Diversity or Diversion?

Experts express their views about the effectiveness of diversity programs and offer suggestions on how to improve them

from those programs by taking advantage of things such as flextime, alternative work schedules, and childcare. All of these programs are part of the diversity initiative and they help everybody.

Also understand that diversity is not meant to further the civil rights agenda. It wasn’t designed to do it. It can’t do it. That’s important for us as African Americans, but we had better be doing that outside of the workplace.

B.E.: So if I’m a manager trying to move up, what strategies should be employed within this environment?

WILLIAMS: Focus on the systems of that organization.

HYSAW: I agree. The system and the people are our key opportunities as African Americans.

MITCHELL: Today, the focus is not social. Social responsibility is nice to have but it’s a side benefit. Companies like to be seen in the community and they like having African Americans see that their firm is supporting [our] initiatives by participating in black events. But again, this is a side benefit. Diversity is really a business imperative and the systems, whether they’re H.R. or marketing, help the company see a return on its investment.

African Americans need to know what opportunities exist in the firm and aggressively pursue them. We should also hold companies accountable for delivering what they say they have.

For example, if you say you have an intern program, then sign me up. If you say you have a succession plan, fine. Tell me where I am in the system. If you say I have a developmental gap, tell me how I can close the gap. Then, if the company has these systems in place, and these systems don’t deliver, that’s a different story. The diversity councils that Hysaw and I both serve on have those systems in place, but individuals have to pursue them. It’s a two-way street.

HYSAW: When you combine the system’s focus and the people management, it’s just an integrated strategy. The tools in the system include career development, succession planning, talent reviews, and recruiting. As for the people-management component, you need specific people to help employees guide their careers through coaching and mentoring.

HARRINGTON: We see people coming to the issue of diversity, particularly diversity management, by virtue of either pain or vision. As a result, a lot of the stimuli or motivation does come from organizations like the NAACP and the Rainbow Coalition.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of systems. That is critical. But the social piece, the civil rights movement, and the advocacy around this issue for African Americans, are also critical. And it doesn’t go away because now we’re having a discussion about diversity.
B.E.: So pain is what inspires action?

WILLIAMS: Pain and market share and the potential damage to your brand. Companies don’t want their brands damaged. There has been research to suggest that when something happens, like Texaco, white women are the most outraged by the incident. That means when something happens to one group, it impacts the brand and affects all groups because the American society does have rooted values around

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