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Malcolm X once exclaimed, When White America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia. Malcolm and Martin seldom agreed but on this they did. As for me, this statement, I have always understood but had not seen firsthand. Nearing the end of the Bush Administration, America went into recession. My job area of coverage increased as we layed off other engineers. As I would drive a boring stretch of Interstate 26, a particular truck stop was my favorite for refueling. It had spacious sanitary restrooms, a well stocked coffee bistro, and a McDonald’s restaurant for my milk shake fix. Remarkably, the employees were over 60% black. Now keep in mind a small town mostly African American is nearby. Within six months of the downturn, the staff dwindled to about 30% black. After a year, the stop was devoid of blacks and Hispanics. I saw firsthand what it looked liked when America had a cold. That small black town had the flu. Unaware why the staffing change actually took place, it is plain to see that the employers did not see diversity as a positive aspect of the business. In fact, many people don’t see diversity as a positive. A recent poll of 427 working Americans by Workplace Options found that less than half of them believe that diversity makes their products of services better. (Hastings, Poll: Many Employees Don’t Embrace Diversity, 2012)
While small business can escape laws that mandate diversity, Organizations must maintain even in time of decline. Over the next few pages, I will provide an introspective into Organizational Diversity.
Defined as the differences in human characteristics in an organization; Organizational Diversity comes with mixed bag of perspectives, opinions, rules, ordinances, laws, and thoughts. The Human Resource manager finds him or herself in a key organizational position from diversity training to compliance. In another of study 511 executives on the International Executive Panel, when asked to select the benefits of diversity they had experienced personally, most agree on they cited: broadens horizon, stimulates discussions, creates individual respect, stimulates leaning, and Increases decision making. (Hastings, Awareness of Biases Helps Leaders Adapt to Diversity, 2012)
To streamline the narrative, I will speak of organizational diversity from the view of our text, Human Resource Management (Essential Perspectives). Tangible indicators of diversity are race, ethnicity, origin, age, gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability and religion. (Mathis & Jackson, 2012) Our text subtitled “Essential Perspectives”, highlights four organizational approaches to diversity:
1. Ignore diversity
2. Begin process and deal with adversity
3. Build acceptance of diversity
4. Solve diversity issues and create an inclusive culture.
First, the ignore diversity approach, known in South Carolina as the “Good ole boy” system is rooted in protection of the status quo. Not unlike the truck stop who switched to this method during recession, organizations are subject to legal issues when using this approach. A second approach to diversity, organizations begin the process of dealing with diversity by focusing on the protected classes. These protected classes line up with the tangible indicators introduced earlier. This approach is seen to enhance internal problem solving, by practice HR provides diversity training and brings organizations in compliance with affirmative action. In the third approach to diversity, organizations build acceptance to diversity. This is when diversity starts to pay off and conflicts are reduced. Top and middle management buy in is pivotal at this time. Lastly, the fourth approach to diversity is to solve diversity issues and create inclusive culture. Now diversity is approached proactively and business results improve. As an organization works upward through each approach it reflects positively on the bottom line.
Our most oft thought of diversity class is race and ethnicity. In this time of recession many are working longer, which brings generational diversity to the forefront. Many older white men are feeling what women have felt for years. Yes, gender diversity and generational diversity are two very relevant issues. Thus, diversity training must be updated and expanded for today’s realities, not just focusing on race and ethnicity. Additional components of diversity training now are legal awareness, cultural awareness, and sensitivity training. While subtitled “Essential Perspectives” our text still left me wanting; in need for a deeper perspective. I examined two sources our authors used in developing the text. First source is “The Rich Get Richer” and next “The Dynamics of Vertical and Horizontal Diversity”.
The Rich Get Richer
“The Rich Get Richer: Predicting Participation in Voluntary Diversity Training” takes a step deeper into organizational diversity training to glimpse at who participates when it is voluntary. Whether the organization adopts a narrow (race and gender) or broad (multiple diversity dimensions) focus, diversity training is designed to help employees take a positive, proactive approach toward diversity that goes beyond past non-discrimination. (Kulik, Pepper, Roberson, & Parker, 2007). While most organizations have training as part of their diversity initiative, it is oft voluntary. Companies feel uneasy dictating some employees participate, so they just post it on the company web site or make it a union responsibility. Some of the employees see diversity and equal opportunity training as offering an unfair advantage to the others, not just leveling the playing field. (Kulik, Pepper, Roberson, & Parker, 2007) The question is, “who would participate in voluntary diversity training?” The journal delved where the text would not go, if voluntary how does an organization influence employees to participate, especially if it is truly seen as a positive. These positives can only be realized in voluntary diversity training initiatives if the training attracts the employees in the most need of training. (Kulik, Pepper, Roberson, & Parker, 2007). The author strongly suggested organizations can accomplish this by adjoining diversity training to other corporate training. In all candor, this problem is experienced in other training areas such as safety or ethics, but organizations are more comfortable in mandating them, perhaps because they do not upset the good ole boy system. Nevertheless, requiring participation in diversity training sends a clear and direct signal that it is important. (Kulik, Pepper, Roberson, & Parker, 2007)
The Dynamics of Vertical and Horizontal Diversity
I choose two sources cited in our text to move deeper into the mind of the author as the text was written. The first provided a look at diversity training. Next, “The Dynamics of Vertical and Horizontal Diversity” introduced the concepts of vertical and horizontal diversity. Vertical diversity evaluates differences as superior or inferior; while, horizontal diversity treats difference as variation. (Awbrey, 2007) Before, we addressed voluntary diversity training, now let’s consider the ongoing importance of diversity management. Long past the civil rights period of Malcolm and Martin, vertical diversity, difference as superior or inferior, continues in American society and organizations. It is now more subtle, some even say it does not exist. The glass ceiling is real and effects women in greater numbers. How to achieve organizational diversity with this prejudice undercurrent? “The historical contexts of the African American civil rights movement and of women’s liberation serve as background to illustrate how the elements of difference, pride, and potential space have influenced the unfolding of vertical paradigms of assimilation and separatism in the United States. (Awbrey, 2007)
Assimilation and separation are results of vertical diversity. Assimilation or bleeding in is the killer of diversity. Organizations at times push for assimilation everyone must look and sound the same. How many bank tellers have you seen with dreadlocks? Separation is another reducer of diversity. “During the wave of the women’s movement, women began to drop their desire to assimilate into a male-constructed public world. (Awbrey, 2007)
Horizontal diversity, view of diversity as a variation, allows the person to engage in inquiry to lessen uncertainty rather than making snap judgments and using stereotypes to categorize the other. (Awbrey, 2007) Horizontal diversity fosters integration and learning, which allows employees to contribute talents and abilities to the organization. HR now must go beyond just diversity training and implementing team development with horizontal diversity.
Last I will go outside our text and its sources to merge some independent research. Our question, “Does organizational diversity truly have an impact on the bottom line?” I went to the HR compliance library to find the answer. “According to a 2001 survey of 121 HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management and Fortune magazine, top companies say diversity initiatives have a direct impact on the bottom line and help an organization keep a competitive edge.” (HR Compliance Library, 2013) The research found that diversity programs do improve corporate culture. Some diversity initiatives cited are recruiting, cultural events, orientation, and bilingual training. Some leading diversity practices for a successful organization are top leadership commitment, succession planning, diversity training, and diversity as part of an organization’s strategic plan. (HR Compliance Library, 2013)
Defined as the differences in human characteristics in an organization; Organizational Diversity is a mixed bag of perspectives, opinions, rules, ordinances, laws, and thoughts. The human resource manager finds him or herself in a key organizational position from diversity training to compliance. As a deep dive into our text, I examined two sources cited by the author. The sources covered diversity training and the dynamics of horizontal and vertical diversity. Diversity presents opportunities in organizations providing a broader spectrum of knowledge and points of view. One fact boomers, generation-Xers, and millennials can agree on is, going forward organizational diversity at surface and deep level is the new normal.
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