MANAGING WORKPLACE DIVERSITY REQUIRES LOOKING AT A MOSAIC
Diversity is a term currently in vogue. Many task forces are being created in the corporate world in an attempt to understand and use the concept.
The strategies being developed are as varied as the organizations involved. There isn't even a clearly developed, commonly accepted definition of the term. The following analysis attempts to define what is meant by "managing diversity" and offers some guidelines for managing diversity in the business world.
In its simplest form, managing diversity means making a conscious and sustained attempt to accept and use the differences among people. All people. The U.S. populations should be viewed as a mosaic, not a melting pot.
I am often asked to design or implement diversity programs. Sometimes companies ask for quick fixes, and other times they are prepared to look at this as a long-term cultural change process.
Clearly a primary goal must be heightened awareness and acceptance of differences. This, however, is only the beginning. After acceptance came understanding, valuing, and using the differences.
This means we each have to change somewhat to be able to assimilate aspects of the differences. It means it is not an "us vs. them" fight over whose right is more right. It is acceptance of a multiplicity of ways of thinking, doing, believing, behaving, and creating.
Why bother? Why not continue with the old way - which was to ask and sometimes force all employees to confirm their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings to that of the majority.
The answer is simple. The old way doesn't work well anymore - if it ever worked well at all. Not only our workforce, but our customer base is changing. Thus, managing diversity is a bottom-line business issue. The people within the company - and the people they serve - must all be better understood and accepted.
After we have hired the best people from all different backgrounds, we must find ways to train them, use their skills, and provide them with parameters, freedom, comfort, and acceptance to allow them to give us their best.
People can no longer be lumped into categories, but must be looked at separately in all their uniqueness.
Today, each locale has people from many different lands. Their values, needs, and customs are all somewhat different. If we demand that they conform to a specific set of expectations, we are stifling them. People who are afraid to be themselves, to speak out, to express their ideas, or to offer suggestions are hampered, constricted, and unable to give their creativity and productivity. And remember, conformity produces mediocrity.
There have been many changes in our country since my childhood in New York City. Among them are the civil rights movement of the '60's, women's liberation in the '70's, and an influx of people from countries throughout the world. With these changes has come the realization that the melting pot is a great compromise, like taking a spectrum of colors and throwing them together into one pot. What emerges is yucky, brownish-gray.
Much richer and more beautiful than the melting pot is the mosaic - a careful blending of the colors into a new and harmonious pattern that celebrates the beauty of each of the parts, but creates a new whole that is better than the sum of its parts. Managing diversity is learning how to create the mosaic.
San Jose Business Journal, May 24, 1993 &
The Personnel News, October, 1996, p.12.