World Class Diversity Management: A Strategic Approach

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With demographic shifts and globalization transforming the nature of relationships, interactions, and decision making, excellence in diversity management is more important than ever. However, the field of diversity has no established standard for evaluating what constitutes best practices, nor has there been any agreement on what the most fundamental philosophies, principles, and concepts are-until now. In this pioneering book R. Roosevelt Thomas, one of our most distinguished diversity theorists and practitioners, proposes a framework that will enable the development of a truly world-class diversity management capability. It was the development of such standards in manufacturing that enabled companies to strategically pursue excellence in this area. A world-class approach to diversity management must be applicable anywhere in the world, be able to address any possible issue, facilitate comparison of different concepts and practices, and focus on the entire field of diversity rather than specific dimensions such as race or gender. These requirements are amply met by Thomas's Four Quadrant model and his Strategic Diversity Management Process. Thomas first analyzes each of four quadrants-managing workforce demographic representation, managing demographic relationships, managing diverse talent, and managing strategic mixtures-exploring the goals, motives, approaches, accomplishments, and challenges associated with each. And he reveals the unrecognized paradigm or mind-set that lies behind each quadrant's express purpose. Once he has laid out the broad range of diversity management strategies, Thomas discusses how to realize them. He offers an overview of the Strategic Diversity Management Process-by far the most effective framework for implementation. He also examines the on-the-ground dynamics of implementing each of the strategies and their associated paradigms by incorporating a case study of a CEO, a composite of the many executives Thomas has worked with.

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1 Managing Workforce Representation

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CEOs and other senior executives initiated the Managing Workforce Representation strategy (quadrant) in the 1960s to address the “diversity problem” of mainstreaming African Americans into their organizations. It is one of the two original organizational diversity management efforts—and the one that most people think of when they speak of diversity. The other strategy was Managing Workforce Relationships.

In the spirit of the civil rights laws and the civil rights movement, those senior managers sought to remove barriers to having descendants of slaves involved (represented) in their organizations. They sought this representation not for the sake of diversity or for the benefit of their organizations, but rather to make amends for past injustices.

On the surface, recruiting and hiring African Americans should have been rather straightforward. Yet it wasn’t. These leaders encountered an unexpected complication. Though willing, they were unprepared and lacked experience to recruit and select African Americans for professional, managerial, and skilled positions.

 

2 Managing Workforce Relationships

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CEOs activated the Managing Workforce Relationships strategy in the 1960s shortly after initiating the strategy of Managing Workforce Representation. In doing that, they sought to address the diversity problems of helping a pluralistic group of employees “get along” and fostering relationships conducive to efficiency and effectiveness. Attempts to mainstream African Americans quickly brought CEOs once again face to face with the complexity of diversity—this time, with respect to relationships. Corporate executives soon determined that they could not bring African Americans and Caucasians together and expect that productive relationships would naturally evolve.

Among the complexities in play were (1) the legacy of slavery and oppression, (2) a history of acrimonious relationships between the two races even after slavery, (3) a history of Caucasians as the dominant group, (4) a history of African Americans as the subordinate group, (5) and the legacy of recent hostilities related to the civil rights movement.

 

3 Managing Diverse Talent

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The Managing Diverse Talent Quadrant emerged when the earlier two strategies did not resolve a seemingly intractable problem. As CEOs made progress with creating a representative work-force and promoting productive relationships, they struggled with the persistent and ongoing challenge of retaining nontraditional workers. They concluded in the mid-1980s that part of the problem was their inability to fully utilize the capabilities of African Americans. Recruiting them and accepting, respecting, and valuing their differences had not led to full utilization of their talent and to their retention. The revolving doors, glass ceilings, and premature plateaus continued. So management began to embrace this strategy in hopes of enhancing utilization and thereby, retention of African Americans. Later, this strategy was extended to women and other minorities. However, as in previous chapters, from an evolutionary perspective, I will focus on the situation vis-à-vis African Americans.

In attempting to address the diversity problem, CEOs again encountered the complexity of diversity—this time with respect to fully utilizing the talent of all organizational employees. In the mid-1980s, a prevailing managerial philosophy was that “the cream would rise to the top.” But CEOs found that this relatively uncomplicated approach to people development was not working: The cream of African Americans in particular was not rising to the top. Complexities engulfed this diversity problem. A few are mentioned below:

 

4 Managing All Strategic Diversity Mixtures

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Quadrant 4, Managing All Strategic Diversity Mixtures, is less well known than the earlier quadrants. But it is not unknown. CEOs and other organizational leaders who define workforce diversity as “the differences and similarities that can exist among the elements of a workforce mixture” are increasingly aware of and beginning to gravitate toward this quadrant. As a rule, they do so gradually.

Having begun to view workforce diversity with a broader perspective, CEOs and other organizational leaders start to think about non-workforce differences and similarities that may be hampering productivity. Once they do, many of these executives come to believe that organizations must address more than workforce diversity. They see more clearly that an infinite number of diversity mixtures exist and, in one form or another, demand daily attention. They begin to view this quadrant as the “universal strategy.”

A key attraction of a diversity strategy that can manage non-workforce issues is that these issues frequently relate to challenges that unquestionably are critical to the bottom line: achieving functional synergy, implementing an acquisition or merger, managing a product portfolio, fostering innovations, promoting effective field and headquarters relationships, and coordinating global expansion. Because many senior executives see their personal stock as leaders rise and fall on how such issues turn out, such a strategy possesses face validity as something they can legitimately sink their teeth into.

 

5 Strategic Diversity Management Process

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After CEOs have recognized the Four Quadrants and determined that their core diversity management strategies might have utility, additional questions surface: “Are all strategies equally valued?” “Or is one more valued than another?” “How do we get our arms around the Four Quadrants?” “Where do we start?” “How do we actualize the core strategies?” “Are we, perhaps, overcomplicating matters?”

CEOs with these questions will find the Strategic Diversity Management Process (SDMP) to be invaluable. This process can both provide a lens through which these issues can be addressed, and help to implement the quadrants’ core diversity management strategic prescriptions. To highlight the actualization role of the SDMP, I briefly review below what I have said about the four diversity management strategies.

I contended earlier that diversity management in the United States around race, ethnicity, and gender is evolving from three workforce-specific strategies: Managing Workforce Representation, Managing Workforce Relationships, and Managing Diverse Talent. Over the years, additional workforce dimensions have emerged. These include sexual orientation, age, geographic origin, physical ability, religion and national origin, class, education, and others.

 

6 Managing Complexity

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This chapter places front and center a capability that is inherent in each of the diversity management strategies—that of managing complexity. To effectively implement any of the strategies, CEOs must acknowledge and accept that there will be surrounding complexities, and be ready to address them.

The chapter has three objectives: (1) to examine the relationship between complexity and diversity, (2) to explore the notion that many complexities can be restated as diversity mixtures, and (3) to argue that SDMP can be used to address these mixtures. These three objectives serve the broader one of preparing the reader for the realities of diversity and complexity.

This preparation is important because a symbiotic relationship exists between the two: Where you have diversity, you have complexity; and where you have complexity, you have diversity. Are the two concepts the same? They are not. But because diversity generates complexity, they are found in the same neighborhood.

I first affirmed this when a client requested an introductory, three-week seminar on diversity for managers from around the world. There was, he said, only one critical proviso—I could not use the word diversity. The client believed the word did not work outside of the United States. Although I knew from personal experience that diversity—as defined by me—worked perfectly well across nations, I did not argue the point; instead, I asked if we could replace it with complexity. The client agreed to that substitution.

 

7 The Dynamics of Strategies and Paradigms

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CEOs seeking effectiveness with all four of the core diversity management strategies (quadrants) must master the dynamics of strategies and paradigms. Otherwise, their ability to move between the strategies as required by World-Class Diversity Management will be hampered. World class will require that an organization’s prevailing paradigms and intended strategies are in sync.

This chapter examines some of the dynamics of using the four diversity management strategies and their undergirding paradigms in pursuit of World-Class Diversity Management. It particularly explores how the core strategies and paradigms provide a path to World-Class Diversity Management capability.

As noted earlier, I see this capability as the ability to employ best practices from anywhere to address any diversity mixture, in any setting (workforce, workplace, marketplace, community, family, for example), and in any geographic location. This status is dynamic, not static. As practices inherent in the strategies that contribute to the universal approach continue to evolve, so will those associated with World-Class Diversity Management.

 

8 Jeff Kilt

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Inevitably, CEOs experience a crisis that tests them. To respond effectively, they have to draw upon their personal strengths, their sense of what is right, and also the wisdom and practices of others. This chapter presents a picture of Jeff Kilt, CEO of Bjax Corporation, as he struggles to control a crisis that could harm his company’s image and, indeed, threaten its viability. It begins with descriptions of the company and Kilt and their efforts to look at the nagging challenge and examine how it has been handled.

Bjax Corporation offers a wide variety of consumer products that are manufactured and sold around the world. While the bulk of its customers are in the United States, in recent years it has grown rapidly through acquisitions and now manufactures, sells, and distributes products worldwide. Since its 1915 founding in Philadelphia, the company has enjoyed a reputation for high quality and competitively priced goods. In several niches, Bjax’s products offer the greatest value per dollar spent.

 

9 Reflections of Jeff Kilt

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Six years after his business school classroom visit, Jeff and his professor friend Andrew Jones reflected on the changes Jeff and Bjax went through as he worked to revive both the enter-prise’s and his own reputation following the diversity fiasco. These reflections were part of a presentation to a CEO roundtable on diversity convened by Andrew. What follows is a summary of Jeff’s reflections, which Andrew presented in the alumni magazine. Andrew also intended to use the article in his class.

Roughly six years before, Jeff had received a group of African American community leaders, who sided with African American Bjax associates in their concerns about inadequate upward mobility for people of color at Bjax, and also the failure of Bjax to address “raw” racism. About a month later, these individuals and a small group of African American employees set up and walked a picket line in front of Bjax headquarters.

Reactions came swiftly. Internally, the Bjax community by and large felt betrayed and considered the picketing action unwarranted. Most whites felt that Jeff had been very responsive to concerns of African Americans, and that he would have worked through the current issues if he had been given a chance. The African Americans who did not join the protest line also thought such an action was premature. Those who did march cited as their motivation Jeff’s “semantics mumble jumble about diversity and what ever” as opposed to practical hardhitting attacks on “runaway racism” at Bjax.

 

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