Companies Must Manage the µISMs¶ When Working With Diversity

By Susan Klopfer, author Profit From Diversity; Getting Along With Others

³We have some great new and positive ideas for restructuring our sales workforce, ultimately helping our entire company to get through this recession. "But there is so much resistance to diversity that I can¶t implement all of our plans and I am coming to you for some help. How do I encourage our sales division to make these changes?´ Sales Vice President, Rema, describes her dilemma to members of her company¶s special change management team during their weekly meeting at WXYZ Company. ³Diversity is always a tough area of change,´ says Pete, a team member who initiated its organization five years earlier. Pete had taken diversity management classes in college, becoming a devout follower of diversity gurus R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. and William Sonnenschein. He persuaded his company¶s CEO to organize this group that advises other managers as they implement change throughout the organization. ³We call this time of most resistance during any change project as being in the Delta,´ he explains to Rema. ³We know you¶ve worked hard to get everyone behind the sales restructuring project, and it was especially critical that you considered the diversity component in these changes,´ another group member, Marilyn, joins in. ³But I am not surprised that you are encountering serious resistance from line managers, employees, and even senior managers. Resistance typically rises from many sources.´ Pete asks Rema about motivation. ³Are your executive managers seeing the diversity component as a legal or moral issue, rather than a business issue?´ He explains that most managers still view diversity as such ± even as a social responsibility issues ± rather than as a business necessity. Diversity is too often delegated to the ³luxury´ bin to be pursued when business results allow it, and then sent to the back burner when sales and profits dip, he says. ³Face it, the economy is horrible right now, and your managers don¶t want to take any risks they view as unnecessary or threatening to them. They just don¶t get it ± that diversity will help them get through these hard times, so they are not really motivated to see through its implementation.´ Rema looks confused. ³That doesn¶t make a lot of sense to me, because one of my biggest resistors is Ken, and he has been one of my strongest advocates in the past for moving ahead with affirmative action.´ ³It's not unusual for someone like Ken to oppose diversity,´ Marilyn answers. ³Like many company managers, he is still not seeing diversity as a business factor. You are going to have to sit down with Ken and show him the business figures that support an understanding of the business

rationale for moving ahead with managing diversity. He needs to know how this will directly affect the viability of his departments.´ A third change team member, who has been quietly listening in, tells Rema that some managers are ³so immersed in assimilation,´ they cannot imagine conditions where employee diversity can work. ³They worry about their employees µdoing their own thing¶ and believe everyone should walk the walk and talk the talk of WXYZ Company. They are not allowing for uniqueness of any kind, and so they¶re not taking the full advantage of diversity in problem solving and other areas where it is critical.´ ³And we still have some managers at WXYZ who are getting hung up in whether or not they µaccept¶ diversity,´ Tina from Human Relations tells the group. ³A manager complained to me last week about one of his Islamic employees who wears a scarf. We had to talk about safety ± and it turned out her scarf certainly did not cause any safety problems. He just didn¶t want her to work here, because he has personal problems with her religion. "I still think we are lacking cultural awareness education ± we still have people confusing roots with values, and many are not really seeing the value of managing diversity. They are too often stuck with wanting a strong and fast corporate culture that represents only their white, Euro roots.´ Pete and the others are nodding in agreement as Tina speaks, adding that many employees of WXYZ still hold a narrow definition of diversity, limiting the term to minorities and women. ³We¶re still ignoring diversity¶s other dimension ± and it is hard for a white male who defines diversity in terms of minorities and women to stifle concerns about reverse discrimination and preferential treatment.´ ³It¶s tricky,´ Marilyn says. ³You are going to need to help your people expand their definition of diversity to include more than race, gender, and ethnicity. But don¶t¶ overwhelm them, either.´ Pete concurs with Marilyn. "Many of our people are still concerned with what Thomas calls the 'isms.' That¶s racism, sexism and other isms. These keep some of our employees from fully accepting managing diversity. "But this still doesn¶t have to hinder progress. You need to address the isms through education that focuses on valuing differences, with the idea of fostering understanding and acceptance of people who are seen as different. This will help minimize the isms and their impact as barriers.´ After listening to Pete and other team members, Rema begins to see how the affirmative action goals of the past ± while they continue to be critical ± can also wind up as baggage. ³There are some hard feelings when we work in areas that deal with race and gender issues. Some still see these new approaches as trying to sneak in affirmative action through the back door. Others see diversity as a way to sneak past affirmative action! And they are suspect, too.´ Rema understands that she must go back to her division and help managers see that affirmative action, valuing differences, and managing diversity are not the same. ³Once people recognize this and gain an appreciation of the differences and similarities among these these concepts, then maybe we can get out of the Delta.´

Pete and Marilyn encourage their colleague to begin new educational efforts. ³Come back in three weeks and let us know how this is coming along. We¶re really interested in seeing your division get through this restructuring on time and we think you are moving in the right direction,´ Marilyn adds.

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