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Leading Diversity: A Comparative Analysis
Basics for diversity
Creating successful, diverse and dynamic learning organizations involves developing processes to ensure that the differences of employees, customers and society are taken into account. Diversity management is an active process that requires an investment of time and resources. It is a paradigm shift to deliberate full utilization of resources without deliberate disposal. Valuing and managing diversity requires policies, relationships, procedures and practices that ensure equity and fairness.
This means more than raising awareness, it means changing the system to support differences for the benefit of all. This comparative analysis compares the diversity strategy of Monitor Company and IBM. It identifies how individuals are motivated to become change agents for diversity by assessing how individuals define diversity in each case and how they distinguish between conflicts arising from different definitions. Finally, I describe how the Monitor and IBM corpora accommodate different learning styles.
Organizational dimensions of diversity
Diversity is a simple word that includes many human variables. However simple, it represents the differences that exist between individuals, sometimes including culture, race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic, age, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation, religion, language, appearance, personality, learning and mindset, communication and conflict styles, marital status, geography, military status, education, life and work experience, functional responsibility in a particular organization. Managing diversity in organizations involves understanding and leveraging the similarities and differences of all people involved in fulfilling the organization’s mission. Individuals at both Monitor Company and IBM defined diversity based on their differences and uniqueness. According to Lieberman (2003), “Diversity looks at the differences that shape people’s thinking and behavior.” (p. 24).
Jonathan Rothenberg, a Jewish consultant at the Monitor, began to realize that “he was strategically positioned in terms of education, bridging the gap between the often misunderstood gay world and the corporate world.” Nick Basden, an African-American counselor at the Monitor, said, “I feel black [at Monitor]. Because I feel black, I feel different.” (Gentile and Gant, pp. 3-4). The initiative created by IBM was designed to improve understanding of differences. “Instead of trying to eliminate discrimination by deliberately ignoring differences among employees, IBM created eight task forces, each focused on different groups such as Asians, gays and lesbians, and women.” (Thomas, 2004, p. 1).
Although the individual reasons for diversity were similar, the organizational motivations for change were somewhat different. Monitor was interested in how inclusion affects an individual’s growth, development and quality of life. Monitor wanted to learn how the company might be different “if the workforce was more diverse” and what barriers to success might exist for non-white and female advisors. (Gentile and Gant, 1994, p. 2). The driving force behind IBM’s diversity initiative was the expansion of Monitor’s inclusion for personal development. IBM, according to Thomas (2004), believed that “…more diversity in the workplace could help IBM attract a more diverse set of customers.” (p. 4).
Monitor was concerned about the human factor, and IBM was concerned about the outcome. It is possible that diversity affects both. Many organizations have realized that diversity is a resource that should be used to increase performance and improve human relations. Lieberman (2003) identified three different capital resources that every business must successfully manage: financial capital, human capital, and tangible capital. Financial Capital, profit, “keeps an organization in existence, motivates its stakeholders, and allows it to invest in its future.” Human Capital, people, “however technical or automated, keep an organization alive and running. People are our managers, our employees, our customers and our communities.” Tangible capital, physical resources, “provide energy and resources to produce goods and services.” (p. 3). Diversity management is a process that enables groups of people to reach their full potential for productivity, creativity and enjoyment.
Adapting Diversity Styles
Monitor and IBM cultures and value systems can accommodate different styles without losing their distinct identities. Values drive beliefs, attitudes, actions, and are rooted in culture. Therefore, a leader who understands the cultural background of others can better understand why these people behave, think and speak the way they do, and can better predict how these people will react to their words and actions. “Understanding diversity means putting all these ideas and ideas that others warn you into a box, so that you start thinking about diversity, not just the most visible, but the many differences.” (Lieberman, 2003. p. 25). When working with people from different cultures, leaders can “apply common sense and goodwill to act and respond accordingly when they understand the forces that drive behavior.” (Scarborough, 1998, p. 11). In both cases, the diversity initiative was not just about education or awareness, but about understanding the differences of stakeholders.
The Influence of Culture
High-performing organizations consciously create the corporate culture they desire, not simply allow it to thrive. Unfortunately, efforts to change organizational culture often attempt to “cancel” differences by imposing a predetermined culture while ignoring existing values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Diversity management is the process of creating a culture that is flexible enough to encourage, support, respect and value the many differences that exist in an organization. “The influence of culture is omnipresent; it has both conscious and unconscious effects on human behavior.” (Zachary, 2005, p. 15). It is known that group intelligence and performance are higher when systems and skills are in place that create an environment of inclusion, trust, cooperation and respect, and when everyone has the ability to reach their full potential.
Diversity is rapidly gaining ground as an asset for businesses as a means of expanding their market. This dramatic shift to a more diverse workforce is part of organizations’ efforts to understand, embrace and capitalize on differences. “The demand for new customer-focused products, the desire to expand into global markets and the need to find a diverse workforce for talented employees are driving this trend.” (Lieberman, 2003, p. 13). However, the primary purpose of diversity is to unify the entire organization and deepen cultural change within the institution so that processes, communication and activities are aligned with institutional beliefs, values and priorities. In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul reminds us that the differences that separate us no longer matter. “There shall be neither Greek, nor Jew, neither circumcised, nor circumcised, neither barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free…” (Colossians 3:11). Organizations that want to reach their full potential must overcome all barriers and engage all people of all cultures, races, and backgrounds.
Gentile, Mary and Gant, Sara B. (1994). Monitor Co.: Personal Leadership in Diversity. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press Case 395049.
Lieberman, Simma. (2003). Putting diversity to work: How to successfully lead a diverse workforce. Menlo Park, CA: Course Technology Crisp.
Scarborough, Jack. (1998). The origins of cultural differences and their impact on management. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated.
Thomas, David A. (2004). Diversity as a strategy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.
Zachary, Lois J. (2005). Creating a Culture of Mentoring: An Organizational Guide. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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