Creating a Diverse Workforce

Creating a Diverse Workforce

A key tenet of all diversity initiatives is ensuring the creation of a diverse workforce through recruitment, development,and upward mobility. Most, if not all, corporate initiatives have a strong component geared toward ensuring a visibly diverse workforce, at all levels, with special emphasis on race and gender. Some of this is compliance driven, but corporate diversity initiatives are increasingly being motivated by the reality of an increasingly diverse labor pool and growing market segments of culturally diverse groups as well as the internal organizational inequities and systemic barriers to the progression or access to those groups. Emily Duncan, corporate manager, diversity & work/life at Hewlett-Packard reminds us, "This work is not new. We have been establishing a foundation for years that has helped bring us to where we are now and that will lead us into the future."

Diversity and Inclusion are Not The Same: Keith Kennedy, director of diversity at Hallmark Cards also reminds us, "A diverse organization and an inclusive organization are not necessarily the same thing. A diverse environment has people at the decision-making table and allows them to participate." Typical EEO1 data and categories, while a useful metric, really do not provide a measurement of cultural diversity in an organization. One executive interviewed commented that, "Most CEOs surround themselves with people who think like them. Many may have people of color or women reporting to them, but they think just like them." We have to ask ourselves, when recruiting or promoting people of color and women, are we really bringing in diversity, or people who just look different? Are we bringing in diversity of thought? Are we acknowledging the rich cultural heritages that people bring with them? Are we really tapping into the talent that our current women and people of color have to offer? Are we including them and engaging their talent, knowledge, and expertise? Do we allow them to propose a contrary point of view?

Cultural Considerations for Creating a Diverse Workforce: Let's get back to the cultural iceberg for a moment. We might think of the tip of the iceberg from the perspective of typical EEO1 categories. These categories are also often known as the primary dimensions of diversity, and are typically protected groups. Picture headings of, male, female, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Native American. These groupings tell us something, but little in terms of who the individuals are -- or sometimes who the group is.

Picture the tip of the iceberg as labeled "Hispanic." What might be below the surface? Consider the thought as presented by Melby and Hochhauser at the 1991 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association: "One may be classified as Hispanic, but that includes Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexican Americans, Salvadorans, Spanish, and others from the Caribbean, Central America, and South American countries. Similarly, one may be classified as an Asian-American /Pacific Islander, but that includes Japanese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Cambodian, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Korean, etc. One may be classified as African-American, but that includes people with an ethnic background from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, etc."8 Skip LeFauve, senior vice-president of global human resources and president of General Motors University concludes after many years of global work, "Culture goes way beyond national culture. There are many cultures within a nation. It can vary by region, by groupings of people. And, ultimately, it is about the individual."

As we will discover, groupings and cultural generalizations can be useful and are, to an extent, necessary. An understanding of groups versus the individual becomes particularly relevant in the workplace as we learn to work together, market to people, and attract talent. Citibank, for example, has recognized the complexity of culture and groups and has modified some of their marketing strategies as a consequence. Ana Duarte McCarthy, vice-president, diversity management at Citibank explains, "We have become more sensitive to our marketing approaches recognizing that there are many differences within market's that have traditionally been viewed as one."

Defining culture, trying to contain it, manage and understand it may seem overwhelming. In fact, it is manageable, it is understandable, and there are ways to demonstrate how to build bridges across cultural differences and reduce boundaries and limitations -- especially in our corporations. We must learn to manage diversity, value it, and leverage it. Managers need to learn to draw out talent, identify systemic problems, and recognize individuals for all they bring to the workplace.

Managing a Diverse Workforce

Diversity is fundamentally a business issue that may be signaling an end to the "one-size-fits all" era of management. But, truth be told, we like to be with people who are like ourselves -- it is a natural inclination. It may not be based upon race or gender, but we like those who are like us. This creates a problem for companies when the world around them is changing and their people inside seek to maintain familiarity and stability. Terry McGuire, director, workforce issues, and executive-in-residence at The Conference Board explains: "People tend not to choose to put themselves outside the comfort zone. If one of your objectives is to give people greater cross-cultural competence, you must force them to step outside their comfort zone. You consciously create opportunities for them to work with people they are not used to working with."

Self-awareness often becomes an important piece of management training (as well as employee training.) It is a natural inclination to believe one's own culture is normal and, perhaps, superior. Consequently, other cultures are perceived as inferior, which leads to an ethnocentric way of thinking -- in other words, we ignore the distinction between our own culture and another person's culture. We assume that others will react the way we do and that they will operate from the same assumptions.

Nortel Network's, vice-president, diversity and work-life strategies, Jack Deere observes, "We are not cognizant of culture most of the time. You have to stop and think about it." "We have to develop a 'learner's mind' says EDS' Courtland Burton, "by seeing cultural differences as a developmental opportunity." Anna Duran concludes, "We need to treat culture as a knowledge structure rather than emotional resonance."