Diversity: A New Perspective
(Like it or not, Diversity Management determines who wins and who loses.)
James O. Rodgers, CMC, MBA, President and Principal Consultant
J.O. Rodgers & Associates
The Diversity Coach™
According to Department of Labor projections, the makeup of the (U.S.) workforce is changing. More importantly, they expect the rate of change to accelerate throughout the 21st century. In order to survive these changes, you must equip yourself to respond to the ever-increasing presence of diversity at all levels of the workforce in a sophisticated, practical, and effective manner.
Whether you are a manufacturer, a supplier, or a contractor, you are affected. And, if you are in any way concerned with finding, managing, developing, and growing talent for your business (from full-timers to sub-contractors), you need help navigating this new landscape.
This article is intended to give you a new perspective about diversity in the workplace and marketplace (including the increasingly multicultural workforce). This new perspective will, if you embrace it, help you to achieve better business results and to succeed rather than simply survive in these changing times. Increasing diversity, growing complexity, and heightened competition for talent is not going away. But, you can win big in this environment if you are willing to: 1) work on the right thing, 2) for the right reasons, and 3) in the right way.
Let’s start with the facts. Then, let me redefine a few familiar terms. Finally, I will describe the problem raised by these changes and propose an unconventional solution.
The Facts Are Irrefutable
Among the figures reported by the Deartment of Labor are these facts:
The workplace is changing at an extremely rapid pace. The nation's population will rise 49% to 420 million by 2050, and Americans who are white but not Hispanic will make up only half the total, according to projections by the Census Bureau. The projections suggest that whites who are not Hispanic will see their share of the population drop from 69% in 2000 to 50% in 2050.* In 1950, the share was 90%.
The U.S. working population is aging. The oldest baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011. By 2030, 20% of Americans will be 65 or older. That's up from 12% in 2000.* More women are entering the workforce every year either by desire or by necessity. We see more minorities and differently abled workers in the ranks. The ethnic mix of work teams changes on a constant basis.
In addition to the above mentioned facts/statistics, the DOL (and other sources) report:
• There is a looming labor shortage (over 10 million by 2010)
• The quantity and variety of diversity is increasing rapidly.
• Younger workers have different expectations and values about work life.
• The likelihood of working with or managing a multicultural team is nearly 100%.
• In a tight labor market, employees have options to go elsewhere.
This data suggests that we can not afford to address business strategy without addressing talent management. And we cannot address talent management without addressing diversity management.
Business runs on a fuel called people. This is no longer a cliché or platitude. Your only sustaining asset or competitive advantage is the quality of your people. Any mix of people you you may gather will by nature be diverse. You are in the best competitive position when you can attract the best people (those who are competent and fit your culture), develop them systematically, and plan to retain them as long as possible (meaning they are growing while you are using their talents to produce business results).
The Simple Truth
Diversity, by its very nature, creates complexity in the workplace. When the majority of the workforce shares similar backgrounds and experiences, and thinks, acts, and looks alike; there is a level of certainty and predictability about workplace interactions. It can easily get confusing if you listen to the politically correct jargon associated with diversity. You may be tempted to believe that all you have to do is work on attracting more "diverse" workers or learning more about other cultures. I want to clarify any confusion and encourage you to "face the facts" so you can decide how best to spend your resources addressing diversity issues.
Here are some familiar terms and the simple truth about them
Diversity (at work) is defined as "the collective mix of differences and similarities we encounter in our workforce, workplace and marketplace." While it has the potential to be the source of extraordinary results and a vital, happy, productive workplace, the simple truth is it will initially be the source of chaos, confusion, controversy, suspicion, conflict, tension and discord. These productivity robbers have to be acknowledged as a part of the diversity equation.
Increased Diversity is almost universally talked about as a good thing. It would be totally un-PC to express any concern or lack of support for diversity. Yet realistically, most businesspeople smile and say "yes" to diversity while consistently ignoring it as a factor in business planning.
We like to assume that diversity alone produces value. The simple truth is: it does not!
We like to believe that everyone can learn to love and appreciate differences. The simple truth is: that’s not natural!
We are all conditioned to see good/bad, right/wrong, us/them, in every situation. We are further inclined to associate these terms with specific groups of people. This is called natural bias. That fact alone creates a barrier to effective relationships in multicultural groups.
Multicultural workforce refers to the presence of people from different cultural groups working together. It can be misleading as you think about how to manage groups or teams made up of various cultural influences. Culture is defined as an individual’s or group’s sense of how things should be done based on their conditioning, values, and experiences. It is not likely that you can determine someone’s culture by looking at them or listening to their speech. Race, ethnicity, and gender are contributing factors to culture. But race, ethnicity, or gender do not define a person’s culture. For instance, not all Hispanic or Spanish-speaking people share the same culture. Nor can you assume that a Latino will necessarily have different cultural expectations than an Anglo or African American.
We like to think that we can manage multicultural groups by learning about various cultures and ethnicities. The simple truth is: no two people in any cultural group are exactly the same.
We like to think we can predict how people will respond based on their cultural identity. The simple truth is: we have to get to know each individual as an individual and determine his/her cultural influence by asking them.
Diversity Management is "the process of creating an environment that naturally enables all persons to contribute to their full potential in pursuit of organizational objectives."Diversity Management is a deliberate effort to manage the reality that ever-increasing diversity is a fact of business life. The goal of Diversity Management is not to get more diversity… it is to get world class results from each individual and the collective mix that you now have. It places the emphasis on what we do with diversity rather than getting diversity.
We like to think we can master diversity by learning data about others so we won’t offend them. The simple truth is: Diversity Management starts with each of us learning to manage OUR OWN STUFF.
Diversity Management means managing relationships. If you work with, manage, or lead people, you have a role in the process. Be honest and recognize that you react to some people differently that you react to others. If you acknowledge that fact, you will be able to manage relationships more effectively. And effective relationships are the secret ingredient to becoming an effective diversity manager and getting the best from all the members of a multicultural workforce.
So, what is the right thing to work on in order to respond to the ever-increasing presence of diversity in the workforce? I recommend that you spend your time, energy, and resources working on managing individual workers instead of lumping them by their cultural group identity. The increase in diversity cannot be controlled. It is simply a fact of life. But, diversity management is a conscious decision and a worthy strategy.
The Problem (Why Work On It)
A large body of research shows that employees in organizations with a multicultural diversity mix and strong inclusive cultures demonstrate a higher level of engagement and their companies outperform other companies in their industry. Diversity management as a strategy yields stronger performance, innovation, and bottom line results. As examples:
• Productivity: 10% of revenue used for capital improvements (technology, etc.) boosts productivity by 3.8%; while 10% of revenue used developing human capital increases productivity by 8.5%
- Source: University of Pennsylvania study of 3,000 companies
• Economic: Companies with strong inclusive cultures outperform their industry peers in revenue growth, stock price, ROI, lower turnover, net income, and every other financial measure. (See Chart A)
- Source: Kotter and Heskett, Managing Corporate Culture.
• Improved Decision-Making: Highest quality decisions occur when the team is: diverse, dispersed, independent, and has the capability to manage collective judgment (manage diversity).
- Source: J. Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds
• Engagement: Employees are more engaged when they experience "dignity" at work.
- Source: J.O. Rodgers CMC, The Diversity Coach™
Chart A- Comparison of results over 11-year period (Kotter & Heskett)
GROUP A GROUP B
Revenue +682% +166
Workforce +282% +36%
Stock Price +904% +74%
Net Income +756% +1%
Group A focused on creating a strong inclusive culture where diverse talent thrived. Group B are industry peers who focused on traditional strategies like technology.
These data strongly indicate that there is real bottom-line value in practicing diversity management as a strategy. It can be argued that failure to execute against a diversity management strategy introduces additional risk to the enterprise and overlooks obvious opportunities for success.
Both people managers and organizational leaders are essential to achieving the benefits outlined above. However, many leaders, by design or inactivity, often choose to do nothing about managing diversity. Doing nothing may have unintended consequences. If an employee is not connected and committed to the workplace, he or she may quit and leave—or even worse, quit and stay. Either way, the result is loss productivity.
As a manager or team leader, facing an increasingly diverse and multicultural workforce, you can easily be tripped up by your reactions to others’ differences. Managers who feel a sense of ease, comfort, and control in carrying out their role with people who are very much like themselves may fail when they are thrust into situations where the workplace is more diverse, unpredictable and uncertain. They may tend to blame lack of performance or low productivity on "those people" rather than take rightful accountability for getting results with any and every mix of workers. In short, diversity makes things more complex for managers. And, when managed well, diversity introduces a major source of productivity, performance, innovation, and profit.
The Strategic Solution
"You need to pay as much attention to diversity management as you do to meeting your financials. If you do not pay that level of attention, you will dilute your ability to be totally effective"
It’s very natural to prefer and appreciate those people who are most like us. It’s also very easy to get comfortable with routines, styles and the tradition of doing things the way they have always been done. Those managers who are effective at managing diversity find a way to change their perspective about diversity and to see it as a business challenge that must be addressed like any other business challenge.
The goal of effective diversity managers is to get 100 percent from 100 percent of their employees 100 percent of the time and to create a high performance workplace culture. Managers must expect one hundred percent from each employee (regardless of their culture and/or how they are packaged) and believe each has the ability to deliver. In order to be an effective diversity manager, a person must be a good manager of people.
Unfortunately, this belief has to operate against a natural human tendency to react to differences. We all have biases, prejudices, stereotypes, and personal values that cause us to see others in certain ways. A manager who wants to maximize the productivity of his/her team must become comfortable with diversity management as a strategy and with creating a diversity mature workplace. A diversity mature workplace uses Diversity Management to drive organizational effectiveness.
Diversity Mature organizations are those which:
• Focus on building organizational capacity to see the value in each individual.
• Manage to the individual rather than to any group identity.
• Are diligent, disciplined, and determined in executing a diversity management strategy.
• Have a clearly defined business outcome.
• Include and involve everyone.
• Allow individuals to be themselves.
• Encourage rampant creativity and innovation.
• Equip their managers to get 100% from 100% of their people 100% of the time.
• Achieve world class results using diversity management as a catalyst.
• Work on being good, not just looking good.
When diversity management succeeds, every individual is at work, thinking how she or he can help the organization meet its objectives and looking for opportunities to increase effectiveness.
The ability to support, develop and encourage employees is, perhaps, still one of the most important roles managers in the new millennium must perform. However, the recognition and acceptance of employee diversity increases the complexity of this imperative because it requires the creation of an environment where every worker is valued for the unique contribution he/she can make to the organization’s success. This is the challenge of diversity management: understanding individual differences and similarities, and recognizing the pivotal role managers play in their effectiveness.
The increased presence of diversity and a multicultural workforce requires a strategic response for organizations of all sizes and in all industries. Make sure you are not distracted by the jargon that surrounds the topic of diversity and that you:
Work on the right thing – Diversity management is the way to position your company and equip your managers to get the best from each individual worker.
For the right reason – Not for social, moral, ethical, or legal reasons, and not to appear more politically correct. Get selfish and do it to achieve better business results.
In the right way – Treat diversity management as an organizational strategy and execute it like your survival depended on it. It very well may.
About the Author:
James O. Rodgers, CMC, MBA, is President and Principal Consultant of J.O. Rodgers & Associates is known as The Diversity Coach™ and has been a leader in the field of diversity management for over two decades. He is a frequent speaker at association and corporate meetings. He is the author of the breakthrough book Managing Differently: Getting 100% from 100% of your people 100% of the time. He is a leading advocate for professional certification of management consultants and serves on the national board of IMC-USA.
The CMC designation (Certified Management Consultant) is awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants and represents evidence of the highest standards of consulting and adherence to the ethical canons of the profession. Less than 1% of all consultants have achieved this level of performance.