New Challenges of Workplace Diversity

Immigrants in the U.S. are the bedrock of its economy. Diversity has been one of the country’s hallmarks, being a nation of immigrants. This has undoubtedly contributed to the growth and progress of the nation, but considering the anti-immigrant stance of the current government, what new challenges of workplace diversity are there that need attention and resolution?

Diversity has also been a perennial issue, specifically in the workplace, despite huge efforts by private, government and business organizations to keep diversity working in the American society. As Gary Shapiro wrote for US News, Immigrating to the U.S. to create a better life is a mindset that encourages our best and brightest, regardless of their backgrounds or birthrights, to rise to the top. The diverse histories immigrants bring with them to our shores contribute new perspectives and great ideas.

Yet Discrimination and racism remain persistent problems hounding minority job applicants and employees. USA Today recently reported that, based on a study made by the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll, toxic workplaces — where harassment, stereotyping and bullying occur — are driving away women and people of color, undercutting technology companies’ efforts to increase diversity and costing an estimated $16 billion a year.

This report describes the situation in the tech field, but these negative behaviors do occur in other industries, too. Some of the diversity challenges that businesses are facing include:

  • The administration’s anti-immigration policy is affecting immigrant workers, many of whom are employed by diversity companies
  • White people feel marginalized too., Mostly older, non-college whites supported Trump, because they felt immigrants and minorities were taking jobs away from them.
  • Although not exactly a new challenge, generational diversity in the workplace challenges companies to think of new ways to practice inclusion as part of their diversity efforts.

Immigration & Diversity

First, specifically, this is how the Trump immigration policy is impacting one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S. As of 2016, there were 21 million Asians in the United States. Their population grew at 3.4 percent between July 2014 and 2015, with migration responsible for the majority of the growth.

For most Asians coming to the U.S., becoming an American citizen is the utmost goal. American citizenship is the pathway to a brighter future, not only for themselves, but also for family and relatives back home. Armed with citizenship, Asian Americans can bring over relatives or get federal government jobs.

Now with the government cracking down on illegal immigrants, more so has American citizenship become like a safe harbor, free from being deported.

But for the undocumented who fear that their great American dream will be taken away from them, the government’s visa crackdown is one nightmare of uncertainty.

So what happens to workplaces when a great number of immigrants for that matter, are deported? What challenges does this situation bring about?

The Impact of Immigration Policy at Work

As an example, the restaurant and food services industry stands to lose a lot of immigrant workers, being a sector said to depend much on the labor of undocumented aliens: Eleven percent of all U.S. restaurant and bar employees are undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center. At current industry employment levels, that translates to roughly 1.3 million people.

It is suggested then that immigrants who work hard, pay their taxes, and abide by the laws should be assisted in legalizing their stay in the country:

“The restaurant industry may be the most ethnically diverse industry there is, in large part because of immigrants who have brought culture, food, and flavor to our communities and neighborhoods. When these immigrants are hard-working, tax-paying, productive, law-abiding individuals, we should help them succeed by providing a path to legalization,” Jot Condi, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association said in an emailed statement, the San Diego Union Tribune reported.

If most immigrants are to be deported, the restaurant industry will collapse. This was clearly demonstrated by “A Day Without Immigrants” protest last February, when most businesses, not only in the restaurant and food services sector, shut down because their immigrant workers and owners refused to work in protest of the new government’s anti-immigration stance.

Here is an excerpt from How Restaurants Hire Undocumented Workers:

Just one day without immigrants cost the restaurant industry a huge hit to its profits, and some experts predict that without undocumented labor, the price of food will increase up to six percent… or worse, that there won’t be enough food for us all to eat due to labor shortages. “Immigrants feed this country,” says Noelle Lindsay Stewart, a former D.C. line cook and the communications manager for Define American, a media company focused on immigrant rights and identity. “They cultivate our produce; they cook our food. The food industry wouldn’t be possible in the way it is without them.”

Other industries that rely heavily on undocumented workers, based on 2014 data from the Pew Research Center, include:

  • Construction with 1.3 million unauthorized immigrant workers
  • Building services – 300,000
  • Landscaping – 300,000
  • Agriculture, crop production – 275,000

Together with 1.1 million in bars, restaurants and food services, that makes up a total of 7.9 million illegal immigrant workers.

Meeting the Challenges of Workplace Diversity and Immigration Policy

A big challenge for workplaces has always been how to balance between employing immigrants and not running afoul with the law. See this regarding what employers need to know when hiring foreign workers

In line with this is also the ever-present challenge to heed the call to promote diversity and inclusion.

But the problem now becomes more complicated with Pres. Trump’s sweeping immigration enforcement directives which will allow for far more expulsions, and unleash the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.

Most people tend to think of diversity mostly in terms of people of color and women as the oft-marginalized sectors, but as the recent presidential election showed, the white working-class, many of whom are non-college graduates, have also long felt being marginalized. Workplaces in the time of Trump are faced with the burden of ensuring that everyone feels included, regardless of race/ethnicity, skin color, disability, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, religious and political affiliation, and the like.

However, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission having as acting chair someone reported to have a history of voting against a number of anti-discrimination lawsuits, the future looks uncertain:

  • Would the EEOC continue to provide an opportunity for victims of workplace discrimination and harassment seeking redress?
  • Would there be a rise in discrimination against the oft-marginalized sectors: women, people of color, LGBTs, disabled, and veterans?
  • Would there be freedom to create policies potentially beholden only to the American workers who put Mr. Trump into office, as one opinion article suggests?

Victoria Lipnic, designated by Pres. Trump to be EEOC’s acting chair, voted against a quarter of the 77 lawsuits that came before the commission since 2010. Other cases involved discrimination against African immigrants, a young man with an intellectual disability turned down for a Salvation Army thrift store job and men who have beards for religious reasons. Half of her “no” votes came in disability cases, a news report by Reveal News shows.

The same news also reported that Ms. Lipnic had said she’d like to see more of the commission’s cases come to a vote before they are brought to court. That means more cases could be killed.
Ms. Lipnic announced in her 1st speech she hoped that EEOC would increase its focus on age discrimination and equal pay issues and on job creation.

Generational Discrimination in the Workplace

Indeed, age discrimination is a problem many mature workers experience, so it is only fair and right that this issue be given enough attention. Not only do mature workers find it difficult to get a new job, especially when out of work, but they are also bypassed for promotions. Prejudice and false notions about their skills and capabilities are a common reason for this.

Which brings us to the third challenge in the workplace: that of making generational diversity in the workplace work for everyone involved. And so, according to this article:

forward-thinking workplaces are addressing generational differences through training and open forums.[…] In addition, companies are also taking action by making impressive changes to employment policies, performance management programs, recognition programs and benefits. Their focus is not about pleasing any particular generation but enhancing the work environment to improve the probability of attracting and keeping top performers across all generations.

Workplace Diversity Creates Growth

An article by Forbes suggests that diversity and inclusion must be seen as an investment and be placed where it belongs – in the center of all growth strategies.

True. Diversity and inclusion have been shown to drive businesses to economic progress. It is time, indeed, to treat every individual worker as deserving and capable of work, no matter what their backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs and opinions may be. More than just merely complying with the law, and meeting quotas, workplaces should do their utmost to sincerely cultivate and keep a just, safe, equitable work environment, sans harassment, racism, sexism, and other ills.