Workplaces tend to mirror one of the characteristics of the United States -- they are melting pots where differences make them stronger. Diversity often refers to race and gender, but there are many forms of diversity at work. As a manager, having a diverse crew can give you multiple perspectives, but it can also be a challenge when different cultures collide. As an employee, it's easy to be misunderstood if you're in the minority, but it also means you can bring fresh ideas to the table based on your experiences.
Race and Gender
The two most common forms of diversity are also the most obvious when you walk into your workplace. You can immediately see differences in race and gender without knowing anything else about the people. These two factors lead to different experiences that can broaden the scope of your team; a black woman might have a very different view of the impact of an ad campaign than a white man, for example. The differences can sometimes lead to conflict, but they can also spark new ideas that a homogenous group might never come up with.
Culture and Religion
You can't tell anything about a co-worker's culture or religion just by looking at her. People often have a strong emotional connection to their heritages and religions, making this a hot point in diverse workplaces. For example, if most employees follow a mainstream religion and want to celebrate a major religious holiday, employees of different religions might feel offended or excluded. Conversely, as a manager, you might not understand when an employee from a minority religion asks for time off for a religious holiday you're not familiar with.
Especially during a recession economy, you're likely to find several generations working in the same office, as the older generation delays retirement. You might have women pushing age 70 working side-by-side with co-workers young enough to be their granddaughters. Each generation typically has its work ethic and style, which can cause dissension among the ranks when the styles clash. However, experienced workers often have great wisdom and tenacity, while the fresh-out-of-college types bring new and trendy ideas. It's good for the company to value workers of all ages.
Businesses accommodate physical disabilities whenever possible, bringing another level of diversity to the workplace. Some disabilities are obvious, such as someone in a wheelchair, while others, such as chronic fibromyalgia, aren't as noticeable. Accommodations might be as simple as an ergonomic chair or keyboard tray or as complicated as installing a ramp or wheelchair lift.
Education and Life Experience
An employee's education level and life experiences help to define who she is, how she sees the world and how she relates to co-workers. Someone with a master's degree might have difficulty finding something in common with a high school graduate. Also, a former stay-at-home mom might have different opinions and ideas from a woman whose main focus has been to climb the corporate ladder. Income levels add another form of diversity, with the "haves" and the "have nots" viewing issues from different perspectives.
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.