There are several key myths that stand in the way of effectively managing diversity. Before examining the validity of these myths, however, it is critical to understand the nature of myths themselves. Webster's Dictionary defines a myth as, "a belief given uncritical acceptance by the members of a group, especially in support of existing or traditional practices and institutions." The salient point is that a myth is not recognized as a myth, but more likely treated as though it were the truth. Therefore it can dramatically impact people's views of the world and determine their behavior. An example of the kind of thinking that myths can create were the pre-Columbus seamen who were afraid to set sail towards the horizon for fear they might fall off the edge of the Earth. Believers in the myths about diversity may also be missing the boat.
Myth #1 Diversity is just another, perhaps the latest, variation of Affirmative Action or Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO).
Managing Diversity is distinct from Affirmative Action and EEO in that it is not primarily focused on getting people into the workplace. While these efforts are still needed in some cases, many businesses have populations that are diverse. Differences between race, gender, ethnic cultures, age, class and sexual orientation affect the way people think, feel, act and relate to each other. Managing those differences, and the way they impact productivity, quality, customer service and other business issues, is what managing diversity must focus on.
Myth #2 Diversity is a Human Resources or Personnel issue.
While most businesses relegate diversity issues to their HR, personnel or EEO functions, it is, in reality, an on-line operations issue. Daily decision-making and the very operation of the business are affected. When operations leaders are involved in developing strategies to manage diversity, there is more involvement, buy-in and credibility for the program. When diversity management is considered an HR or EEO issue, it is dealt with only when it has to be, or when we can afford the expenditure of resources. Diversity must be a core value that is communicated in every element of your organization's culture.
Myth #3 Diversity is just about race and gender.
Diversity is not a "minority" issue, because there is no clear majority anymore. This myth is built on the notion that the workplace is a white male preserve with white male norms, and that those "minorities" who succeed must do so by understanding and conforming to these norms. These attitudes are not necessarily conscious, and they are not held only by white males. For example, child care appears to be solely a women's issue to most men and women because women have always been considered responsible for child care.
Myth #4 Diversity is about getting “them” into the mainstream.
The reality of a diverse workforce requires that we design corporate cultures that make it possible for all of our employees to have the greatest access to productive working conditions. In some companies, this perspective makes it natural not only to consider child care as a pertinent issue, but also equipment modifications for the physically challenged, English and basic skills classes for entry level employees, flex-time and shared job arrangements for those who may not choose or be able to work a classic 40-hour week, communication and team development issues, etc. The issue is no longer who's going to be let in, but rather who's going to best mobilize their entire workforce to get the job done!
Finally, in order to address these issues, we must face the most pervasive myth of all: At all costs, avoid talking about it! Our concern about diversity, inclusion, and cultural fluency, as well as the social history connected to these core organizational competencies, can make it difficult to deal with the deep feelings associated with exploring them. Sometimes our initial reactions to opening the topic make it seem like we are worse off than if we had never discussed it at all. Yet, feelings of anger, resentment, guilt and frustration must be dealt with if we are going to be able to deal proactively with perhaps the fundamental business issue of the next decade. Companies that do not effectively manage the diversity of their workforce with an eye toward long-term growth and demographic realities will not survive in the marketplace. Managing Diversity is just plain good management.
For more information on strategies for ReInventing Diversity, download our white papers at:
You can also schedule a free diversity consultation for your organization by contacting:
J. Robby Gregg, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Alliances firstname.lastname@example.org