No longer just black and white

New approach to diversity challenge

When I began 20 years ago, it was black and white,” explains Mark Williams about how diversity in the workplace has changed. Williams is the founder and CEO of the Diversity Channel, www.thediversity channel.com, a diversity training and consulting firm that specializes in multimedia-enriched products and services, such as eLearning and 24/7 on-demand information. Williams and the organization have worked with companies such as Chevron, AT&T, Marriott International, and the CIA. “Now people are focused on race, gender, age, sexual orientation–almost any difference now is legitimately part of the diversity discussion.”

Williams is also the author of The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living & Working in a Multicultural World (Capital Books, $14.95), a research-based tool that helps individuals and organizations understand the perceptual filters through which they view racial, ethnic, and cultural differences, and how those perceptions affect morale, productivity, and overall corporate culture. From years of categorizing responses he heard repeatedly–professionally, socially, and recreationally–Williams discerned particular behavioral perspectives and called them lenses. “I took all of that to the Gallup organization and it conducted two national studies that confirmed that these are phenomena.” It’s also created an online test that determines a person’s top three lenses, available with an introductory e-Learning course at www.10 lenses.com for $29.95.

The 10 lenses are often layered with one dominating view:

  • Assimilationist. Immigrants and other subcultures should adopt the lifestyle and customs of the dominating culture.
  • Colorblind. All men are created equal.
  • Culturalcentrist. Minorities should detach from the dominant culture to maintain their customs and traditions.
  • Elitist. Lineage and other qualities entitle them to social advantages.
  • Integrationist. Harmony and understanding are achieved through living and socializing side by side.
  • Meritocratist. Opportunity should be based on an individual’s initiative, competence, and accomplishments.
  • Multiculturalist. They are enriched by a diversity of races and cultures.
  • Seclusionist. Preserve position and control by remaining separate from other racial groups.
  • Transcendent. Believes there is only one race–the human race.
  • Victim/Caretakers. Still suffering from the generational impact of previous oppression.

“[These approaches are] unique because it shifts the way we talk about differences from a binary view–is the person prejudiced or not–to really looking at the different ways people act around differences,” explains David A. Thomas, Harvard Business School professor and noted scholar on diversity. “It also recognizes that there are differences in groups. It’s a tool for creating much more constructive dialogue about differences.” Thomas also notes that the lens approach allows you to identify the dominant culture inside an organization. “And there are different implications for how you do diversity work within those different cultures,” he adds. It’s why a general model for diversity can be a successful tool with one organization and totally fail another.

The book provides a survey for each lens. “It allows people to see what some of their strengths, weaknesses, and legal vulnerabilities may be. Where people are likely to go when they’re feeling the most stress is to their dominant preference,” says Williams. “Maintaining a successful diversity initiative is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do,” offers Diversity

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