Corporate Diversity Training

When they hear news of an upcoming diversity training program in their corporation, employees generally groan. Despite some who believe otherwise, this is not further indication that corporate America is dominated by a white male population determined to hold on to their preferred status. Rather, this is an honest response to the notion of spending hours listening to speakers and videos which try to ram someone's idea of the ideal workplace down their throats. Further, they may believe it is a waste of time (not to mention, an insult) to be forced to endure chastening for attitudes they do not hold or behaviors which they do not exhibit. These workers would be among the first to agree that there are instances where people need to be more informed and accepting of people from the variety of cultures which abound in today's society. Nor are they are averse to learning principles of how to do business in other cultural settings. The item which most find objectionable is the inescapable conviction that in the guise of equal opportunity and treatment, certain groups are using corporate diversity training to advance their own agendas.

It is interesting to note part of the origin of diversity workshops. In 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, a white school teacher named Jane Elliot decided to address the problem of racism by dividing her third grade pupils into brown and blue-eyed groups. She allowed one group to be subject to verbal abuse and taunts, and gave preferential treatment to the other group. The next day, she reversed the positioning of the groups, and discovered that the new elite group did not take full advantage of their power over the former tormentors. This showed her that groups could learn how to be more empathetic and accepting. National attention came to rest on her experiment due to interviews and television programs. Extrapolating from this situation, minority underachievement came to be seen as the result of a white-dominated view of reality.

The need for workshops and instruction about such matters seemed reasonable, and by the 1980s, the workplace climate was such that attorneys could gain huge settlements from companies which were allegedly guilty of discrimination. Corporations were eager to spend some money on a diversity training program rather than risk lawsuits. Needless to say this need for corporate diversity training opened up a lucrative niche. This was quickly filled by those with a leftist agenda, who were infused with ideas from a civil-rights radicalism, and (ironically) often held a rather bitter, anti-white view of the world.

Corporations also began to see diversity training programs as important to survival as a company and as individuals intent on climbing the corporate ladder. A company which embraced the diversity training program was seen as progressive and 'good'. Those who resisted diversity training were seen as prejudiced and could cause the company's image to suffer. In an increasingly global workplace, companies could remain competitive by accepting workers who were from other cultures and were willing to work for lower wages. Therefore it became even more necessary that these workers were accepted. Also, a CEO or manager's bonus could be affected. It was no longer enough to affirm that one agreed that there would be no tolerance for discrimination. Now a CEO or other management personnel had to demonstrate concrete examples of how he or she had contributed to the diversity of the workplace through actions such as leading a diversity training program or workshop, or how recruitment of various people groups had been advanced. Those who could or would not comply were not given opportunity for further advancement.

At first glance, most of the subjects taught in corporate diversity training do not seem objectionable. It is important for people from various cultures to be able to work together and to understand the variety of ways that business is done in other countries. Gender differences should be used to bring a full-orbed view to projects. The value (in a business, not personal sense) of an employee should be based on what they contribute. Even the apostle James warned Christians against giving preferential treatment to certain people based on outward appearance or wealth: For if there comes unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him...and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4) As noted above, few persons object to corporate diversity training on the grounds that they wish to see a group of workers subject to discrimination or harassment. However, the problem comes in when the leaders of diversity training programs seek to go one step beyond equal treatment and try to conform all workers to a certain morality or way of thinking.

Such an attitude is evident in mandatory workshops and seminars which seek to force employees to positively and actively acknowledge employees who choose certain lifestyles. Of course, no one should wish to see such employees harmed or taunted, and persons of all ethnicities and persuasions should be treated in a civil manner. Yet the leaders of corporate diversity training programs are often not satisfied with this level of behavior and seem to be trying to force the approval of certain lifestyles. Refusing to acknowledge that a person can treat people civilly while still retaining opposing personal beliefs is strange behavior for those who claim to desire equal treatment for all groups, (including, presumably, those whose beliefs differ from their own). As long as such attitudes persist, their efforts appear more like brain washing than attempts to provide equal treatment. Likewise, insisting on uniform thinking about controversial subjects is hypocritical for those who claim to champion diversity.

Diversity Training

Diversity training is mandatory to be a successful manager in the twenty first century. It requires that that effective work practices take place between different people. The labor force is becoming more different in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, disability, and the like. An appreciation and respect for these differences will make a better use of the organizations human resources. These skills can be used to deal effectively with some of the key challenges brought about by this increased workforce diversity. Groups composed of people from different backgrounds can be more innovative by bringing a multiplicity of points of views to bear on a problem. By being skillful in managing these types of different teams, firms can use diversity training to their advantage. Employee training can develop skills needed to improve organizational functioning by stimulating greater creativity, better problem solving, and greater system flexibility. These skills are also essential to avoid the potential downside of diversity such as garbled communications, conflict, and resentment.

The term diversity incorporates a wide spectrum of individual and group differences. On an individual level, each person is different when compared with all other people. In a sense, people are combinations of traits; an individual may be aggressive or passive, extroverted or introverted, flexible or rigid, loyal or inconstant, and so on. Groups of individuals share characteristics that distinguish them from other groups. Some of the characteristics, such as race, sex, and age cannot be controlled by the individuals involved, whereas others, such as occupation, political party membership, and religion, may be changed through conscious choice and deliberate effort. Although the attitudes, life interests, expectations, and norms of behavior of groups may differ on average, the differences between groups are smaller than the differences within groups. Classifying people into such typologies as black or white, and male or female, often leads to false stereotypes because it incorrectly assumes that group averages apply to all of the individuals in the group. A good employee training program will review where the true distinctions and characteristics of working with people lie.

A diverse employee base allows a firm or company to tap into profitable markets. Utilizing employees who are attuned to these markets may give the firm a competitive edge. For example: women, older Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans have more buying power than in the past, and they expect businesses to provide products and services to meet their needs. Many companies have offered diversity training programs and successfully improved their bottom line, within their own workforce, as well as tapped into the diverse population through the use of employee training and internal knowledge. As organizations become more diverse; mistrust, lack of understanding, and lack of mutual respect has lead to decreasing cooperation among employees and poor integration of individuals who are supposed to work closely with each other. It has also caused stress and interpersonal friction, making it difficult to reach agreement on issues. In extremes cases, open conflict and chaos has occurred.

It is easy to see why such diversity training programs should be incorporated into all new employee training classes. Lower level managers and employees are unlikely to take diversity seriously if they believe that senior level executives do not give the effective management of these differences a high priority. Some CEO's take an active role in clarifying such issues, while others merely make an internal announcement about such programs. Some company's have been known to produce three day workshops on the subject, leaving time for group assignments and projects to help each employee better understand the importance of respecting each others differences, and helping them to realize that differences between groups of people is indeed a good thing, and can bring about more satisfaction in a business or in a community than many other strategies for success. Besides measuring and rewarding diversity efforts, companies also offer developmental opportunities to managers and employees to improve diversity management. The most common activities are training, senior mentoring, apprenticeships, and learning labs.

Diversity training programs improve awareness of diversity issues. They educate managers and employees about specific cultural and gender differences to help them respond in the workplace. At an information services company, for example, workers attended an employee training workshop that focused on working together with people of different races, sex, religions, ages, social status, and disabilities. Besides improving customer service within the company, these workshops have increased the pool of employees for the company. Senior mentoring has also been implemented in some firms in which managers and senior employees are encouraged to identify women and minorities with promising careers. The mentor is responsible for coaching the employee, offering a nurturing environment and facilitating the employee's career progress. Apprenticeship programs groom prospective employees before they are hired on a permanent basis. Learning labs improve knowledge and insight about market niches of diverse client populations. All these programs help to facilitate a cooperative working environment. "Love thy neighbor as thyself." (Leviticus 19:18)

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