The business context for Diversity and Inclusion around the world directly correlates to the employment laws in the country in which the business operates. The legal framework that underpins diversity in the U.S. is decades older than its counterparts in Europe and Asia. The following is an overview of 50 years of relevant public policy.
In the U.S., the concept of Diversity and Inclusion dates back to the racial tensions of the early 1960’s. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the cornerstone of US Employment Law. Title VII protected employees from discrimination on the basis of “race”, “color”, “religion”, “gender”, and “national origin”. It also established the Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity - the agency for enforcement of civil rights protections. Since then, dozens of federal, state and local laws have been enacted, mostly in the 1970’s protecting “age” (defined as individuals age 40 and over), “sexual harassment” and “pregnancy discrimination”. “Disability” became a protected category in 1990. Some state and local protection also includes “sexual orientation”.
Further, Federal Contractors (companies conducting business with the U.S. Government) are required to comply with Executive Order 11246. Issued in 1965, the Executive Order mandated that government contractors "take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. In 1967, the order was amended to cover discrimination on the basis of gender. Contractors were required to document these efforts toward equal opportunity in what have become known as Affirmative Action Plans. In 1995, the Executive Order was amended to eliminate programs that create quotas, create preferences for unqualified individuals, create reverse discrimination or continues to operate after its equal opportunity purposes are achieved.
Central to any discussion of U.S. employment law is the concept of “employment-at-will”. In theory, an employment relationship can be terminated, by either party, for any reason other than a discriminatory reason. This is diametrically opposed to the European approach of “contractual” employment, which usually commences after a waiting period.
The concept of inclusion has been further driven by the desire to embrace the largely affluent LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) population, bolstered by the election of the first black President and the desire to re-integrate veterans into the civilian workforce.
In recent years, U.S. best practices around diversity have expanded to inclusion – creating a workplace in which all different types of employees, perspectives and approaches are welcome. These employers seek out “diversity of thought” because research has proven that well-managed heterogeneous (diverse) teams perform better than homogenous ones; they are more productive and generate more innovative solutions.
Strategic Diversity Solutions: Acting Regionally in the United States
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