By Joseph Harmes
From the Chrysler Corporation<注1> to the Central Intelligence Agency, cultural diversity programs are flourishing in American organizations today. Firms can no longer safely assume that every employee walking in the door has similar beliefs or expectations. Whereas North American white males may believe in challenging authority, Asians tend to respect and defer to it. In Hispanic cultures, people often bring music, food, and family members to work, a custom that U.S. businesses have traditionally not allowed. A job applicant who won't make eye contact during an interview may be rejected for being unapproachable, when according to her culture, she was just being polite.
As a larger number of women, minorities, and immigrants enter the U.S. work force, the workplace is growing more diverse. It is estimated that by 2005 women will make up about 48 percent of the U.S. work force, and African Americans and Hispanics will each account for about 11 percent; by the year 2050, minorities will make up over 50 percent of the American population.
Cultural diversity refers to the differences among people in a work force due to race, ethnicity, and gender. Increasing cultural diversity is forcing managers to learn to supervise and motivate people with a broader range of values systems. According to a recent survey by the American Management Association, half of all U. S. employers have established some kind of formal initiative to promote and manage cultural diversity. Although demographics<注2> isn't the only reason for the growth of these programs, it is a compelling one. An increasing number of organizations have come to believe that diversity, like quality and customer service, is a competitive edge. A more diverse work force provides a wider range of ideas and perspectives and fosters creativity and innovation.
Avenues for encouraging diversity include recruiting at historically black colleges and universities, training and development, mentoring,<注3> and revamped promotion review policies. To get out the message about their commitment to diversity, many organizations establish diversity councils made up of employees, managers, and executives. Although many Fortune 500 companies are making diversity part of their strategic planning process, some programs stand out from the crowd.
At Texas Instruments, strategies for enhancing diversity include an aggressive recruiting plan, diversity training, mentoring, and an incentive compensation program that rewards managers for fostering diversity. Each business unit has a diversity manager who implements these strategies and works closely with the company's Diversity Network. The network provides a forum of employees to share ideas, solicit support, and build coalitions.
Convinced that strengthening diversity is a business imperative, Du Pont has established several programs to achieve that goal. In addition to training workshops and mentoring, Du Pont has established over 100 multicultural networks through which employees share work and life experiences and strive to help women and minorities reach higher levels of leadership and responsibility within the organization. Over half of Du Pont's new hires for professional and managerial positions are minorities and women.
Disney World's director of diversity wants theme park guests to see themselves reflected in the diversity of Disney's employees. Working to attract diverse employees, Disney hopes to convince them that the organization understands, respects, and values who they are. By holding a variety of diversity celebrations every year—including Dr. Martin Luther King's<注4> Birthday, Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Disability Awareness Month, and Native American Heritage Month—Disney opens the door to this kind of understanding.
What do we learn from strong, successful diversity program such as these, as well as similar programs at Microsoft, Xerox, Procter & Gamble and Digital Equipment Corporation? First, they can go a long way toward eliminating prejudice in the workplace and removing barriers to advancement. Second, to be more than just the latest corporate buzzword, diversity programs require commitment from the top and a culture that supports an inclusive environment.-