Leading Diversity: A Comparative Analysis

by Kenneth Rice

Grounds for Diversity

Creating successful, diverse and dynamic learning organizations involves developing

processes to ensure that the differences of employees, customers, and community are taken into account. Diversity management is an active process that requires an investment in time and resources. It is a paradigm shift from intentional exclusion to an intentional full utilization of resources. Valuing and managing diversity requires policies, relationships, procedures, and practices that will ensure fairness and equity.

It means more than increasing awareness, but also changing

the system to support differences for the benefit of all. This comparative analysis compares the diversity strategy of the Monitor Company and IBM. It identifies how individuals are motivated to become change agents for diversity by evaluating how the individuals in each case defined diversity and discern conflicts that arise from the varying definitions. Finally, I outlines how the Monitor and IBM cases accommodate diverse learning styles.

Organizational Dimensions of Diversity

Diversity is a simple word that contains many human variables. As simple as it is, it represents the distinctions that exist between individuals that sometimes include culture, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomics, age, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation, religion, language, appearance, personality, learning and thinking styles, communication and conflict styles, family status, geography, military status, education, life and work experiences, functional responsibility in a given organization. Diversity management in organizations involves understanding and leveraging similarities and differences of all people involved in accomplishing the organization’s mission. The individuals in both the 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 Rotenberg, who happens to be Jewish consultant at Monitor, began to realize that “he held an educationally strategic position bridging the gulf between the often misunderstood gay world and the corporate world.” Nick Basden, an African-American consultant at Monitor, stated “I feel black [at Monitor]. I feel different because I am black.” (Gentile and Gant, p. 3-4). The initiative created by IBM was designed to improve the understanding of the differences. “Rather than attempt 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).

The Learning Organization

Though the individual reasons for diversity were similar, the organizational motivations that drove the change were slightly different. The Monitor Company was concerned with how inclusion affected the individual’s growth, development and quality of life. Monitor wanted to learn how the company might be different “if the workforce were more diverse, and what barriers might exist to the success of nonwhite and female consultants.” (Gentile and Gant, 1994, p. 2). IBM’s driving force behind their diversity initiative was an extension of Monitor’s inclusion for individual growth. IBM, according to Thomas (2004), believed that “…greater diversity in the workplace could help IBM attract a more diverse customer set.” (p. 4).

While Monitor was concerned about the human factor and IBM was concerned about the bottom line. It is possible that diversity influences both. Many organizations have come to realize that diversity is a resource that should be leveraged to increase performance as well as improve human relations. Lieberman (2003) identified three capital resources of diversity that every business must manage successfully: financial capital, human capital, and material capital. Financial Capital, profit, “keeps an organization in existence, motivates its stakeholders, and enables it to invest in its future.” Human Capital, people, “makes an organization live and work, no matter how technical or automated it may be. People are our managers, our employees, our customers, and our communities.” Material capital, physical resources, “provides the energy and resources to produce goods and services.” (p. 3). Diversity management is a process that allows groups of people to maximize productivity, creativity, and enjoyment to reach their full potentials.

Accommodating Diversity Styles

Monitor and IBM cultures and value systems can accommodate diverse styles without sacrificing their distinctive identity. Values drive beliefs, attitudes, actions, and are culturally derived. Therefore a leader who understands others’ cultural background is better able to understand why those people act, think, and speak the way they do, and is better able to predict how those people will react to his or her own words and actions. “Understanding diversity means moving into the box all these ideas and the ones that others make you aware of, so that you start thinking of diversity as many differences, not just the most apparent ones.” (Lieberman, 2003. p 25). When working with people of different cultures, leaders are “able to apply common sense and good will to act and respond accordingly when they understand the forces driving behavior.” (Scarborough, 1998, p. 11). In both cases, the diversity initiative was about more than just education or awareness but rather an understanding of the differences of the stakeholders.

The Impact of Culture

High-performing organizations consciously create their desired corporate culture, rather than simply letting one develop. Unfortunately, organizational culture change efforts often attempt to "abolish” differences by imposing a pre-defined culture while ignoring the existing values, beliefs, visions, and behaviors. Diversity management is the process of creating a culture that is flexible enough to promote, support, respect, and value the multiple differences that exist in the organization as an asset to be valued and sought after. “The impact of culture is omnipresent; it has both a conscious and an unconscious influence on human behavior.” (Zachary, 2005, p. 15). It is recognized that group intelligence and performance is higher when systems and skills are in place that create an environment of inclusion, trust, collaboration, and respect and the ability for each to reach full potential.

Leading Diversity

Diversity is rapidly gaining ground as an asset of businesses as a means of widen their market. This dramatic shift to a highly diverse work force is part of the organizations’ efforts to understand, accept, and capitalize on differences. “The demand for new customer-focused products, the desire to reach global markets, and the need to tap a diverse workforce for talented employees drives this trend.” (Lieberman, 2003, p. 13). However, the primary objective of diversity is to unify the entire organization and deepen the cultural change within the institution so that processes, communication and actions align with institutional beliefs, values and priorities. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the distinctions that separate us are no longer significant. “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free…” (Colossians 3:11). Organizations that desire to reach their full potential must transcend all barriers and engage all people, from all cultures, races, and backgrounds.

About the Author: Lieutenant Ken Rice is an Active Duty Naval Officer stationed in Norfolk VA. He is currently assigned to Commander, Naval Surface Force's Warfare Requirments Directorate as the FORCEnet Requirements Officer. Lieutenant Rice is responsible for the program analasys and budget oversight for Information Technology Transformation for the Surface Fleet. He is currently enrolled at Regent University working towards a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership.

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Lieutenant Ken Rice