Managing Diversity Programs Through Communication
May 31, 2000
"Organizations must look at diversity now as a critical factor in their future success, not just a social imperative… A diverse workforce is now an important competitive advantage." (Jose De Anda, assistant human resources director for the Southern California Region of Kaiser Permanente)
Every ten years this great country of ours conducts the collecting of the U.S. Census. While still in progress at the beginning of this decade, we need only to look at the results of the 1990 census to begin to understand why diversity programs became so important in the nineties. This last census yielded important data, "Almost one in every four Americans in 1990 was of Asian, African-American, or Hispanic descent" (Healthcare Executive, Chicago Jul/Aug 1997, Julie Nilson). Expectations for the current census are that this will increase to one in three.
Diversity programs had their beginnings in the late sixties and early seventies, with one of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society Programs, Affirmative Action. While there is some debate as to the longevity of Affirmative Action Programs one thing is clear, workplace diversity is here to stay. Affirmative action and diversity are fundamentally different approaches to differences in the workplace. "While diversity efforts try to foster a sense of fairness, affirmative action tries to force compliance." (David Benton, workforce policy adviser to the U.S. Coast Guard,Commandant in Washington, D.C.)
Workplace diversity is not just about a person's race. It encompasses a wide variety of differences; including language, age, sexual orientation, martial status, education, and disabilities. With organizations now competing in a global marketplace, communicating with understanding and respect is a crucial element of their business, right up there with community involvement.
This paper will discuss the methods used by managers and groups in the work environment to ensure effective communication with a diverse labor force. We will discuss the barriers they are faced with and compare methods used by companies who have successfully and unsuccessfully implemented diversity programs.
Communications With Managers
When introducing a new concept, such as Diversity in the organization, there is always resistance, inertia, and limited focus of change among the different groups and functions. These are normal and can only be addressed through communication in various forms. A few of these forms are education, meetings, and one-on-one coaching sessions. What psychologists have found is that employees go through similar emotional phases as those who are grieving whenever there is an organizational change. These phases are denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. Effective communication makes the first three phases shorter.
A good communications model is the Johari Window (Joe Ludz , Harry ). When first introducing Diversity Programs, executives had to look at what they knew about their organizations and managers, they had to look at what they might not be admitting to themselves but might be relaying unconsciously by tone or gesture to the managers, what their outward appearance was and has been in the past, and most importantly they needed to look at the unknown area where they knew that there were things that they did not know about diversity and managing the implementation process.
What Exec. Knows About Diversity in Organization Johari’s Window What Exec. Doesn’t Know About Diversity in Organization
DISCLOSURE Info that Mgr. knows about Diversity Arena Free and open interchange of information. This is the ideal window for establishing a significant rapport with a group. Blind SpotHow the executives/companies relate their thoughts about diversity through body language and tone without being aware of it.
Info that Mgr. does not Know about Diversity FaçadeThe manager’s true feelings about diversity in the workplace that they do not share with others. UnknownThis area is about thoughts, feelings, and resistance that neither executive mgmt nor the rest of the managers are aware.
The goal of the Johari Window is to map out a concept of Feedback and Disclosure as a way to make the Arena larger, thus opening up free and open communication. Through classes, meetings, and open forums with people of other races, religions, and sex where they could express themselves and receive honest feedback, managers have been able to adopt new ideas, procedures, and programs.
Another type of training that has proved beneficial to managers has been leadership training. This type of training is different from management in that it teaches the person to think in terms of inspiration, support, and implementation instead of processes and procedures.
Even with the best tools and coaches, implementing diversity programs in organizations was not an easy task. If you look at the most common Communications Models, the opportunities for misunderstanding are amazing. With only two people the opportunity for misunderstanding is only two. When you have three people it goes up to twelve, and when you have four people it leaps to fifty-six! (Williams, 2000)
Some causes of misunderstanding are our internal filters. The Onion Skin Model is a good visual representation of our internal filters and barriers:
The filters represented are as follows: Genetic – unchangeable, Values – molded by 10 years of age, Belief Systems – tied to self esteem, Representations, Attitudes – habit of thought, Personality, and Behavior. As you can see, at least one of the filters is unchangeable. A few others have been with us since childhood. The others are practically ingrained and difficult to change or move past.
What has proved effective in moving past these barriers has been to enroll the managers in a vision or goal. Providing clear visions and goals pulls people forth, out of themselves, into something bigger. Getting commitment in implementing and maintaining a diversity program that really works demands that managers have these goals and visions in place. The managers also have to have a strong sense of the enhancements to the company and to their teams that diversity can bring.
Through several steps executives can achieve group consensus and commitment successfully preparing managers to implement diversity programs.
The first step is for the executives to prepare their own position prior to meeting with the managers, realizing that the task is incomplete and that the group will supply missing pieces. (Mendelson, 1996)
Next the executives would express their own opinions and explain them fully, to get the managers thinking.
The most important step is this one: listen. Executives in charge of such a task absolutely must listen to the opinions and feelings of everyone concerned and be ready to modify their position on certain processes or implementation procedures based on logic and understanding.
All parties must avoid arguing in order to win as an individual. What is ‘right’ is the best collective judgment as a whole.
View disagreements or conflict about ideas, solutions, etc. as helping to clarify the issue rather than as hindering the process of seeking consensus.
Recognizing that tension-reducing behaviors, such as laughing, kidding, making comments, and son, can be useful so long as meaningful conflict is not ‘smoothed over’ prematurely.
Although it is sometimes difficult, all parties should refrain from conflict-reducing techniques such as voting, averring, trading, compromising, or giving in to keep the peace. Sometimes the hardest battles are those that must be fought.
Monitoring the interactions between people, as well as what is being done, is good thermometer. Initiate discussions about what is really going on with the managers. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What is their body language and tone telling you?
The best results flow from a fusion of information, logic, and emotion. Consensus seeking offers the promise of marshalling group resources to produce synergistic outcomes without denying the integrity of individual members.
Communication with Groups
"In today's competitive business environment, diversity is more than just a buzzword. Progressive companies today are realizing that a case for diversity can be made, not simply because it's the right thing to do, but it positively impacts the bottom line." (The Case for Diversity, Smith, Malcolm, Culture and organizational change, Vol. 76, Management Accounting)
With today's industry competing in a global market many organizations are taking the time to reevaluate their business structure. In doing so they are coming to the realization that they are actually many small businesses operating under the same roof.
Enter the Business Unit. The business unit structure has its foundation in pure and simple teamwork. Each business unit within a company is responsible for their own profit and loss, budget, customer satisfaction and service, etc. There is normally a Business Unit Manager whose only purpose is to facilitate the team structure, ensuring the team has the necessary resources and tools to perform their jobs. The team itself decides all major decisions in the B.U., not by the residing facilitator.
With this type of structure, communication is vital. This type of group environment must be able to bring down the wall of misunderstanding often built because of the diversity found within its population. One misunderstood idea could cost the team loss of revenue or worse, loss of a prime customer.
In order for communication in a diverse group to flourish, some common barriers must be dealt with.
· Fear of change
· Language and cultural issues
· Unwarranted Assumptions
· Conflict Resolution
No matter what type of group, Business Unit or any other team environment where diversity exists, education and training is crucial in breaking down these barriers to form a cohesive unit. A conscious effort to "increase individual awareness of and sensitivity to differences of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, and age." (Cultural diversity in the workplace: the state of the field. The Journal of Business Communication Oct. 1996 v33 n4 p485). The undertaking of programs such as diversity awareness training, leadership training, mentoring and personal support groups become a necessary activity. The payback is immediate.
Overcoming individual and group bigotry within a team environment can be accomplished through understanding and "manifested respect" (Limaye 1994).
Manifested respect includes:
· Mandating consensual decision making and empowerment of employees
· Franchising marginalized voices
· Creating organizational structures and practices that facilitate diversity
· Matching employees' unique talents with appropriate jobs
· Easing pressure to conform to majority norms
The work group and team environment can be a truly rewarding experience if we just learn to respect each other’s individuality.
Successful Diversity Implementation
What makes a diversity program successful? In order to answer that question we need to know the meaning of the word diversity. The dictionary meaning is a point of difference. Diversity does not have a singular meaning to everyone. In order for a company to have a successful diversity program everyone must understand the company meaning of the program. One of the key to implementing a diversity program is communication in the company. In order to be diverse, communication must be open and understanding to culture rules and traits.
In order for a program to work, people should be considered individuals. Companies need to make sure they are not stereotyping anyone. When communication is open, it helps to bridge the cultural gaps. When companies do not have good communication it can become a problem. This can cause the company and its employees time and money. When communication breaks down and assumptions enter into the situation it can cause misunderstanding. Management should be sympathetic to the employees’ needs and beliefs without compromising the company's values or management’s own beliefs.
Diversity programs are not just about race or gender issues. It is about
being sensitive to human differences. Companies should be aware of the obstacles
that could affect the goals of the diversity program. Companies would do well to prepare and prepare for changing work forces. As more and more companies go global, there will be a need to appreciate and value the differences of all individuals and recognize they are different. Not judging, but just respecting that the other human's morals and beliefs are different from their own.
What factors make a diversity program successful or unsuccessful? When companies do not train management in understanding that everyone is an individual. Communications is a key factor to a successful program. A company needs to be able to listen to employees in order to make sure that everyone is being heard. Other keys to a successful program are to enhance personal effectiveness and interpersonal communication among employees. Companies must be responsiveness to social changes. Have a climate of fairness and equity for all employees. If companies keep in mind that a diversity program will not be in place overnight and must be reviewed and changed when necessary. Management must be committed in being trained on handling cultural
differences. Diversity programs are successful when communication is open and respectful of human differences. Diversity programs fail when groups and individuals are not opened minded to cultural traits. Humans should strive not to be separatist, but unite to hold the world together.
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