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Diversity Gets A Bad Rep!!!

Diversity is getting a bad reputation. On Thursday, August 18, 2011 President Obama issued an executive order for diversity promotion. On August 22, 2011, the Washington Times newspaper issued the following articles “Obama Federal Workforce Diversity Initative Equals “Whites Need Not Apply” The article sited numbers based on race. So perpetuated is the misconception that diversity is only about race and gender. Not so. But what is diversity is really about!

Some people tend to think that diversity is a new name for Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) – groups that are protected from discrimination under U.S. civil rights legislation. For many, the term diversity is a synonym
for affirmative action – about the numbers as in the article. Diversity is way beyond race and gender or
just numbers. I believe for some people in the United States that they cannot get beyond race and gender. But the workforce, where we are now in a global society says we must progress further than race and gender.

First, let us examine the differences between the terms. Understand that EEO are federal laws designed to combat racism and prejudice in employment practices on the basis of race, gender, age, color, national origin,
disability, religion and retaliation. All are based on social concerns based on past discriminatory practices within the U.S. In the Federal employment system, discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, political affiliation, and genetic information are prohibited employment practices under Merit System Principles.

Affirmative Action (AA) also was created out of social concerns. AA is a program designed to overcome the present effects of past employment discrimination. The focus is on removing barriers to the employment of women, minorities and people with disabilities (usually excludes white males but not always). It applies to the government and to private
sector organizations that contract with the federal government or that receive federal financial assistance. The controversy about AA is about quotas. Over the past 50 years, through Supreme Court decisions, it has been made clear that AA programs cannot involve quotas.

Diversity is derived out of business necessity – a philosophy and process designed to increase productivity and profitability in businesses and organizations. Diversity is an organizational decision based on the concept that a respectful and inclusive workplace is a more productive and effective workplace. Diversity is not dictated by any laws or a program to correct imbalances. Unlike EEO and AA it is fueled by economic concerns rather than primarily legal or moral concerns. Diversity focuses on the collective mixture (people, concepts, concrete items, or abstractions), not just pieces of it. Diversity supports innovation, creativity and individuality as the means for achieving the organization’s
mission goals and realizing business success.

As defined by Dr. R Roosevelt diversity is the mixture of similarities, differences and tensions in a pluralistic group. Diversity management suggests that success is based less on assimilation and more on inclusion of differences and
similarities. The objective is to seek out and encourage the new perspectives and approaches to situations that
different employees bring to work. According to Dr. Roosevelt, “Diversity effectiveness, like driving expertise, requires both maturity and skills.” I would like to add that adopting and adapting attitudes and habits that leverage diversity will support effective leadership and team development, ultimately resulting in dynamic

The private sector has understood this philosophy for quite some time. President Obama realizes that creating an environment that supports and appreciates diversity effectiveness is a business necessity. Learning to leverage diversity is the key in leadership to increase productivity and profitability in organizations because diversity embraces the talents of ALL.

Diversity in the workplace is an umbrella term that encompasses the similarities and differences of all employees. Diversity includes clients/customers, employees, and contractors/suppliers. It can refer to social, cultural, functional and historical dimensions such as:

  • mental/physical capabilities
  • procession of indormation
  • function in organization
  • veteran/civilian status
  • geographic location
  • marital status
  • age/gnerations
  • socio/economic status

Thus managing diversity in the Federal sector will mean creating and maintaining an environment that naturally enables all people to contribute to their full potential in pursuit of organizational objectives. Creating a
climate in which the potential advantages for organizational or group performance are maximized while the potential disadvantages are minimized. It is a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees. It means organizations make all necessary changes in their systems, structures and management practices to eliminate any subtle barriers that might keep people from reaching their full potential. It means approaching diversity at three levels simultaneously: individual, interpersonal and organizational. The traditional focus has been on individual and interpersonal aspects alone. What is new is seeing diversity as an issue for the entire organization, involving the very way organizations are structured and do business.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

It seems that one of the core questions behind diversity is: after it’s determined that a person can perform the duties connected with their role, does diversity bring value to the workplace beyond making it a more interesting environment? What is the business value of diversity? Should we make hiring decisions for the sake of diversity (i.e. deliberately hiring people who are different from each other – and not just along the traditional categories that we think about when it comes to diversity) or strictly based on their ability to perform the required functions?

Dianne Floyd Sutton

The question is not about hiring diferent people that is Affirmative Action. it is about how we get the mixes we have to work productively together. It is about respect and inclusion. How do we retain the younger generations? How do we get the civilian employees and veterans to work together?

Reserch has shown that mixed groups make better decsisons because the decisions tahe in a wider range of perspectives.

Carol Davison

HIring people of different ability, age, color, cultrual backgrounds, ethnicity, faith, gender, sexual preference allows an organizaiton to see and attack its challenges from many different perspectives.

Mark Hammer

Thomas Kochan at MIT’s Sloan school had a rather disquieting paper a half dozen or so years back which looked at the business case for diversity. I’d have to dig out the paper form the large pile on my desk, but the most striking aspects were that diversity initiatives did not always benefit business. In fact, sometimes it had no impact and other times it negatively impacted the business. No real pattern or trend in any particular direction.

The dividing line was essentially the manner in which diversity was introduced. If I remember correctly, Kochan also included retailers in his sample. Can’t recall whether there were only private sector organizations or public sector were also included. The bottom line, however, was that even things which are the right thing to do can blow up your face if you don’t do them right.

I’m familiar with the nuance distinctions between affirmative action, employment equity, and diversity, though many folks seem not to, at times. What I often encourage people to do is to think in terms of a post-EE mentality. AA and EE were all too often confused with the notion of “hiring quotas”. Numbers are important, because they let us measure and know whether we’re doing the right things, and what approaches to doing the right things bear the most fruit. they address what I like to call “the epistemological challenge” inherent in diversity initiatives. But of course whenever there are quantitative goals to be met, sometimes the higher order purpose of those goals is forgotten, which is the very thing that those who resisted the initiatives in the first place immediately seize upon. We see it here in the Canadian federal system with respect to language, as well as other aspects of diversity, and the frequently-heard comment in some quarters that “merit takes a back seat to speaking French”, and similar cynical viewpoints.

What DOES a post-EE mentality look like? Well, let’s say that all the numerical objectives have been met, and that battle is won. Most organizations have achieved representativeness, so we decide to stop counting and fighting court cases on head counts. I have no illusions about creating any Garden of Eden, so I expect things to drift backwards in some cases. So what would you look for in your context? What systemic signs – apart from counting heads – would you look for to verify your organization was “doing it right”…or not?

If you can figure out what those would be, figure out how to start thinking in those terms now, and get your folks in HR and corporate management to start keeping an eye out for those things too.

Dannielle Blumenthal

The real problem is that we talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. We say people can express themselves freely and then totally discourage them from speaking. The #1 post here on GL last week was by a blogger told at work, basically, not to blog. And that is on personal time!

One of the things I prize about GL is how we all respect diversity. No matter what the topic, we can air our differences. Diversity is inside. It is a personal value that leads to business value, political value, family value, religious value, and so on. When you shut down individuality you ruin whatever business you are in.

Carol Davison

Danielle I told him to be careful about airing work situations that could be twisted into being complaints about work. It doesn’t make any difference what time he does it. That which can be twisted for political benefit, may very well be by those who are in competition with the blogger for assignments, awards and promotion.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Hi Carol. I was commenting about the work climate most people are in. Diversity of looks is welcomed (to some extent). Diversity of thinking, not so much. Social media is so powerful because it reflects true diversity, and cannot be controlled. I just wish people felt freer to bring their suggestions into the workplace w/o fear.

Mark Hammer

You raise an interesting issue, Dannielle.

How DO people get to bring new ideas into their workplace? Certainly, openness to new and diverse perspectives and ideas is important; people won’t offer them up unless they perceive a hospitable environment. But I think at another level, there is a kind of etiquette aspect to it as well. Some managers/supervisors plan around opportunities for diverse input, and facilitate it by creating such oppoprtunities. And others, while perhaps not opposed to it, in principle, don’t realize what they are doing to create obstacles, and don’t create as many opportunities for it to happen.

So what sorts of “missed opportunities” are there that managers and supervisors could easily, gracefully, and painlessly avail themselves of?

Dianne Floyd Sutton

Looking at the comments. I think some of you have got part of the message – inclusion and respect and discovery. Diversity is not about one group – it is about all groups working together for the mission of the organization. Please check out the latest issue of Diversity Executive at http://www.diversity-executive.com to review the business value of diversity.

Carol Davison

Danielle and Dianne, althoug hiring diverse individuals is the law, we also do so because they bring different perspectives to work. As we bring more and more different people in hopefully we will feel freer to speak. In the meantime we have to learn to be politically savvy, network and work the organization. It’s too bad I had to tell that guy to be carerful of what he blogged.

People will bring new perspectives into the workplace as leaders embrace their suggestions. The more employees are enpowered to submit suggestions, the more effective and far reaching their suggestions will be.

Lori Windle

Thank you for this article and bringing attention to how diversity is perceived in the workplace. The comments are most interesting as well.

BTW, is your second bullet meant to say “Processing of Information”?

Mark Hammer

Carol alludes to another important point.

It is one thing to apply a diversity perspective in recruiting and hiring, and quite another to use those diverse perspectives in how one engages in whatever the activities of the institution are. Diversity isn’t necessarily achieved when the faces around the office look like a recruitment poster. Certainly increasing the representativeness of the workforce raises the likelihood that the workplace reflects the needs and perspectives of the broader community, but do not presume it assures that. There still has to be a way for diverse perspectives to find their way into decision-making. Sometimes that’s a bigger challenge than recruiting and hiring people.