A UA professor found that people are not properly trained on how to approach diversity in the workplace, she said.
Claretha Hughes is a professor of human resource and workforce development and has researched the effects of diversity intelligence in the workplace since the early 1990s. She curated and wrote for the August edition of Advances in Developing Human Resources, which focused on how a lack of diversity intelligence leads to more problems in businesses.
To have diversity intelligence is to recognize and apply knowledge of protected-class groups – people who are protected from employment discrimination based on attributes like race, sex or disability – in the workplace, and value individuals based on their skills, Hughes said.
Hughes is not a diversity researcher but rather researches human resources and how to value people and technology in the workplace, Hughes said.
Hughes would watch employees at a chemical manufacturing facility sign their checks with an X in 1991 because they could not read or write. She began to think about how, within that company, they were investing $31 million dollars into the development of technology, but they were not investing in the development of the people who worked for them, Hughes said.
After realizing this, Hughes developed five common values between people and technology: location, use, time, maintenance and modification value. To illustrate these values, Hughes compares hiring people to someone buying a computer: they know where it will work best, what it will do best, how long it will work, how to maintain it and how to continually modify it to continue to do its job.
Hughes thinks that employees should be valued in the same way, she said. If companies would treat their employees like investments, as opposed to just laborers, they would maximize their efficiency the same way they do with technology, Hughes said.
Hughes thinks diversity training throughout the U.S. has failed, she said. Despite spending billions of dollars on diversity training, there are still many Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints and U.S. Department of Labor settlements because of discrimination lawsuits.
While the focus on inclusion, education and access is important, they are incomplete without equity and understanding. Equity and understanding mean that employers and coworkers must know the law regarding treatment of protected-class individuals and should treat people according to their skills.
Affirmative Action, which requires diversity inclusion in federal work spaces, does not apply to businesses without federal contracts, but there are legal actions that protect groups in the workplace as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because diversity is difficult to define, Hughes defined her research as diversity within the context of protected-class groups, she said.
Protected classes are groups protected from employment discrimination. People may qualify as a protected group if they are discriminated against on the basis of age, disability, pay or compensation, genetic information, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, retaliation, sex and sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
LGBTQ employees are not listed as a federally protected class, however, there are legal precedents in place that combat discrimination against them, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Danielle Williams is the the assistant vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance. She is in charge making sure the UofA follows federal and state regulations for protected-class groups, she said.
All faculty and staff at the UofA must complete the discriminatory harassment training within their first six months of employment and every three years following initial completion. Because the UofA is a federally contracted institution, training focuses on complying with affirmative action, equal opportunity laws and other UA diversity policies, she said.
The discriminatory harassment training also focuses on the treatment of the LGBTQ community with the same attention as the federally protected-class groups, Williams said.
Leaders educating themselves about the laws regarding these classes can protect employees from discrimination, protect organizations from it and the consequences of it, reduce turnover and improve job productivity and motivation, Hughes said.
However, because of the lack of openness to hire employees who might count as protected-class individuals, employers may be limiting their own options for effective workers by not including diversely skilled workers because they do not fit the conventional description of that company’s employees, Hughes said.
“I can’t value you if I can’t see you and know who you are,” Hughes said. “You have a whole population of protected-class people who aren’t even seen. That’s because there’s a lack of intelligence on how to truly value the whole person.”
Hughes thinks many people who fight against diversity inclusion might not even realize that they themselves are in protected-class groups. Most people are in more than one category, and everyone is in at least one group based on pay, which is a protected-class category, Hughes said.
Hughes advises that people in the workplace should, short of taking a course on protected-class laws, recognize that their company may have more protected-class employees than unprotected. They should learn the laws and executive orders that protect employees, self-reflect on their attitudes towards protected-class employees and treat all employees with integrity, honesty and fairness, Hughes said.
“I want leaders to start actively engaging with their employees and figure out who they are and what they are and what they can do to help your organization succeed,” Hughes said.
Differences should not be an obstacle, leaders should value employees because of their strengths and embrace the differences and similarities of people, Hughes said.
“There is a lot of gray area when it comes to these laws, but I just want you to know that they exist,” Hughes said. “So, you will at least think about it before you discriminate against somebody or do something that’s going to cause an employee to not want to work for you. I’m putting it out there, and I hope people delve into it and learn from it and help affect change. I want to have every employee valued in the workplace. If you need diversity intelligence to value an employee, then I hope you get some.”
Information about protected-class groups can be found at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.