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By Susan Klopfer, M.B.A.
(Excerpt from, Profit From Diversity: Getting Along With Others. Publication Set For National Education Week, Nov. 15, 2010)
Kay is talking to her boss about the diversity management change project she has been tasked to oversee as change agent for the XYZ Regional Bank. Both internal managers recently met with the bank s change committee to make sure they were all in agreement as to what certain terms meant within their organization (like diversity and affirmative action), what specific change was desired and other details. With everyone in agreement there were problems with the company s high turnover rate of minorities and women, Kay is now thinking about the next meeting and what else the group needs to understand before any goals are set and action steps are taken. As the designated change agent, Kay must first do everything that she can to encourage a long-term perspective. Her children are competitive swimmers and at the next change group meeting she uses a swim team analogy to make this point. We can think of this whole process as competing in a swim team medley each swimmer competes either in the butterfly, back, breast or freestyle stroke. It always takes more time to get through this competition it is not the same as one swimmer completing a couple of freestyle laps. First, the company must conduct diagnostic research. The group has come together with strong ideas about the defined problem but now it is time to put these notions under the microscope. Problems cannot be solved unless they are identified and this requires taking a deeper look at the heart of the corporation s culture and systems to decide if it can support managing diversity. This first part is bound to be complex and time consuming, but it is a critical step, she tells them. When Kay was a graduate student taking a class in diversity management, she learned that identifying fundamental elements of a corporate culture especially the elements that influence the company s way of dealing with such matters as diversity must take place before trying to change how people act. Her instructor talked about an organizational tree and its roots. Behavior was what you could see the branch while culture, the part that makes the branch what it is the underlying assumptions can be thought of as the root. It was an analogy she would always remember that her professor borrowed from R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., considered to be the father of diversity management philosophy.
Managers who drive behavioral change without considering the root of the behavior usually don t meet with success, her professor said. Finding the root requires research or what is called a culture audit, often conducted by an outside investigator who is objective. The change group had already theorized that diversity issues were probably at the root of the company s high turnover rate of new hires, the people brought into the bank to bring needed cultural change who then quickly left for new jobs. One group member told how two of the company s newest employees, both Hispanic, recently quit after being harassed by a manager for speaking Spanish to each other while at lunch. She told them they were disloyal to their co-workers, even after they tried to explain they were only speaking Spanish to each other at lunch, because it was relaxing. Another group member said a safety manager wanted to know after hiring a dozen Hispanic workers on a small construction project whether or not we had to put up safety signs in Spanish. And she already knew that most of these new employees speak English as a second language! Kay is encouraged with the discussion and willingness to share information. The culture audit, she tells them, will involve in-depth interviews, written surveys, reviews of relevant company documents, focus groups and direct observations. The consultants will gather data on our company s many underlying assumptions branches such as the behaviors of managers and employees that relate to their attitudes toward diversity. Once we see the underlying assumptions that may be affecting our ability to retain a diverse workforce, we will be able to identify where change is needed where we might need to remove, change or add something to change this assumption or root. This is where customized education will have a strong role in helping employs understand what change is needed and why. Kay remembered learning about some of the common underlying assumptions that can get in the way of diversity management. Some managers who are unfair to any employees with accents might believe they should learn to speak English right away like everyone else who moved to this country after WW II. That root, of course, was not a surprise and, in fact, is still common. Another root her professor had talked about revolved around managers who believe that homosexuals are mentally ill and make poor managers who can t be trusted. In both cases, after discovery of the assumption, diversity education made a difference for these managers and their companies. Some other assumptions might include believing a company is like a family. The trouble with this assumption, her professor told the class, was that it leads to a paternalistic environment where employees are seen as and treated like children. Only the successful employees who act like the manager move ahead and diversity never has a strong role when all managers are clones of the boss. Or there might be an underlying assumption that a company is a group that works together like a good football team. While the idea of a team supports diversity better than the family model, it many still
not be the best model for diversity if, for instance, it encourages the type of competition experienced between competing athletic teams. Once we discover and analyze the core cultural assumptions or roots that determine our company s behavior with respect to new employees and related diversity issues, we will have achieved quite an accomplishment and we will be able to understand what roots need to be change, and in which direction, Kay tells the change group members. We ll know how to move from our current state to the desired state. And we will be ready to develop a full-scale plan for bringing about the changes we need using straight forward action steps. This is not going to be as easy as it sounds. There may be employees from any and all levels who resist strongly when they are asked to give even the smallest piece of information to the diversity consultants. We must be prepared for opposition and be able to counter any shock waves that travel through the company, she adds. We can help prepare employees for some disruption by explaining in advance that we are simply gathering some information that will help our company grow stronger and be ready for the future, and their help is needed in gathering this information. I am sure they will better trust outsiders coming in than if we were to try and gather this information ourselves. Members of the change management team tell Kay they are satisfied with the direction they are taking and with her leadership. Sure hope no one gets too upset, one member adds. We must keep our eyes and ears open and be ready to address any issues as they come. And I read somewhere that it helps to tell employees about something that will NOT change, once you start telling them about the changes that are definitely coming. Kay smiles at his comments. We are going to succeed, I do believe, she later tells her boss.
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