Workplace Diversity - More Diverse Than Ever

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By Noreen S. Kirk

If you’ve been in the business world for a while, you may remember when people first started talking about workplace diversity. Back then, the term typically referred to the growing number of African-Americans and women in the workforce. But fast-forward into the 21st century, and it’s clear that “diversity” is more diverse than it used to be.

In Connecticut and across America, the labor force is evolving into an ever richer mosaic of people representing a variety of nations, cultures, religions, languages and perspectives. There is power in this workplace diversity, and companies that harness it can gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace. That’s why smart employers will want to give some serious thought to managing this increasingly heterogeneous workforce effectively.

The changing workforce

Foreign immigration is a major factor in the changing composition of the workforce. A recent study by Northeastern University showed that for the period 2000 to 2005, immigrants made up 63% of the country’s labor force growth — an all-time high. Southern New England felt the effects, too. For the same period, new foreign immigration accounted for all of the labor force growth in Connecticut and virtually all of it in New England.

These new immigrants are important to Connecticut’s economy. Along with other Northeastern states and states in the Midwest, Connecticut is experiencing a decline in working-age population as baby boomers retire and many younger, native-born workers relocate out of state. The jobs they’re vacating are increasingly being filled by foreign immigrants.

“Connecticut needs to have its arms wide open to new immigrants,” says Mark LeClair, professor of economics at Fairfield University. “Our ability to maintain a manufacturing sector in the state is going to be dependent on our use of this new immigrant labor.”

Immigrants play an important role in other sectors, too. Alice DeTora, a partner in the Hartford office of Robinson & Cole, says, “Companies are hiring more foreign nationals, particularly in high-technology industries like biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology. That’s where we’re really lacking talent and relying heavily on foreign nationals.”

Foreign immigration contributes to workplace diversity, but it’s not the only factor, says Peter Francese, director of demographic forecasting for the New England Economic Partnership. “Today, diversity is in attitudes,” Francese says. “It’s more about psychographics than demographics.”

He says today’s workers’ priorities differ in key ways from those of earlier generations.
“A significant number of people in today’s workforce want only money and time,” says Francese. “These are people who say, ‘I’ll work three days a week, and that’s all. I have a life.’ Employers have to be flexible in this regard.”

Another priority for today’s workers is the ability to do interesting work and learn new skills that enable career advancement. Francese says employers would be wise to provide these learning opportunities.

The employer’s approach

Nancy Haas is president of Newtown-based Haas Consulting Services, which specializes in human resources issues. She, like Francese, espouses a broader view of workplace diversity.

“We have to understand that diversity is not just race and gender,” Haas says. “It also includes age, economic status, education — everything that makes up each individual as a person.”

Even with so much workplace diversity, employers who take a smart approach can get everyone working together toward the same goals, Haas says.

“You have to set a foundation for people to respect each other,” Haas says. “This leads to understanding and awareness. You do this through education, constant communication and making sure that senior management ‘walks the talk.’ Management has to show by example that they celebrate the diversity of the organization — culture, age, experience and more,” says Haas.

Some of her clients highlight the cultural workplace diversity through special activities such as inviting people to bring in ethnic dishes to share or use pins to mark their countries of origin on a world map. These activities increase cultural awareness and help employees get to know each other as individuals.

“Stereotypes build up a communication wall,” Haas says. “A company can break these down through education. When you have employees who feel comfortable in the workplace, they’re going to be much more productive.”

Haas says that, today, it’s especially important for employers to clearly communicate business strategies and goals.

“The younger generation wants to know, ‘Why?’” she says. “If an employee knows what the strategy is and what their role in it is, you have a much more interested employee who’s working with you toward goals and objectives. If you don’t keep them challenged, you’re going to lose them.”

Fostering understanding and collaboration in the diverse workplace has its challenges, but it’s a smart business strategy, says Peter Bye, president of MDB Group Inc. in Livingston, N.J., and a member of the Workforce Diversity Panel of the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Research shows that a diverse workforce has a richer range of knowledge about an idea and brings understanding of a wider range of market segments,” Bye says. “Innovation, creativity and the productivity potential of a diverse team [are] far greater than [those of] a monocultural team.”

Legal and other considerations

While a diverse, well-managed workforce is a business asset, the wide mix of cultures and backgrounds can present legal issues employers must deal with, many of them centering on complaints of discrimination in the workplace.

“More and more, we’re finding reasonable-accommodation issues arising,” says Colin Munro, a partner in the Stamford office of the law firm of McCarter & English LLP.

One example offered by Richard Voigt, a partner in the firm’s Hartford office, concerns scheduling around different religions’ Sabbath days and holidays.

“The employer is under a duty to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs,” Voigt says. To be reasonable, an accommodation “doesn’t have to be the accommodation requested by the employee. Employers should describe the hours of the job up front and, if no reasonable accommodation is possible, make clear to the employee that working these hours is a requirement of the job. In assessing whether a reasonable accommodation is possible, the employer should be open to considering employee shift swaps or other schedule adjustments worked out between employees.”

Language can be a trouble spot, too. English-speaking workers may feel excluded when other groups talk among themselves in their native language. Some employers see the use of languages other than English as undermining teamwork and good morale and have instituted English-only rules.

“These have not been well received by the courts,” Voigt says. “There has to be a legitimate business reason for it. The courts have viewed the morale issue as too speculative.”

Other questions may come up regarding employees’ wearing of turbans or chadors, religious observances in the workplace, speaking accents, and more. But Voigt says that the biggest issues in the diverse workforce are complaints about “glass ceilings” and discriminatory treatment.

“Employers should be monitoring how promotions are playing out and should, through training and appropriate planning, try to make opportunities as broadly available as possible. They should ensure that the decision-making process is as objective as possible and that their nondiscrimination policies are structured correctly and are part of the fabric of the organization,” Voigt notes.

Workplace diversity in action

At Rand-Whitney Containerboard LLP in Montville, workplace diversity is just a way of life, says Human Resources and Safety Manager Roberta Hublard.

The company, which employs just over 100 people, includes African-Americans, Hispanics, one Ukrainian and an Indian (who is multilingual). Although the paper industry typically attracts mostly men, the company also has several women, one in a nontraditional role.

“When we’re recruiting people, we don’t recruit for a minority or non-minority, but for a certain skill set,” Hublard says. “The person who comes in with that skill set is the person we’re going to hire. And if they have the skill set, they are just totally accepted. Their ethnicity or race or gender or age doesn’t even matter.”

The employees are organized into crews, four of which work on the paper machine and two that are responsible for maintenance.

“They all need to be able to back each other up,” says Hublard. “People are more concerned with, ‘Can this person do the job? Can this person work with me? Can we help each other? than anything else.”

Everyone socializes easily, too. They routinely have lunch together, and one crew has formed a bowling team.

Of the 36 employees who work on the shop floor at Reflexite America in New Britain, 32 were born in Poland and four in the United States, according to Human Resource Coordinator Eileen Baran. English is a second language for all the Polish-born workers. But overcoming language difficulties and dealing with cultural differences hasn’t been a huge problem at this employee-owned company.

Reflexite, which manufactures reflective materials, light-controlling films and lenses, was founded in 1970 with about five employees, some from the local Polish community.

“The Polish community is tight, and people know each other,” says Director of Operations Mark Zapatka. As the company grew, employees encouraged their friends and relatives to apply for positions.

To move into leadership roles, employees need to speak English, so Reflexite made ESL training available free of charge during working hours for any employee who wanted it. Many took advantage of the opportunity, and many have gone on to take courses at local colleges on their own initiative, as well, with tuition reimbursed by the company. Today, Zapatka says, he can converse in English with all but a handful of employees. For that group, Eileen Baran, who is bilingual, or another employee provides translation.

At Cooper-Atkins Corp. in Middlefield, nearly one-third of the 150 employees are originally from other countries, including Poland, Italy, Japan, Slovakia, Columbia, India and Puerto Rico. And that’s just fine with President and CEO Carol Wallace, who has a personal interest in countries and languages.

One of the ways the company celebrates its diversity is by holding an International Day, when employees wear ethnic clothing and bring in ethnic foods.

“We all gather and have a luncheon,” says Wallace. “Everyone shares. It really celebrates our diversity.”

While not all employees speak English, the company does offer ESL classes to try to promote a common language, and bilingual employees translate when necessary. Religious observances haven’t been a problem; people use floating holidays or personal days. The company does much of its hiring based on internal referrals.

“When people come in, they know what the culture of the organization is — that we don’t tolerate intolerance in any shape or form,” says Wallace. “It’s evidenced by the fact that we promote an international culture by hiring a diverse population and that we celebrate our differences and similarities.”

One of the ways Wallace demonstrates her personal appreciation of workplace diversity is to learn to say a few phrases in every language represented.

“We’ve taken many small steps to ensure that the entire organization understands that management embraces cultural diversity,” Wallace says. “We haven’t done any rocket science; it’s just a matter of enjoying the diversity we have.”

Source : CBIA.com

Will the "Real" People of Color Please Stand Up?

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At ProGroup, we have a belief that the more you know about diversity and inclusion, the more you don't know. This has always been a truism for me, and more so as I continue to meet people of diverse backgrounds and heritage.

Because it's human nature to want to categorize people, we find ourselves - with good intent - labeling entire groups and trying to use appropriate terms. It's "Asian," not "Oriental."

"Black" over "African American," according to recent research. A few years ago "American Indian" replaced "Native American." Some say "white"; others "European American." Never use "ladies"; always use "women," unless you are in the South and then it's okay with some women. Latino may soon replace Hispanic, but for some, it may evolve into "Mexican American." And, when referring to sexual orientation, it's "gay males," "lesbians," or "GLBT", which sometimes becomes "LGBT," depending on whom you are talking to. That's what I know today. It gets very confusing and hard to remember what is "right."

Despite the fact that universities and the media have created their own list of "standard" terminology, usage has changed over time and probably will continue to evolve, leaving us with no list we can be sure of. Historically, controlling groups have had the authority to label or name other groups. Today, ethnic and cultural groups demand the power to name themselves.

What makes this hard is that people don't fit neatly into one box. This is becoming even more apparent as our country becomes more multicultural and multiethnic. The 2000 Census reported that 5.5% of respondents checked "multiracial." Individuals in the focus groups we conduct are more sensitive than ever about being categorized and then labeled.

In the early 1980s, someone somewhere decided that in order to be inclusive and avoid the negativity associated with the term "minority," "people of color" should be adopted. This allowed us to be okay about "clumping" everyone together. But even with this terminology, corporations divide "people of color" into various affinity groups and employee resource and network groups to learn about and understand the communities they represent. Then, they count people by demographic group to show progress in diversity. Difficult, isn't it?

I was struck by this dilemma even more as I listened to Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, president of Bennett College for Women, close the Chief Diversity Officer's Summit earlier this spring. In her inspiring style and thoughtful commentary, Dr. Cole asked us to consider how very different we are within our differences. She challenged us not to try to make things too easy by putting people in Column A or Column B and believing that everyone in that column has the same attributes. To illustrate her point, Dr. Cole referred to one of the presenters, Bonnie St. John, who is a Paralympic Medal-winning skier. She asked us, "In what column would you put 'our sister' Bonnie, who is one-legged, black, a woman, and an athlete?" Dr. Cole asked us to get beyond trying to categorize people and recognize that we are all unique individuals with unique characteristics and distinct perspectives.

In the office recently, ProGroup's ever popular and talented vice president, Tony Orange, was telling us about a training session he conducted where a male participant - a manager - followed him during a break and asked him, "Tony, what do I call you? Do I refer to you as black? Do I say Tony is the black guy in the group? I don't want to be offensive. I just don't know." As always, Tony exhibited great understanding and demonstrated Change Agent behavior. He discussed how you would start by referring to him by name. "I'm Tony." Tony went on to say, "Then, you might ask the individual, as you have done today, what is your preference? Everyone will be different." During the course of this conversation, Tony explained that for him it would be okay to refer to him as black if he was in a crowd and you wanted to point him out to others. "But," Tony continued coaching, "the real issue is whether you treat me differently because of the label." The manager wanted a rule from Tony and an easy answer. Instead, the manager got wisdom. There is no rule book.

We work with several clients who are actively recruiting to increase their diversity representation. In their process, they refer to "diversity applicants," "underrepresented minorities," "diversity hires," and "minority candidates," and they are resistant to change this practice because they believe they won't be able to measure their progress. Consider what it would be like to be hired carrying one of these descriptors, these labels. You may not know you even have a label on . . . or, would you? I remember an old training exercise that I experienced where an adhesive label with the name of a category of people was placed on my forehead. I couldn't see what it said. I had to wear the label all afternoon as people reacted positively or negatively toward me. When I finally peeled it off, I could still feel it hours later.

Human nature... fascinating isn't it? I was with some people at dinner recently and we noticed that our waiter's name on his nametag was 16 letters long. A colleague asked, "How do you say your name?" The waiter proudly pronounced his full name and then apologetically said, "Just call me 'Dickey.' That is what they call me here." We asked, "Do you like the shortened name?" He replied, "No, but it is easier for them. I'm getting used to it."

It's not easy anymore. One day soon, "people of color" will be replaced by someone's new preferred label. As we try to exhibit behaviors of respect and appreciation, let's be conscious of how we use labels and names in our desire to make things simple.

Resist "clumping." It's tempting, but if you consciously work to learn about the whole person and get beyond putting that individual in a group, you may be surprised. All (fill in the blank) are not alike.

Put the extra energy into learning about people, especially their names. One researcher said that your name is the most important word in the English language. Multiply that by all the languages around the world. When you pronounce someone's name correctly, it means a lot-and that's coming from someone whose last name, "Marofsky," has been pronounced and spelled in some pretty crazy ways.

Notice how individuals refer to themselves and use their term. Then, don't assume that the next person will prefer the same label.

Give yourself grace. You won't always know what is correct and you may make a mistake in someone's eyes. Apologize with appreciation and then ask what term the individual prefers.

Ask in order to learn. What a great way to make human connections that make a difference around diversity! Go back to our wise man, Tony, and get beyond the surface stuff to really understand who others are and what they need. In case you don't know, there is no such thing as political correctness.

Source : ProGroup

Workplace Diversity: Creating Workplace Opportunities for People with Disabilities

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By Tamara E. Holmes

Nearly one out of every five Americans has a disability, according to the 2000 Census. Of the approximately 70 percent of people with disabilities who are unemployed, two thirds of them would like to work, according to the National Organization on Disability and market research firm Harris Interactive. Luckily for them, a number of Boston-area companies and organizations are working to make that possible.

People with disabilities have a unique perspective that a smart employer can take advantage of, says Kathleen Petkauskos, president of the Resource Partnership, an organization based in Natick, Mass., that works to place people with disabilities in jobs.

"Customers also have disabilities," she says. "By employing people with disabilities, companies can learn about that target market."

The number of companies Petkauskos has seen taking an interest in disability-friendly practices has been steadily increasing over the past decade since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. The legislation, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, gives people with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities.

"The passage of the [Americans with Disabilities Act] brought awareness to the employer community," says Petkauskos. "[Companies] had to make changes around their employment practices."

Two-Way Benefits

But as companies searched for ways to make their workplaces friendly to people with disabilities, many of them found that the workers weren't the only ones seeing direct benefits.

The Institute for Community Inclusion and Boston College Center for Work and Family held a series of focus groups with regional employers and came up with three main reasons employers seek to hire people with disabilities:
  • By hiring people with disabilities, companies fill a job vacancy.
  • People with disabilities add workplace diversity and show the company's commitment to the community.
A number of Massachusetts firms have taken their commitment to making the workplace friendly to people with disabilities to a higher level by joining the Massachusetts Business Leadership Network, a coalition of companies working to make sure the workforce includes people with disabilities.

Among the companies that are members of the Business Leadership Network are Citizens Bank, FleetBoston Financial, Harvard University, Massachusetts General and Progress Software.

Companies that are members of the network are "more than willing to share best practices and strategies" with each other, says the Resource Partnership's Petkauskos.

For example, the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass., a member company, ensures that the company retain employees who are disabled by having a committee meet six times each year that advises the company on how best to make the workplace more friendly to people with disabilities.

Among the initiatives the committee came up with were career fairs specifically targeting employees with disabilities and the evaluation of all school buildings to make sure they are accessible to people with disabilities.

Disability Support Groups

The University of Massachusetts isn't the only company that is addressing the needs of people with disabilities by forming support groups of some type.

According to Joe Good, a spokesman for financial services firm FleetBoston, the company has a Diversity Resource Group, or support group, for people with disabilities as well.

In fact, says Petkauskos, more and more companies are recognizing that people with disabilities have unique needs and are taking steps to create groups that address those needs.

Companies that are looking to make their policies more friendly to people with disabilities must start by making everyone in the company aware of the unique needs of people with disabilities "from the CEO, down," says Petkauskos.

Once a company is educated about those needs, it can go about making sure the building is wheelchair accessible, interview sites are easy for people with disabilities to get to, and emergency procedures take into account people who can't easily climb up and down stairs.

Sheila L. Fesko, research coordinator for the National Center on Workforce and Disability, an organization affiliated with the University of Massachusetts, says employers should also understand that people with disabilities have many of the same problems that other employees have.

"Managers should understand how people's skills match with the job and assign people based on their strengths," she says. Along those same lines, employers should look for opportunities to assign mentors to people with disabilities, just as they would assign mentors to other employees.

But at the same time, issues that are unique to people with disabilities should be handled confidentially without other employees being made privy to the details if they don't need to be.

Employers also should work to make sure the workplace's culture is friendly to people with disabilities by showing no tolerance for employees who discriminate against people with disabilities, according to Fesko.

But the most important thing, the Resource Partnership's Petkauskos says, is that companies be willing to learn what people with disabilities need.

"Companies don't have to already be disability-friendly to work [with us,]" she says. "We will work with them."

About the Author

Tamara Holmes is a freelance writer based in Largo, MD. She can be reached at maraholmes@aol.com.

Source : BostonWorks.com

The Term 'Minority' Criticized As Outdated, Inaccurate As Nation's Demographics Change

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By Erin Texeira
AP National Writer

What do you call a minority that is becoming the majority?

News that Texas is the fourth state in which non-Hispanic whites make up less than 50 percent of residents has renewed discussion about whether the term "minority'' has outlived its usefulness; critics include both liberals and conservatives. While some think the complaints are mere nitpicking, others argue the word is increasingly inaccurate, obsolete and even offensive.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, we saw the country as a majority-white country with a black minority, but now you have places where that is a woefully poor description of what is going on,'' especially given rapidly growing Hispanic population, said Roderick J. Harrison, a demographer with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank. The word "minority'' is "a confusing term as one of thinks of today's population.''

The majority of residents in Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., are some ethnicity other than non-Hispanic whites, according to Census Bureau population estimates released last week. Five other states, including New York and Georgia, could make that shift by 2010.

Soon, more than one-third of Americans will live in states where Latinos, blacks, Asians, American Indians and other ethnic groups outnumber whites. Such demographic shifts have given rise to the term "majority-minority.''

Harrison noted that "minority'' refers to more than just numbers.

"The word's origins are that these are populations that once had the status of minors before the law,'' Harrison said. "These are populations that, in one way or another, did not have full legal status or full civil rights.''

When considering doing away with the term, "the question is, how far along the road to full equality have they come?''

Haig Bosmajian, a University of Washington professor emeritus of communications, said that when he researched his book "The Language of Oppression'' in the 1960s, "minority'' accurately described blacks and other relatively small ethnic groups.

"But by 'minority' today we mean a disadvantaged group of citizens. We mean not the privileged at the top, but the underprivileged at the bottom: People who make $10 million a year, we don't call them a 'minority,''' he said. "There's power behind these terms.''

Star Parker, who heads the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, a conservative black think tank, said the word is "absolutely misused. It's become an entitlement word, a word for victimization.''

In some cases, particularly regarding affirmative action programs, "minority'' often includes women, disabled people and religious groups, said Robin Lakoff, a socio-linguist at the University of California, Berkeley. That's made the definition murky, in her view.

"It's now almost too inclusive and not clear enough,'' she said.

Still, she added, "sometimes I think we worry too much about semantic hairsplitting. If I had to fight about something, I might not fight about the term 'minority.'''

Luke Visconti of DiversityInc, which advises businesses on racial issues, disagreed. He believes that shelving "minority'' is important because the word implies second-class status. Modern-day discrimination is more subtle than in years past, he said, and "language is the dominant way today of expressing oppression.''

Whatever the reason, "minority'' is already falling from favor in some circles.

"People of color'' is often used, particularly in academia. "Multicultural,'' "diverse'' and "urban'' also are common. The University of Michigan has what it calls "minority-cultural lounges'' with black, Latino, Asian and Native American themes.

In 2001, San Diego's city council approved striking "minority'' from official usage _ and to stop using the term "Southeast San Diego'' to refer to neighborhoods that are largely black and Hispanic _ to "move away from the pejorative connotations ... and move to something that was respectful,'' said Danell Scarborough, a human resources manager with the city.

"When I asked people around here about 'minority,' they said, 'Huh? I haven't heard that in ages,''' she said. "There was not a resistance.''

Even the Census Bureau itself is moving in that direction.

Though the bureau has not officially barred its use _ last week's news release on Texas was titled, "Texas Becomes Nation's Newest 'Majority-Minority' State'' _ many officials avoid "minority'' in favor of more specific racial and ethnic labels, said Claudette E. Bennett, chief of the Census racial statistics branch.

The bureau increasingly tries to use specific terms such as "Pacific Islander'' and "Mexican-American,'' she said.

"If you see the term 'minority' in one of our reports,'' Bennett said, "there's going to be a footnote ... detailing what exactly it means.''

Source : Focus on Diversity

Workplace Diversity: Does It Work?

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Despite the seemingly universal acceptance of the value of workplace diversity training and compliance, troubling issues persist.

We will examine the myth vs. reality on workplace diversity in hopes of stimulating a more interesting line of thought and giving this subject more than just the usual platitudes and generalities that are often glibly tossed around.

Employers spend billions of dollars on workplace diversity programs, while laws mandate compliance in many cases. On the surface diversity "works" and we are on the right track... but what is going on underneath all this?

Workplace diversity can enhance business performance, and maybe even make the world a better place.

However, if it is mismanaged or left to drift along without close attention, it is possible that it may produce unresolved conflict, miscommunication, higher turnover, or other unintended consequences. The causes of these problems are deep, and the solutions are not easy.

What we will discuss here is the difference between what works and what doesn't.

Unthinking stereotypes and generalities don't help this key issue, but digging for a deeper reality might create a foundation for improvement and understanding.

Workplace diversity is part of our modern culture; it is necessary... and even desirable.

Lets find ways to deal with the reality of the situation and make the most of it by finding out what works - and eliminate what is just hype.

Why Do We Do It?

Companies state many reasons for their workplace diversity training and programs. By reviewing them we hope to clarify the reality underling the motivation for them and set the stage for the issues and questions that follow:

- Recruiting and Retention
- Litigation Avoidance
- Market Purchasing Power of Minorities
- Demographic Changes in Society
- Because It's "Right"

Recruiting and Retention

For the most part companies feel that putting forward a strong image of being "diversity conscious" is necessary to attract and retain good employees.

There is evidence that employees expect and ask for a strong workplace diversity policy as a benchmark for the desirability of a working environment. To compete in recruitment and retention companies must act on this desire.

Ilse de Veer, a consultant in the office of Mercer Human Resource Consulting is quoted as saying: "Domestic-partner benefits is a trend that's grown steadily. It really took off during the tight labor market in the 1990's, to the point where in high tech and some other industries it's pretty much become the norm. Companies have had to add it for competitive reasons".

She notes that corporate recruiters have told her that recent college graduates - even if they are not actually gay or lesbian themselves - often ask about partner benefits and other related issues as sort of a litmus test of whether the company has a tolerant workplace. "I've had companies say that they lost applicants because they didn't have it," she said.

Other examples:

In a 2000 survey by Hewitt Associates 22 percent of the nearly 600 companies surveyed said they provided partner benefits (aimed primarily at gay and lesbian minorities). Two thirds of those who did provide those benefits also said they do so primarily as a recruiting and retention tool, while only 6 percent said that they offered the benefits to be fair.

Louis Thomas, an associate professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says that his research indicates that gay employees are likely to stay with an employer with gay-friendly policies, even if offered more money by a competitor.

Cedant Corporation (a real estate services company) launched its workplace diversity program as part of a broader "employer of choice" initiative.

Reality: Many organizations utilize diversity programs as a tool in recruitment and retention. Not necessarily because of their own merits, but because they are necessary as such.

Litigation Avoidance

Compliance objectives and litigation avoidance stress the need to avoid costly discrimination lawsuits and the damage to reputation that occurs when companies are charged with illegal workplace practices.

Ryder System, Inc. is a logistics, supply-chain and transportation company with 30,000 employees. Their diversity program has an element in it that actively teaches litigation avoidance by describing scenarios and behaviors that put the company at risk of lawsuits and advise how to prevent them.

Part of the measurement of the return on their diversity program is in tracking litigation costs. Gerri Rocker, director of corporate diversity states, "Since the initiation of these programs, litigation costs have dropped dramatically".

Reality: Avoiding litigation costs and lawsuits is a powerful motivator for companies in providing workplace diversity programs to meet compliance objectives. It is part of sound fiscal management.

Market Purchasing Power of Minorities

Market share objectives of more companies are targeting the growing purchasing power of female and minority consumer groups, which many believe can be tapped only through an employee population that matches the customer base.

Though only one small segment of the minority market, the 15 million gay men and lesbians in the U.S. comprise a $583 billion market, according to the consumer-market researcher Packaged Facts and marketing firm Witeck-Combs Comunications.

MarketResearch.com, in Rockville Maryland, estimates the gay consumer market to number more than 14 million consumers and is projected to be worth more than $607 billion in purchasing power by 2007.

Eastman Kodak Co. executives have been reported to believe that providing equitable treatment toward gay employees makes Kodak products more appealing to domestic gay consumers, who tend to be brand-loyal.

IBM spokesman Jim Sinocchi says that outreach to the gay market segment achieves the dual strategic goal of recruitment and the marketing of its products. "The nature of the gay community is strong networks, based on personal contacts, that extend through peer companies and customers," he says. "What we're trying to do is crate a buzz, to make people want to spend their money with IBM - or to work here".

Demographic changes confirm explosive increases in minority populations in the United States.

Reality: Companies are aware that demographics reflect a rapid increase in minority populations. This equates to increased purchasing power and a larger impact on potential job pool candidates. It is a fact that businesses ignore at their own peril.

Demographic Changes in Society

Workplace diversity is an inevitable result of the demographic changes taking place in our society today. Most companies are aware of that and react accordingly.

Here are some statistics based on the results of the 2000 U.S. Census:
(Note, the terms used here are those provided by the Census report, not ours.)

"Nationally, the country's white population increased 7.3 percent between 1990 and 1999 to 224.6 million. Blacks remained the country's largest minority group, experiencing a 13.8 percent rise during the same period to 34.8 million, while the American Indian and Alaska Native population increased 15.5 percent to 2.3 million".

"Between July 1, 1990 and July 1, 1999, the nation's Asian and Pacific Islander population grew 43.0 percent to 10.8 million, and the Hispanic population grew 38.8 percent to 31.3 million, the Census estimates show".

Here is a recap:

Total U.S. population 272.7 million

White: 224.6 million
Black: 34.8 million
Hispanic: 31.3 million
Asian and Pacific Islander: 10.8 million
American Indian and Alaska Native: 2.3 million

Gay and Lesbian: (estimated at) 15 million.

Here are the percentage of increases in the various populations
between 1990 and 1999:

Increase in White population: 7.3 percent
Increase in Black population: 13.8 percent
Increase in Hispanic population: 38.8 percent
Increase in Asian and Pacific Islander population: 43.0 percent
Increase in American Indian and Alaska Native population: 15.5 percent

These figures should speak for themselves.

Reality: To ignore workplace diversity is to ignore the reality of the changing demographics of the current workforce and the resulting consumer base brought about by these changes.

Because It's "Right"

According to a 2003 Gallup study referenced in the Congressional Record, 88 percent of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace.

Certainly we should hope that this same percentage would apply to all minority groups.

As indicated in the poll quoted above most Americans believe in equal rights, and hence in the inherent value of workplace diversity.

Many companies have workplace diversity policies and programs because those working there believe that it is inherently right. They believe that equal rights are at the very foundation of our country and our way of life.

However, the sociological or moral implications of this question are usually considered outside the scope of the business or policy aspects of this issue.

Reality: Most Americans believe in equal rights and diversity. Though this is a factor in diversity programs and policies, it should be noted that often this does not drive the decision making involved in creating or maintaining a diversity program.

Does It Work?

- Lack of Measurable Evidence
- Problems in Measurement and Tracking
- Reluctance of Companies to Measure or Report
- Anecdotal Evidence

Lack of Measurable Evidence

Thomas Kochan is a professor of management at MIT's Sloan School of Management. In 2003 he completed a five-year study of the impact of workplace diversity on business results. The investigation involved a detailed examination of large firms with strong reputations for their long-standing commitment to building a diverse workforce and managing diversity effectively.

Kochan said the following about his results: "The diversity industry is built on sand. The business case rhetoric for diversity is simply naive and overdone. There are no strong positive or negative effects of gender or racial diversity on business performance".

Kochan's team of researchers was supported by Business Opportunities for Leadership Diversity and the Society for Human Resource Management. They struggled to find companies willing to participate in their diversity study.

Of the 20 large corporations with well-established diversity programs that Kochan initially contacted for his study, none had ever conducted a systematic examination of the effects of their diversity efforts on bottom-line performance measures.

"Diversity has been promoted on the basis of a very weak construction of the business case and on grounds of social justice, but to be successful, programs must be built on scientific evidence," said Kochan.

"Meaningful discussions and analyses do not occur because companies are concerned about legal issues and because people simply want to believe that diversity works. There is a great deal of defensiveness. Even when diversity is managed well, the results are still mixed", Kochan concludes.

Michael C. Hyter is president and CEO of J. Howard & Associates, a large diversity consultancy in Boston. He points out that, "Some companies have completed limited studies at a divisional level, but there are no formal reports with valid and scientifically determined numbers".

Reality: According to the American Society for Training and Development's 2002 state of the training industry report, only one in 10 companies attempts to create results-based evaluations of its training programs.

Problems in Measurement and Tracking

Quantifying performance results and objectives resulting from workplace diversity programs can be problematic. Most data needed for significant measuring of results cannot be pulled from existing human resources data.

MIT's Thomas Kochan touches on this key point when he said: "To create the needed data and analysis, human resources executives must run experiments within their organizations. They must invest in efforts to train departments in group processes, and then follow their performance over time, comparing the performance of groups that have been trained with that of groups that have not, using hard performance measurements based on the goals of the unit".

Many companies track the success of their diversity efforts in terms of what they DO, not necessarily what leads to RESULTS. Or in another words, they measure what they put out, not what results they achieve in terms of either profit or savings.

For example, Ryder System, Inc. uses a scorecard for each business unit that includes a diversity component, with specific targets for hiring and promoting women and minorities. (Senior leadership bonuses are tied to meeting these targets.)

In this case success in diversity seems to be measured in numbers of minorities hired etc., not necessarily in the business results that those hires achieve.

Cedant Corporation's vice president of human resources Kathy Andreasen states: "The return on the resources dedicated to this effort (diversity) is measured in number of hires, the volume of our services that are provided by minority suppliers, the volume of business generated by our multicultural marketing initiatives, the number of minority franchisees, and other measures".

Reality: Companies often resort to simple "head counts" in measuring diversity efforts because the issues surrounding measurement and tracking of other aspects can be too complex.

Reluctance of Companies to Measure or Report

Given the complexity of measuring, tracking and reporting results in ways other than simple "head counts" for workplace diversity goals, it is no wonder most companies would rather fall back on simple assumptions that workplace diversity is working rather than devote the resources needed to verify results in any significant way.

The paradox of this is that the "diversity industry" in corporate America is already a multibillion-dollar industry (some estimates put it at 8 billion dollars a year). Unlike most other business practices, in many cases the money goes in to diversity programs without any meaningful valuation on the return on investment of these resources.

Some examples of this:

Manager of communications and public relations at Eastman Kodak Co. David Kassnoff is quoted as saying that his company had eliminated waste and improved productivity in manufacturing and finance through their diversity programs. However, he declined to provide statistics or specifics because of "competitive reasons".

New York Life Insurance vice president of human resources Angela Coleman said: "It's hard to quantify financial results. We don't approach diversity in terms of a dollar return on investment".

Michael Hyter of J. Howard & Associates said: "Organizations like having the flexibility of not eing put in a box about whether this does or doesn't work. Too often, they are given a lot of credit for their efforts anyway".

Reality: Success is usually reported, but often only in vague generalities rather than significant measurable or verifiable results.

Anecdotal Evidence

Since there is a distinct lack of reported evidence on the success or failure of diversity programs, most often what is presented is simply anecdotal evidence.

Here is an example:

Laura Brooks was a former regional manager for logistics with Eastman Kodak Co. and used all of the considerable resources available to her from her company's diversity program after seeing a "culture audit" of her warehouse that indicated that gay employees were possibly experiencing some degree of harassment.

After the whole process of training and other programs "informal follow up surveys" provided her with "a cautiously optimistic sense that things are getting better". She said, "We've also had three people in leadership position come out and begin functioning as out-of-the-closet leaders in our community. They clearly are in a different place than they were before we started our GLBT (gay lesbian bisexual transgender) education journey as an organization".

"Cautiously optimistic" after "informal follow up surveys". This may indicate the potentially positive value of a workplace diversity effort, but it is hardly what one would call solid evidence.

This type of anecdotal evidence is what is often provided as "proof" of positive results in workplace diversity programs.

Reality: Where there is a lack of verifiable measurements and results, anecdotal evidence abounds.

Conclusion

- Attitudes Vs. Behaviors
- Mandatory Compliance?

Attitudes Vs. Behaviors

It seems there is a difference between "valuing diversity" and having the appropriate skills to know how to work effectively in a group of diverse people.

Empathy and understanding are good foundations to begin with but do little towards actually working positively with people on a day-to-day basis to achieve measurable results. Much of workplace diversity training may be wasted because it focuses on programs for awareness and attitudes that do not give people the skills they need in dealing with the reality of a diverse workforce.

Training programs aimed at "valuing diversity" and addressing "attitudes" usually do not lead to long-term changes in behaviors. Instead, group members and leaders should be trained to deal with group process issues and focus on communicating and problem solving in diverse teams.

R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., CEO of R. Thomas Consulting and Training, Inc, points out that companies may succeed in "building a pipeline of people with all kinds of demographic characteristics" but then fail at dealing with different behaviors. His point is a good one.

MIT's Kochan aptly noted that, "Diversity can enhance business performance, but only if the proper training is in place and the climate and culture support it. If companies can't do this, they will lose the opportunity that diversity represents. There could be backward movement, and the negative consequences of diversity could predominate".

Diversity programs should look carefully at how they train people and what they train them in, and assure that this training is effective and meaningful in a measurable way. Training should focus on behavior skills and empathy for example, not "valuing diversity" or "experiencing an inclusion breakthrough".

Reality: Behavioral skill sets that are needed to deal with a diverse workforce are often neglected or overlooked while focusing on surrounding attitudes about diversity. This may be counterproductive, short sighted, and self-defeating.

Mandatory Compliance?

Based on the demographic reality of our American society the expanding role and importance of diversity in the workplace is inevitable. Is it possible that mandatory compliance with diversity initiatives is the only way to effectively bring about the necessary change?

People's long-held biases cannot be easily weeded out or changed with a few quick courses on "valuing diversity". A one-day workshop will not change lifelong habits of discrimination often learned from childhood on.

Mandatory compliance with diversity programs and goals may be the most effective way to move ahead on this issue.

The reality of the situation is that there should be no option to participate or not where workplace diversity is an issue, and a "zero-tolerance" attitude should be encouraged regarding any acts of discrimination in the workplace.

"Lapel pins and slogans on the wall may encourage people to think that diversity is just the special of the week," says Laura Liswood, senior adviser to Goldman Sachs on diversity issues and a senior scholar at the University of Maryland's Academy of Leadership. "Diversity requires real mind-set and cultural change".

Reality: Stereotypes change very slowly and simply putting people of different groups together does little or nothing to lower intolerance. What can make a difference is a sustained camaraderie and daily efforts toward a common goal by people of different backgrounds.

Source : Braun Consulting News

The Role and Responsibilities of a Workplace Diversity Coordinator

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Any agencies have appointed a workplace diversity coordinator. Their role and responsibilities will vary according to the nature, structure and size of an agency. Some agencies have a network of coordinators. Workplace diversity coordinators should be experienced and have the support of the Agency Head and executive.

Role and responsibilities

The role is to:

* articulate how workplace diversity can enhance the business performance of the agency;
* actively promote the benefits of workplace diversity, both for the agency and staff;
* gain an understanding of the workplace diversity needs of agency staff;
* help all staff to be aware of workplace diversity issues;
* advocate the inclusion of equity and workplace diversity issues on strategic planning agendas;
* promote the integration of workplace diversity issues in human resource policies and practices;
* develop, implement and monitor the workplace diversity program;
* monitor the agency's compliance with relevant laws and regulations;
* develop, implement and monitor the workplace diversity program; and
* keep senior executives informed about workplace diversity issues and about the effectiveness of the workplace diversity program.

It should be noted that these functions are not the sole responsibility of the workplace diversity coordinator. For example, it is critical that senior management articulate how workplace diversity can enhance the business performance of the agency and actively promote the benefits of workplace diversity. Senior management also has an important role to play in advocating the inclusion of equity and workplace diversity issues on strategic planning agendas.

Skills, knowledge and personal qualities

A workplace diversity coordinator needs to be familiar with the business and operational environment of the agency. Workplace diversity coordinators need to understand the legal framework surrounding workplace diversity in the APS. They should have up-to-date knowledge of workplace diversity issues and research. They should know about best practice and any recent developments which may affect their agency's policies, procedures and practices.

A workplace diversity coordinator needs well-developed facilitation and liaison skills, and strong analytical, management and communication skills. A workplace diversity coordinator should have a personal commitment to the APS Values and workplace diversity principles.

Support for the workplace diversity coordinator

Workplace diversity coordinators need support from senior management and the Agency Head. Responsibility for workplace diversity does not rest solely with the coordinator. Workplace diversity is a mainstream responsibility, which should be part of the agency's management systems and culture.

Workplace diversity coordinators should be encouraged to take advantage of training opportunities in order to keep up with current issues and policies.

The PSMPC organises a Workplace Diversity Coordinators' Network, which meets quarterly. The network helps members keep up to date on workplace diversity issues and share their experiences. A network newsletter is circulated to all members and draws their attention to new developments and resources.

Source : Australian Public Service Commission