Printer Friendly

Leadership's changing face: how African-American, Asian-American and Latin American leaders communicate in a multicultural age.

Chang-Lin Tien, Joe Arriola, Denise Williams -- as leaders who are members of racial minorities -- have all faced challenges. But, all also have found that their backgrounds have given them special advantages when it comes to communicating in today's multiracial, multicultural, multilingual U.S. society.

A young man from China arrives in Kentucky in the 1950s on a scholarship, and goes on to become chancellor at one of the world's top universities, drawing upon his Asian and immigrant background to create a model of student diversity.

A teenage boy from Cuba who speaks barely a word of English lands in Florida in the 1960s with no apparent prospects, and winds up as chief executive officer of the largest printing company in the state, using his Hispanic background to help him tap Miami's Spanish-speaking work force.

An African-American woman helps put herself through school by participating in the college work-study program at a Virginia hospital, and, in little more than a decade, assumes leadership of a hospital in Illinois, building bridges between the institution and its African-American patients.

Casting new leadership molds

Until recently, the typical business transaction in the U.S. was likely to involve communication between two European-Americans. But the U.S. is undergoing significant demographic changes.

According to research compiled by Time magazine, if current demographic trends continue, by the year 2056, "the average U.S. resident as defined by census statistics will trace his or her descent to Africa, Asia, the Hispanic world, the Pacific islands, Arabia, almost anywhere but White Europe."

This demographic trend is changing the audiences with which U.S. organizations must communicate to survive: customers, students, patients, employees, board members, sponsors, reporters.

The change doesn't stop there. It continues into the very hearts and heads of organizations, into the offices of their chief executives.

In a world where the ability to manage diversity has become a key to success, leaden who break the mold of the European-American CEO are finding that their racial and ethnic backgrounds, instead of being handicaps, can be assets helping them lead their organizations forward.

CHANG-LIN TIEN, born in 1935, came to the U.S. after his family fled China's new communist government. He arrived in Kentucky in 1956 as a scholarship student to study engineering at the University of Louisville, where he earned his masters degree in one year. He went on to get a second masters degree and a Ph.D. at Princeton University in New York in a record 20 months. In 1959, he joined the engineering faculty at the University of California at Berkeley and in 1969 he became a U.S. citizen. Tien rose through the administrative ranks at Berkeley to become vice chancellor of research. In 1988, he was named executive vice chancellor at the University of California in Irvine. In 1990, he returned to Berkeley as chancellor, becoming the first member of a racial minority to lead a U.S. public university of such prestige.

Drawing upon his Asian and immigrant background

Far from distancing himself from his background, Tien has made it a prominent part of his public image.

"I always like to say, 'I'm a refugee, an immigrant,'" he says. "Many people try to shy away from that. I say that just doesn't show self confidence .... I am proud of my immigrant background, especially my Asian heritage."

When, as a member of the board of trustees at Princeton University, it was his turn to keep the tradition of starting a meeting with a prayer, he offered one from his Buddhist background. At a recent presentation to the University of California Board of Regents, he spoke against the backdrop of a giant Chinese character denoting the concepts of crisis and opportunity.

Tien also has resisted suggestions to take speech training to eliminate his accent. "That's part of my heritage. Why should we try to change as long as we can communicate in an effective way?" he says.

"I use my Asian background in such a way that I have been carried to a tremendously high level of reception," Tien says. "I put a lot of value on gentleness, thoughtfulness and respect for people with all different backgrounds, particularly people with seniority and expertise. Those Asian values can really help you."

Communicating with diverse audiences

Tien sees that his Asian background and his experiences as a refugee have helped him relate well to a wide variety of audiences.

Of the news media, he says: "Perhaps because of my Asian-American background and positive attitude, they have treated me more favorably [than people in similar positions]. People appreciate it when they see that you have come from a disadvantaged background, and that you're doing well and that you've maintained a very positive attitude."

As the university places more emphasis on private donations in the face of budget cutbacks, Tien's Asian background brings another bonus, opening up opportunities for the university in Pacific Rim countries.

His investiture as chancellor was attended by representatives from China, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Indonesia.

Since he has been in office, Asian support for the university has included: a U.S. $1 million grant from the government of Taiwan, a pledge of $8.5 million from friends of Singaporean philanthropist Tan Kan Kee for a chemistry and chemical engineering building, and $800,000 from Korean Air for an endowed chair in Korean studies.

Support from the Asian-American community has included $5 million dollars from the San Francisco Tan Foundation.

And, according to Tien, it isn't just Asian donors who are responsive to his appeals for help. He feels, again, that his Asian background is a plus, even when dealing with non-Asian alumni.

When Tien became chancellor, he was faced with anxiety on the part of older alumni about the increasing number of Asian students. "He had to overcome the view that Berkeley was becoming the Asian university and that that was why they wanted an Asian chancellor," says Dave Flynn, president of the Alumni Association at Berkeley. According to Flynn, Tien's emphasis on traditional alumni activities such as athletic events helped convince traditional alumni that he was on their side.

Promoting diversity on campus

Tien's experiences as an immigrant and a minority member have made him sensitive to serving the diverse state of California, where European-Americans are projected to become a minority within a decade.

Under Tien's guidance, the university has the most diverse undergraduate population of any major U.S. university. Out of 22,000 undergraduates, 39 percent have identified themselves as European-Americans, 31 percent as Asian-Americans, 15 percent as Hispanics, seven percent as African-Americans and one percent as Native Americans (the remaining seven percent have declined to identify their racial backgrounds).

Berkeley is living proof that diversity can co-exist with academic excellence:

Undergraduates there have a straight-A grade point average, and a 70-percent graduation rate.

In fact, one of Tien's credos is: "Excellence through diversity" -- a challenge to critics who claim that the academic excellence of the school will suffer if students are admitted on the basis of race to increase diversity, rather than being admitted solely on the basis of academic performance. He believes that it is only through the ability to communicate and function in a diverse environment that students will be able to excel in the future.

DENISE WILLIAMS was born in Norfolk, Va., the youngest of 12 children. Williams received her bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Norfolk State University in 1974 and her masters in health administration in Richmond at the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University in 1977.

Less than 10 years later, at 34, she became the president and CEO of Roseland Community Hospital in inner-city Chicago, where she has increased profits, raised the occupancy level and cut down on staff turnover.

Building bridges to the community

Williams found that being an African-American gave her an edge when it came to earning the trust and meeting the needs of a largely African-American community, and building a work force that reflected the community.

Assuming responsibility for the hospital was not a step to take lightly -- she inherited an institution that had largely become cut off from the community that surrounded it, and which was suffering in terms of low profits and occupancy rate and high staff turnover.

The hospital was built in the 1920s by Dutch immigrants. As the surrounding neighborhoods had become predominantly African-American, it lost touch with its community.

"Some people viewed it [the hospital] as a closed and hostile place before I came here," says Williams. "But I think we've made significant inroads in changing the reputation of the hospital for its openness and interest in the community and being part of the Community."

She says, "Our emphasis ... has been to let them know: 'We're here. We're part of you. We're proud of our presence. And you can count on us as an anchor in the community.'"

Community outreach has included: community-wide health fairs, a community awareness parade, a mentorship program between the hospital and schools, and a community newsletter.

Like Tien, Williams believes the news media have treated her well because she is a minority member. "I've gotten much more attention than I normally would have if I wasn't an African-American woman, in a positive sense," she says.

Cultivating a work force that reflects the community

In part, community relations have improved under Williams became the racial composition of the hospital work force now more closely reflects that of the community.

Before she came to Roseland, the hospital did not have nearly as many African-Americans as the surrounding community. Today, 69 percent of the work force is African-American, 17 percent is Asian American, 17 percent is European-American and two percent is Hispanic-American.

Williams is proud of the fact that the percentage of African-American physicians at her hospital has increased from almost none when she took over to nine percent today.

How having an African-American leader and work force has helped the hospital

According to Faye Hudson, Roseland's vice president of marketing and community relations, the fact that Williams is an African-American was a factor that helped attract some African-American employees.

Williams adds: "Some people have no idea where to look for qualified black people and might not even have any idea that there are as many qualified black people as there are. I've always been of the mind that we look for the best possible people. But also, being an African-American, I'm quite aware that there's a lot of talent within the African-American community that can and should be sought out."

Hudson says that the changing composition of the work force has helped the hospital become more responsive to the needs of the community. "Having more people from the African-American community who have familiarity with the community and know what its concerns are has helped a lot," she says.

More work to do

Williams would like to increase the percentage of African-American and Hispanic employees even higher to more closely reflect the demographics of the community.

The job is not easy. In particular, she experiences problems attracting enough African-American physicians to Roseland.

"We're in the inner city, with all the problems that attend to that -- the poverty, the crime rate, the lack of resources, the relative hopelessness," she explains. "It's just harder to deal in this environment .... Not everybody's prepared to do battle in order to do their work .... You can come here and do battle and make a difference, and still not be compensated as well as you would in another environment .... If you leave and go to your car late at night, you might get accosted or carjacked or something worse."

To recruit employees, she appeals to people's social conscience. Her message is: "If you want to make a difference, this is a place to do that .... Although we try to be competitive, if you're coming here to work just for the money, you'll never be happy."

Avoiding racial tensions

Although Roseland Hospital's 655-strong work force is more diverse than it once was, employees tend to get along well across racial lines, according to Williams. "We try to work together and look at our common goal and not much at our particular problems, our personal problems," she says. "By the same token we don't force people to abandon their ethnicity just because they work here. They're free to emphasize their cultures."

JOE ARRIOLA arrived in Miami in 1960 at the age of 13, a stronger to the language and culture of the U.S. His family had been forced to flee Cuba, when Fidel Castro nationalized the press and ordered Arriola's father to leave the island and his post as general manager of Cuba's largest afternoon newspaper.

"When I came over, I spoke very little English, some of the basic words maybe," he says. "This was on May 26. By the time the school year had started in September ... I spoke enough to understand what was going on in Class, and by the end of that year, I spoke English."

Arriola became a U.S. citizen in 1978. A year later, he joined Saxon Paper in Miami as a sales trainee. At age 24, he became vice president of sales for that company.

In 1972, he joined his father at Avanti Printing, a company that his father had started a few years before. Arriola bought out his father in 1977, and Avanti has grown 60-fold under his direction. Today, Avanti is the largest printing company in Florida, the largest minority-member-owned graphic arts finn in the U.S., and one of the 10 largest Latino-owned companies in the U.S.

Prejudice remains an issue when dealing with clients and the news media

Even though Arriola has risen to a powerful leadership position, he still feels the sting of racism from time to time.

Referring to clients, he says, "We've had instances when you just know that people aren't dealing with you because people are very prejudiced .... You feel very hurt, but you look at it and say, 'It's their loss. We're very good at what we do.' ... It's something that eats your guts out, but it happens."

Unlike Tien and Williams, Arriola believes the news media have given his company short shrift because he is Hispanic.

"For years we were the best kept secret in town," he says. "And nobody would even bother to write anything about us, not until the last couple of years when they couldn't help it because we've grown so much. At the same time, they've given coverage to other companies that were not half as big."

Hispanic heritage an advantage in building diverse work force

Like Tien and Williams, Arriola also points out a positive aspect of his background.

He credits his experiences as a minority member with his interest in promoting diversity in his work force and creating what he calls "a great mix" at his Miami plant.

He says, "We've lived it [racial discrimination], so we make sure everybody gets a fair shake."

Historically, Arriola says, there have been few Hispanics in the printing field in the U.S. He points proudly to a number of Hispanics who have taken positions of responsibility at Avanti, or who have moved from his company to others.

And, Arriola actively reaches out to other segments of the work force, too.

"Very seldom did you see Blacks in the graphic arts industry," he says. "We've made a very big effort to work with ... schools to make sure there are more Blacks involved in our field, and that they do have an opportunity to grow in the field and that they do get involved in management."

Creating a culture of respect

Few tensions exist among the 480 employees at his Miami plant, "whether ... they're Black, Asian, Gay, Hispanic or women," says Arriola.

Arriola believes that one reason for the good interactions across racial and other lines, is the fact that he has made diversity one of his personal priorities.

"If they see that the top will not tolerate anything other than equality, they won't screw around with it," he explains. "They know how strongly I feel about it, and how much I preach it .... They know if I find out about it, whoever it is, is gone immediately."

Accommodating language differences

Arriola's Spanish-speaking background also allows him to overcome language barriers and tap the local work force in Miami, where about half the population speaks Spanish.

He estimates that almost one third (150) of his Miami employees are bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish, and that about one tenth (50), "have a real hard time" with English.

He takes a two-pronged approach to managing a bilingual work force: helping employees build English skills, and developing bilingual communication programs.

On one hand, he feels it's important for employees to bolster their English-speaking skills.

"You cannot progress into certain areas if you don't speak the language," he admits. "You cannot become a head pressman .... You cannot be in high management We give them every opportunity to learn English, but if they refuse to, we're limited."

One of the ways Avanti helps employees develop English skills is by paying for an English teacher to come to the plant once a week for three hours.

Arriola says employees are taking advantage of these classes, and that some people who did not initially speak English well have risen through the ranks thanks to the support they have received.

On the other hand, Avanti also tries to accommodate those employees who do not have strong English skills by conducting some internal communication -- both written and oral --bilingually.

"You just have to be smart and make sure that ... in the bindery or the mailing service, where you have a large number of Hispanics, the communication goes both in English and Spanish to avoid problems," he says.

To help people who are not fluent in English communicate with the company as a whole, Avanti puts them in departments where the managers are fully bilingual.

"It's tough .... You can't make everybody happy. We do have to make sure that they can communicate," Arriola says. "If you know he can't speak English, and the other guy can't speak Spanish, you try not to pair them up."

Why bother accommodating employees who need special support because they lack English-speaking skills? For Arriola, the answer is simple. "We truly have a commitment to minorities here," he says.

It also makes good business sense for Arriola to tap into Miami's Hispanic community.

As Arriola's long-time friend and fellow printing company leader Roland Garcia says about cultivating an Hispanic work force in Miami "We don't have a choice. We have to do the best with what we have to deal with."

According to Garcia, owner of Original Impressions in Kendall, Fla., more than half of the Miami population is Hispanic. "It's mostly Spanish-speaking blue-collar workers. That's what you have to pick from in terms of skill," he says. He adds that many Miami companies couldn't succeed without management and supervisors that are fully bilingual.

Garcia says that Arriola's ability to tap into this bilingual, Hispanic work force reflects the wave of the future for successful business leaders.


(Excerpts from Chancellor Tien's May 1994 commencement address at the University of Connecticut)

We are not teaching the history of America unless we teach the history of all the peoples who have helped to shape this great nation. Look at the history of Japanese Americans. Look at the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II for no reason other than their heritage. Then look at the 33,000 Japanese Americans who fought heroically in the American armed forces at the same time their brothers and sisters were interned. Look at the history of African Americans. Look at Charles Drew whose research led to the creation of life-saving plasma banks at a time when African Americans were barred from giving blood. Look at the history of Chicanos and Latinos. Look at the courageous struggle of Chicano farm workers for decent working conditions and human dignity in the fields of California.

Today the focus is on how to shut out people. Should we send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border? Should we erect better barriers along this border? Should we turn back the Haitian boat people? I think all of these questions merit careful deliberation. Yet I am disturbed by the limitations of the national debate. Barriers are an easy alternative, but not the long-term solution. Human will is stronger than any barrier we can construct. People will always find a way to flee nations where they face hopeless poverty, unrelenting violence and severe political repression. The focus on shutting out people tends to promote intolerance. There is another hidden danger as well. Barriers not only keep out people; they also shut us off from the rest of the world.

I have seen amazing change in the course of my lifetime. When I came here to study in 1956, Jim Crow segregation ruled the South. Commonplace activities such as riding buses posed painful dilemmas. Should I fide in the front with whites or in the back with blacks? I walked whenever possible. Racial discrimination was not limited to the South. Even in the City of Berkeley, when I joined the university faculty 35 years ago, my wife and I could not live in certain neighborhoods that barred Asian Americans. In the last three decades, I have seen the enactment of civil rights legislation that has opened opportunities to all Americans. I have seen universities open their doors to students of all backgrounds. I have enjoyed the privilege of heading a great university that is respected for academic excellence and diversity. This progress gives me hope for the future.

Kyle Heger is managing editor of Communication World.
COPYRIGHT 1994 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Heger, Kyle
Publication:Communication World
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:After a crisis: restoring community relations.
Next Article:Successfully working with international journalists.

Related Articles
Conference workshop focuses on learning to communication across cultural chasms.
Reaching new markets: what you can do to engage diverse groups.
Managing a Multicultural Workforce.
The Source Book of Multicultural Experts 2001-2002.
The new bottom line: to reach ethnic markets, you need to fine-tune your marketing strategy and appreciate the power of diversity.
Diversity: a business growth opportunity.
Driving diversity; CEOs get it: diverse work forces make for better companies. The question is, how do you get there?
Dare to diversify: capitalize on diversity in the marketplace or risk the future viability of your association.
The business case for diversity.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |