Diversity: Some Basic Notions
The first step is to better understand the diversity issue. Let's
consider the sources of diversity among people:
• traits, characteristics, value systems, personalities and
attitudes—people differ because they were encoded by their parents
at conception and then scripted or rescripted during life
• gender, race, ethnic/cultural background, minority, etc. are also
diversity factors that while governed by law to be
non-discriminatory still present differences and ongoing change in
• the disabled and truly handicapped also provide a unique and, in
my opinion, a tremendously challenging set of differences in the
workplace; fortunately, the reengineering of our thinking and
actions about the usefulness of this special segment of our
population has allowed many disabled and handicapped people to enter
the workaday world and lead productive lives.
Following the old German proverb, "mastery lies
in limitation," means that this paper will primarily address the
aspects of diversity that stem from genetic (inherited)
characteristics and learned (experience) characteristics. Both
inherited and learned/ reinforced behavior patterns may be
influenced from any or all of the three sources cited.
In any event our character and our behavior
pattern act as drivers that script and sculpt our value system,
personality and both long and short term attitudes. In turn, our
values, personality and attitudes greatly influence and motivate how
we act. Now we can begin to see how diversity can be a major
stimulus or a stubborn inhibitor towards effective teamwork. And
this is particularly true in today's world where teamwork,
interdependence and cross-border/cross-function activity are all
imperatives to both continuous improvement and reengineering
Positive, supportive actions/behavior will mean
closer-knit, more cohesive teamwork. Negative, non-contributory
actions/behavior will disrupt smooth teamwork and prove
dysfunctional to organizational progress.
Now think about this. Diversity is on the increase. There are two
basic reasons for this:
• the demographics of the U.S. workforce will
change dramatically, presenting both organizations and managers
alike with increased diversity and a host of new challenges
requiring new solutions; see Annex I, "The Workforce of 2001," for
an interesting and very challenging look into the future
• the globalization of business is bringing all of us into increased
contact with diverse people and new cultures because more and more
of us are "doing business" internationally; see Annex II, "Valuing
Differences: Communicating Across Cultures," which contains some
prescriptions that will prove helpful in communicating more
effectively whenever differing cultures, languages, and the like may
act as barriers and road blocks to teamwork and collaborative
Six Challenging Issues
From the standpoint of any organization there are six challenging
issues related directly to diversity, issues that are present now
and will grow during the next dozen years, issues that managers and
key contributors will face and must resolve:
• organizational awareness—what is the posture of
the organization as a whole toward differences of any sort among its
• stereotypes—how do we respond to "standard" stereotypes about
others who are "different" from us?
• values I attitudes—how do you and I handle others— interact with
them—when their basic value system
and/or attitudinal positions significantly differ from ours? Do we
just write off people who have "an attitude" without delving into
• understanding—do you or I really care enough to take the time and
effort to try to understand our co-workers, colleagues, customers,
suppliers, potential supporters, network people, etc. when they are
all different— not only from/you and I, but also among each other?
Should you or I care enough, or can we just override the situation
and through power force the issue or through personality dazzle
others into acquiescence, or through guile manipulate them?
• communications—closed loop communications involves sending,
receiving, filters and feedback—do we hear one another, really
listen to the thoughts of others to ensure we get true meaning—or do
we just wait (or interrupt) thinking only about what we will say?
• performance—how do we measure the value added of others,
especially when those "others" offer ideas and strategies that
differ from ours, and perhaps, just perhaps, are better than ours?
And what about those who truly do not perform, do not contribute,
and are not team players?
No matter what the cause or
justification/rationalization, diversity brings with it challenges
to the smooth operation on the people ware side that are infinitely
more difficult to manage than on the so-called "hard issues" side.
When there is an operational issue with hardware, the
problem-solving is largely inanimate—standard problem-solving
techniques using schematics, blueprints, roadmaps and other guides,
and even built-in tests provide both diagnostics and remedies.
But what about the diversity issues with people?
Just when you think you know the "answers," the situation changes.
The possibilities from diversity seem infinite. The pragmatic
strategy seems to be—expect the unexpected!
Fortunately there are some answers. Because our knowledge of the
human mind is still imperfect, we cannot expect to find
engineering-precision. But experience does give us both some
guideposts and techniques that at minimum arm us to meet the
challenges—with practice and patience their intelligent use can help
us to manage diversity as a competitive weapon. Let's start with the
preconditions for success, the "tablestakes" for managing diversity.