reasons for diversity
Building successful, diverse and dynamic learning organizations involves developing processes to ensure the differences of employees, customers and the community are taken into account. Diversity management is an active process that requires an investment of time and resources. It is a paradigm shift from conscious exclusion to conscious full exploitation of resources. Appreciating and managing diversity requires policies, relationships, procedures and practices that ensure fairness and equity.
It means more than raising awareness, but also changing the system to support differences for the benefit of all. This comparative analysis compares Monitor Company’s and IBM’s diversity strategy. It identifies how individuals are motivated to become change agents for diversity by assessing how the individuals have defined diversity in each case and recognizing conflicts that arise from the different definitions. Finally, I outline how the Monitor and IBM cases accommodate different learning styles.
Organizational dimensions of diversity
Diversity is a simple word that contains many human variables. As simple as it is, it depicts the differences that exist between individuals, which sometimes include culture, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomics, age, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, religion, language, appearance, personality, educational and thinking styles, communication and conflict styles, marital status, geography, military status, education, life and work experiences, functional responsibilities in a particular organization. Diversity management in organizations involves understanding and utilizing the similarities and differences of all people involved in fulfilling the organization’s mission. The people at both Monitor Company and IBM have defined diversity based on their differences and uniqueness. According to Lieberman (2003), “diversity looks at the differences that shape the way people think and behave”. (p. 24).
Jonathan Rotenberg, who happens to be a Jewish consultant at Monitor, began to see that “he held an educational position that bridged the gap between the often misunderstood gay world and the corporate world”. Nick Basden, an African-American consultant at Monitor, explained: “I feel black [at Monitor]. I feel different because I’m black” (Gentile and Gant, pp. 3-4). The initiative, launched by IBM, was intended to improve understanding of the differences. “Rather than trying to eliminate discrimination by deliberately ignoring differences between employees, IBM established eight task forces, each focusing on different groups such as Asians, gays and lesbians, and women.” (Thomas, 2004, p. 1) .
The learning organization
Although the individual reasons for diversity were similar, the organizational motivations that drove change were slightly different. The Monitor Company looked at how inclusion impacts individual growth, development and quality of life. Monitor wanted to learn how the company might look different “if the workforce were more diverse, and what barriers might exist to the success of non-white and female consultants.” (Gentile and Gant, 1994, p. 2). IBM’s driving force behind their diversity initiative was an extension of Monitor’s inclusion for individual growth. According to Thomas (2004), IBM believed that “…greater diversity in the workplace could help IBM attract a more diverse customer base.” (p. 4).
While Monitor was concerned about the human factor and IBM was concerned about the bottom line. It is possible that diversity influences both. Many organizations have recognized that diversity is a resource that should be harnessed to increase performance and improve interpersonal relationships. Lieberman (2003) identified three capital resources of diversity that every firm must successfully manage: financial capital, human capital, and physical capital. Financial capital, profit, “keeps an organization alive, motivates its stakeholders and enables it to invest in its future.” Human capital, people, “makes an organization live and work, no matter how technical or automated it may be. People are our managers, our employees, our customers and our communities.” Material capital, physical resources, “provides the energy and resources to produce goods and services”. (p. 3). Diversity management is a process that enables groups of people to maximize their productivity, creativity and enjoyment to reach their full potential.
Consider diversity styles
Monitor and IBM’s cultures and value systems can accommodate different styles without sacrificing their distinctive identities. Values drive beliefs, attitudes and actions and are culturally derived. Therefore, a leader who understands the cultural background of others is better able to understand why these people act, think and speak the way they do and is better able to predict how these people will react to their own words and actions . “Understanding diversity means boxing all those ideas and those that others bring to your attention so that you start thinking of diversity as many differences, not just the most obvious ones.” (Liebermann, 2003, p .25). When working with people from different cultures, leaders are “able to use common sense and goodwill to act and respond appropriately when they understand the forces that drive behavior”. (Scarborough, 1998, p. 11). In both cases, the diversity initiative was about more than just educating or raising awareness, but rather an understanding of stakeholder differences.
The influence of culture
High-performing organizations consciously design their desired corporate culture instead of simply letting it emerge. Unfortunately, culture change efforts often attempt to “do away with” differences by imposing a predefined culture while ignoring the existing values, beliefs, vision, and behaviors. Diversity management is the process of creating a culture that is flexible enough to encourage, support, respect and value the diverse differences that exist in the organization as a value to be valued and sought. “The effect of culture is pervasive, affecting human behavior both consciously and unconsciously” (Zachary, 2005, p. 15). It is recognized that group intelligence and performance is higher when systems and skills are in place that create an environment of inclusion, trust, collaboration and respect, allowing everyone to reach their full potential.
Diversity is fast gaining importance as an advantage for companies to expand their market. This dramatic shift toward a highly diverse workforce is part of companies’ efforts to understand, embrace and capitalize on differences. “The demand for new customer-centric products, the desire to reach global markets, and the need to tap a diverse workforce for talented individuals are driving this trend.” (Liebermann, 2003, p. 13). However, the primary goal of diversity is to unify the entire organization and deepen cultural change within the institution so that processes, communication and actions are aligned with the beliefs, values and priorities of the institution. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the differences that separate us no longer matter. “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free…” (Colossians 3:11). Organizations that want to reach their full potential must break down all barriers and include all people from all cultures, races and backgrounds.
Gentile, Mary and Gant, Sara B. (1994). Monitor Co.: Personal Leadership Regarding Diversity. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press Matter 395049.
Liebermann, Simma. (2003). Putting diversity into action: How to successfully lead a diverse workforce. Menlo Park, CA: Course Technology Crisp.
Scarborough, Jack. (1998). Origins of cultural differences and their impact on management. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated.
Thomas, David A (2004). Diversity as a strategy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.
Zachary, Lois J (2005). Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide. San Francisco, California: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.