wide pool of candidates. When your boss looks for employees using his business network, for example, his contacts may come from the same background he does. Keep data on hand that lets your company quickly see the percentages of employees in different groups who make up the workforce, work in management and receive raises and promotions to help spot possible areas of discrimination. Create a list of job sites your employer can use to ensure it receives a diversity of job applicants. Prepare a list of questions to avoid during interviews to reduce the perception of discrimination. Many employers only care about one color when it comes to hiring an employee -- green -- and your efforts at helping your company find productive employees will be appreciated.
Paid Time Off
Rather than issuing specific company vacation days, give employees paid time off to use as they please. This will allow people of different religions to celebrate holidays that are important to them on an equal footing. If most of your customers shut down for particular holidays, notify your employees you will be closed those days based on that reason, not because the company is promoting those holidays over others. Paid time off also helps working mothers who might need to take more short-notice or half-day breaks to handle child care issues.
To make managers less weary about promoting people with different backgrounds than themselves, offer to organize sensitivity meetings. These don’t have to be touchy-feely New Age lectures. Divide your co-workers into different age groups and have each give a presentation on the movies, music and cultural events they feel helped shape them. Have the different groups at your workplace tell everyone misconceptions they feel exist about them and the words, phrases and actions that bother them. Administer anonymous employee surveys that let workers provide management with information and suggestions about improving the culture of the company.
To help break down barriers and increase cultural sensitivity among co-workers, create mentorships that pair people of different backgrounds. This not only gives senior managers a chance to help less-experienced workers learn job-specific skills, it also helps management to learn about the different types of people the company employs.
Companies often don’t hire from within because they haven’t prepared lower-level workers to move up the ladder. Suggest to your human resources department that the company create a succession plan that provides employees with three- and five-year career plans that include specific training to help employees climb the ladder. This might make managers nervous about subordinates taking their jobs one day, but it helps employers quickly respond when senior workers quit, die or are fired. Suggest that your company have a policy of reviewing internal candidates for open positions before it posts external job ads.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.