When you hear the term “diversity,” you may think of minority recruitment or gender equalization in the workplace. These conceptual definitions are certainly important, but there is another that touches on the full development of assets within an organization. According to research conducted by Novations/J. Howard Associates, this diversity/development concept will manifest in corporate diversity programs, which are expected to grow by 10 percent in 2005.
“Organizations need to get more productivity and contribution from the employees that they have,” said Tom McKinnon, executive consultant, Novations/J. Howard Associates. “The common phrase is ‘getting more with less,’ so companies cannot afford to underutilize anybody on their payroll.”
The training and development link to diversity isn’t immediately apparent if one looks at diversity as solely race- or gender-motivated hiring or recruitment practices. Diversity also refers to an organization’s need to get more and more contributions from the same or fewer employees in order to maximize all assets in every part of the organization. “What we find is that wherever in the globe we’re working, people in the numeric minority tend to get less opportunity for development and in many cases contribute less than the people in the numeric majority,” McKinnon said. “There is an opportunity for organizations to grow contributions by other employees, in particular for them to grow the contributions of people who are in the numeric minority.”
McKinnon said that organizations can drive their diversity development efforts by changing the behavior of company leaders. “Some people are not like the majority, and so it’s related to numbers, but it’s really about the behavior and activity of leaders who, usually unintentionally, exclude the development of employees who are not like them,” McKinnon said. “And because they are not developed, they also contribute at lower levels. So the diversity play is making sure that they have the opportunity for development and have equal levels of support for all employees. Sometimes unintentionally, the message is that some people are worth developing and others are not.”
Age bias is another component of diversity because of the costs associated with older employees not retiring, as well as a perception that older employees cannot learn new skills. With this type of mindset in the forefront, when companies need to make cutbacks and essentially do more with less, the people who are negatively impacted frequently are the older employees, said McKinnon. “That’s one aspect where the complaints are rising. Another aspect is, for the first time in history perhaps, we have four or five generations of people in the workforce at the same time. Where we have older employees now working for younger employees, there are real cultural and generational conflicts that in some cases cause complaints.”
“Older employees who have been loyal in organizations feel that something is happening that demonstrates that companies are not returning that loyalty,” McKinnon said. “From a development point of view, sometimes there’s a sort of inherent belief or stereotype that older employees cannot or do not want to learn new skills and trades. All of our evidence is that people can develop as long as their heart is still beating, and there’s lots of research that indicates people are capable of building their capabilities forever. We call that ‘manager’s mindset.’ If the manager’s mindset is people are limited in their capability to learn, then they tend to treat them that way, and that has specific stereotypical impact on older employees. The other thing that’s contributing to that is some older employees had counted on retiring, and because of social security changes, stock prices or other things, they’re finding themselves working more years than they thought they would. Companies may have counted on them leaving sooner as well.”
Women play into the diversity game because of their positioning in many organizations. “Most organizations that we deal with globally have done a good job of hiring more and more women, and they’ve focused on retention. Now it’s a matter of getting women elevated to positions throughout the organization,” McKinnon said. “The focus has turned from numbers of employees, so to speak, to developing women so that they move up in the organization as well as just being retained. Our belief is that developing people contributes substantially to their retention.”
In order for positive, effective changes to occur in the diversity realm, managers will have to change inherent belief systems that prohibit them from recognizing talent at all levels and developing it. “The first thing is awareness—to be aware that we as human beings have a tendency to make judgments about other people’s intelligence,” McKinnon said. “It’s not about shame, or blame, or guilt. Secondly, understand specific skills, and identify assignments for every employee that allow them to grow and develop. One is awareness of the impact that the behavior is having because we find managers typically have a good, positive intention. They know they have to get more productivity out of employees, and they do the best they can. Unintentionally, we sometimes exclude people from development.”
“What we find as we do more and more global business is that the numeric minorities, however they are defined in each culture, tend to receive similar, unintentional treatment, that is, the lack of opportunities and support to develop,” McKinnon said. “It just reinforces the idea that this is not about shame and blame. It’s really about recognition and taking specific conscious effort to stretch assignments. It’s moving from the unconscious or subconscious to the conscious.”
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