Unfortunately, Hank's boss provides no further explanation and Hank is left alone and confused.
Hank is not alone. Over half of U.S. companies have little or no diversity plans in place, even though diversity is considered an important topic in today's global economy. To achieve diversity excellence, what should Hank's boss focus on and why?
For many supervisors and even executives, the term diversity still raises controversy, confusion, and tension when first introduced. What does diversity actually mean? Is it the same as affirmative action? Equal employment opportunity?
When many people like Hank and his boss think of diversity, without proper diversity management education they often fall into thinking about ethnicity and race, and then gender; however, diversity is much broader than these three terms. Dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, parental status, and work experience (Loden and Rosener 1991, 18-19).
How these dimensions affect performance, motivation, success, and interactions with others becomes part of measuring an organization's success in becoming excellent through diversity. Institutional structures and practices that have presented barriers to some dimensions of diversity should be examined, challenged, and removed in the process.
This is probably what Hank's boss's bosses were thinking about when they came up with the idea of excellence through diversity. It's just too bad they did not include any education when trying to move their workforce in this direction.
If I were trying to help Hank and his boss understand what to do, I would explain they must both first understand that managing and valuing diversity (MVD) is clearly different from equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. When consulting with such businesses that are just beginning to value and manage diversity, I often draw on one of my favorite Sesame Street sayings -- How is one thing not like the other things -- to explain differences between MVD, EEO and AA. It is critical these distinctions be understood, because not understanding the differences is just one more barrier to change.
Quite simply, MVD allows for voluntary change while AA and EEO require obligatory change. This is because AA and EEO are legal processes that have the force of the law behind them.
AA and EEO involve individuals who belong to legally protected groups and who are further affected by others such as human resources or the judiciary. But MVD involves not only those groups but is even more inclusive and includes members of many social and cultural groups, even those members of the dominant group (usually white males).
Here's another difference: MVD appeals to the broadening and more representative market and workforce. In turn, AA and EEP appeal specifically to those who value related legislation and goals.
Here is still another way to understand how "one thing" is not like "the other things": MVD focuses on economic performance of the organization or business. A successfully diversified workforce broadens the company's appeal to the global market and if managed well, can add to workforce flexibility in such areas as problem solving. On the other hand, AA and EEO focus on achievement of individuals in a legally protected class, making their focus far more specific and defined.
Finally, the purpose of AA is to ensure past discrimination is remedied and to prohibit future discrimination of legally targeted, protected groups. The purpose of EEO is to set and meet AA goals. While both AA and EEO are clearly critical to an organization's legal operations, the purpose of MVD is quite different, that is to maximize economic goals that have no legal basis but are set by businesses and organizations for their benefit.
Today's organizations and businesses, no matter their size or customer base, must learn to manage and value diversity. This first requires learning the difference between AA, EEO and MVD and then taking proactive steps to create and sustain an organizational climate in which the dynamics that harm performance are minimized and the potential to enhance performance is maximized. MVD is all about enhancing organizational performance by using every member's abilities and by leveraging diversity as an organizational resource.
Will Hank and his boss succeed in attaining diversity excellence? The answer is quite possibly yes, if both are provided the proper MVD education and resources, starting, of course, with understanding "...how one thing is not like the other things."
Susan Klopfer, MBA, helps organizations discover and implement diversity plans. Visit Susan's website to learn about her free online workshop, Five Costly Diversity Mistakes Companies Make and How To Avoid Them. www.susanklopfer.com
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