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This man knows what diversity is.

Our first opportunity to hear Santiago Rodriguez talk was at the IABC multiculturalism committee reception during this year's international conference in San Francisco. This soft spoken, gentle man captured the audience and held it engrossed as he described a new way of coming to terms with what we call 'diversity.' He draws upon a broad experience in numerous civil rights and Hispanic organizations, and his education in international relations and political science at the master's and doctoral level. In reflecting upon his own unique cultural background, he gives a startling validity, as well as sincerity, to his views. Rodriguez is the manager of multicultural programs at Apple Computer in Cupertino, Calif. He was formerly the affirmative action officer at Stanford University and served as the director of intergovernmental relations, Office of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in Washington D.C. At the U.S. Civil Service Commission, he was assistant director of the national Hispanic Employment Program. His background includes many other positions in both the private and public sectors, and he has given freely of his time to various volunteer councils and advisory boards throughout the U.S.

How has the concept of diversity been defined over the past few decades?

Diversity is a fairly new term. I saw it cropping up about five years ago. What we had originally was the concept of equal opportunity -- I think it was from early 1960 into the late '60s. Then in the early '70s we started hearing affirmative action. The term diversity hit in the mid '80s to '90s. So the term diversity may be an old word, but as the way we use it to describe a program, diversity becomes a new word.

Why has there been a concerted interest recently in developing cultural diversity programs in the business sector?

It was not just a perception, but the observation by a lot of people, including business people, that the demographics of the United States were changing dramatically.

Beginning around 1980, the character of emigration in the U.S. started changing. Now its origins are mostly Asian and Hispanic rather than European. First, as those demographics changed, the ability to find talent and to fill jobs changed. Another correlation is that these changing demographics also change your customer base. Then the second part is that diversity, in many ways, is ironically a function of globalization. We talk about the world shrinking. In the '80s, it hit us that with fairly instant communication and with quick transportation, the corporate entity, whether it's Apple or IBM or GM, suddenly becomes a global entity. It also became clear that to coordinate this, we had to learn to deal with different cultural issues. In addition, our marketplace became more global. The third reason we've moved into diversity is because in some ways it is a failing of the legal system. Failing in the sense that we're finding that affirmative action as a human resources program, right or wrong, has become a liability-driven program.

The payoff is that diversity be accepted as value added. And very importantly, it's all inclusive. Meaning that all forms of human difference -- not just people of color, or women, gender -- all are uniquely different, and all bring unique value to the work place.

Is this a movement, or a focus, from the bottom up to middle management, or has senior management suddenly seen that recognizing the value of understanding, and working with, cultural differences is essential to a healthy bottom line?

It depends on where you are regionally, but I think in many cases it was a trickle-up movement among employees and customer-based populations. Customers asked for services or products that fit their specific needs. And employees, as a reflection of the changing work force, indicated that they had needs that might be identifiably different from what we traditionally expected. I don't want to rule out top down, because many people who were involved in the global marketplace certainly were attuned to the importance of recognizing cultural differences in doing effective business.

Apple is recognized as a company that works well within a somewhat unique corporate culture. Could you explain the philosophy that seems to work with Apple?

All corporations have a set of values, some of them more enunciated than others. Some companies are more publicly value-driven. They state their values and goals, and they reinforce them with their employees. Apple falls into that category. My sense is, and I haven't been here forever, that from the beginning Apple was founded and occupied by people who recognized that the product we made was not just a product, but that it empowers people. Here was a tool that made people more effective. From that came the notion that making a difference is being respectful of individuals. The notion was of individual empowerment, and if you factor in diversity as a program, this is one reason I was attracted to this company. My sense is that diversity is a logical corollary to this kind of culture. If you are respectful of individual difference and the number-one value of the company involves social responsibility, then you must deal with human difference -- diversity if you wish -- at all levels. The value is social revolution.

Where do you feel this will go from here, as the company grows and changes, especially under today's economic pressures?

We have to deal with many things such as cost constraints and increased global competition. But my sense is that we're still going to continue focusing on empowering people, specifically as individuals. We'll give them the tools to do their work, which again reinforces the individual empowerment issue. You get the highest level of productivity by being respectful of people's differences, and rather than molding them into the same pattern, trying to capitalize on their difference because that's the way human beings are. They flourish if you acknowledge their distinctiveness.

What is your job description?

Probably four items: Number one is to provide a direction to the company on how cultural difference provides us with a competitive advantage as a corporation.

Then there's the whole idea of strategy -- why is this important to the corporation?

Number two -- this is an industry term -- to be an evangelist for the notion, to use the notion of evangelism to instill confidence in products, to bring the message, in other words, sell the message. My role clearly is to be the evangelist in the organization.

Number three is to be a personal coach and mentor, particularly to the senior managers, individually, or as management teams. I can do that by focusing on topics that people are interested in. This can be with employee groups -- or anyone, but the central focus is on management.

Number four, which is really the hands-on stuff, how do you convert all of that into tools and products so that people will have the right tools they need to work with?

Many think of cultural diversity as a racial or ethnic situation. What other cultural differences need to be addressed?

Racial, ethnic, I think, are to many people the most obvious, and that becomes the major point of human difference. Gender, clearly. There's a lot of literature that's come out recently on how women as a class behave, and you have to be very careful about these wide-ranging assumptions. Women do speak differently from men; their words may mean different things, even though the intensity may be the same. Women tend to be more collective, for example, in their suggestions, using the "we" rather than the "I." Perhaps they have more team consciousness, rather than being the individual star. But again, I'm very careful that in any of these groups, these are broad perceptions, and we have individual differences within these groups. Certainly age is a cultural issue. As I have gotten older, I find that my cultural system and values, unbeknownst to me, have changed. It is said that youth is more impatient, older people less so. Cultures, by the way, differ within regions. We presume the United States is one entity; culturally it is not. And I'm not speaking just about ethnically. California is very different from New York, and we're both very American, and then we're both very different from the South.

Certainly cultures in organizations differ. Apple culture is not like IBM, not that IBM is bad. IBM is a good company, it's just different. We differ from Hewlett-Packard or Levi-Strauss. These are cultural entities. You work in an environment, or I work in an environment, because we find that environment suitable to us. These are cultural systems. Then we have sub-organizations within corporations or institutions. For example, there is often a cultural and behavioral value system that is different from that in the sales and marketing organization -- and different as compared to research and development.

Even more specific, occupations in broad bounds have different cultural values. Human resource people, for example, have been described by some as touchy-feely. They're more people-oriented, softer disciplined as compared to engineers. You can pick lawyers, you can pick accountants, you can pick any group of people. Again, within a setting, there's a lot of variance within groups, but the point is that there are some common characteristics.

How do you see diversity programs developing in an international market?

It depends on the people who you send to work in another country. Number one is technical training in anything you teach, I don't care where you are. That comes first.

Number two is how well you can get your message across in a different culture. Most people, I think, fail, not because they aren't smart or don't work hard or don't care, or aren't trained well. Most people have a hard time manipulating environments around them. That's what culture is about. Culture is, basically put, a set of values that a group of people hold, that is only known to them. They are important for our purposes. What you consider as values affects how you behave, whether you know it or not. Culture is the personal status in life.

Now, back to your original question -- the ideal thing, it seems to me, especially in a global corporation, is to cultivate and retain employees and talent locally. Many companies do that. It doesn't mean you don't shift people around or you don't have people moving abroad. This includes what are often called expatriates or expats. In our situation, most people we hire to work in Japan, without question, are Japanese. Logically, they would best understand and work within the culture most effectively. The whole idea in this cultural diversity issue is effectiveness -- personal effectiveness and business effectiveness.

Clearly then, you have the meshing issue of understanding how to do business, but just in different places. And on a global basis, the thing that hits people first and most obviously is national differences, ethnic differences. For example, gender issues around the world are differently defined. I think that cultures, by the way, have all the same needs. It's not the needs that get us in trouble with one another. It is that we express the very same needs differently. One technique is to identify how the cultures express common needs. What are those needs, like respect, time, space, communication relationships, recognition and reward, that are all common to humanity. But we need to break down into subheads all of those needs, as people express them differently. What may be considered respectful behavior in the U.S. and some other cultures is not considered respectful in others. You need to be aware of those differences.

As a communicator working for an organization without a work-force diversity program, what would be the first steps I should take to launch such a program?

My sense, first of all, is that it is very easy to say, but is very hard to do. Legitimize the conversation about difference. In other words, start the conversation. I would suggest one of the biggest problems we have as a culture, is that we have a very hard time talking about difference in mixed settings. Especially race, but there are other areas, too. Not that it isn't an issue or on people's minds. But for a variety of reasons, some self-protective, some out of politeness, we're afraid of saying the wrong things and offending somebody. The question I ask rhetorically is how do you solve an issue without talking about the subject? You've got to. Race, for example, is a major issue in our society historically. And even presently, it continues to be. Large percentages of Americans have a high level of discomfort with the subject of race, and we're reluctant to talk about it in any kind of public or mixed setting. We will talk about it in our own peer groups, but not beyond that.

So, number one, you asked about the program, and the confrontation about diversity growing. First of all, define the term. What is diversity? Diversity means the assumption that human beings are indeed different, as we were all told as children. Rather than have people conform to the same standard, because no one in reality can or does. People try, but it is hard. See how that difference brings value to what you need done. Make sure the part of that program you identify as diversity is a different concept from equal opportunity and affirmative action. Don't invalidate the EOA or affirmative action. They have validity in their own rights, but they are different concepts. I think that to achieve diversity you also need to address equal opportunity and affirmative action. Diversity is different.

Second, related to legitimizing the confrontation -- as much as possible, try to develop an environment for people that allows them to express difference. People would describe this as a safe haven. I'm not sure there's ever an absolute safety, but the point is if people don't feel free to talk about difference, you won't have a conversation. If you yourself, or I myself don't feel good saying "Listen, I feel like confronting you about this." Because I am different, do I feel safe in saying that, or is that what they call career limiting?

Is the acceptance of multiculturalism proceeding faster in some regions than others? If so, how can we broaden the evolution?

Certainly in California. I would say the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Los Angeles basin, where we are faced with immense obvious ethnic diversity. Whether people tend to focus on race, ethnicity and to some extent gender first, those three items are the most obvious.

I think you are seeing similar activity in some of the big urban centers in the U.S. Northeast. In the last year or so, I've received calls pretty much from all over the country, from corporations, institutions and educational groups, about the subject. The interest is growing. I think people are struggling, that they feel they have reached an impasse with the EOA and affirmative action. They've come to a point and don't seem to be bridging beyond that. Many of us realize we need to go farther, and we need to present diversity in a positive way, value added, rather than the fact that it is seen as a liability. In other words, there's a very strong need for a new dynamic. Clearly, in those parts of the country where the new emigration or the minority populations have become even more visible, you're going to see more attention to this.

Is truly accepting a multicultural society going to take several generations, or do you see a way that an awareness of the value of cultural differences can be expedited, and made to work?

One of the dangers of being human and one of the charms too, is that we view life from our personal experiences. Let me put it this way, to truly get to multiculturalism, you'll never really reach it. It's an ideal, in which you are sensitive to people's differences and know how to deal with those effectively. By the same token, know how to deal with yourself more effectively. Over this generation, certainly here in California, and in much of the world, the conversation about diversity is everywhere. I feel there is a ferment in this country; the people who are very concerned in a negative way about multiculturalism are divisive. But we are indeed a multicultural society. I would argue that the U.S. has always been multicultural, but just didn't accept it, because we expected everybody to be the same, even though we weren't. Look at our history; it's incredibly multicultural. Even in some of the most WASPish |White Angle Saxon Protestant~ areas, we certainly had a major black, as well as white, population. Both very different, yet culturally in some ways completely similar. We share a history, and often a very tragic history. My feeling is that you will hear more and more about this, because it's being institutionalized in the school system. You see it in much of the press. And within the ethnic and other constituencies, you may have noticed, many are not particularly quiet about this.

People don't see an advantage as a group if they have to conform to an ideal to which they feel they have a hard time adjusting. That alone will keep the ferment going. Our task because society needs commonalities -- otherwise you don't have a society -- is how to tie all into terms of an all-inclusive humanity, One of the things I've said about the multicultural conversation on diversity in America is that it is often confrontational and adversarial and judgmental. If people continue that approach, it is not going to be successful. Most human beings do not like to be beat over the head, I don't care who they are.

As we grow more global, in what areas will we have to expand or develop programs to meet this new set of cultural differences, some that we may not know even exist?

From a business perspective there are three items that any business needs to do. You need to think of how difference, or the absence of difference, diversity, if you wish, affects product design and development; how it affects marketing and how it affects customer satisfaction. The fourth is how you manage it, how do you harness the diverse talent you have in your work force, in school or wherever, so that you can meet those objectives? That's the technique.

Do you see an area of specialty that will evolve from this need to understand differences?

I would make the argument that most major American corporations by the end of this decade will have diversity programs. We call our specialists multicultural specialists. I see that heavily in education, by the way. I think the career is there. I see that in marketing, in some fields like advertising. I certainly see it in public communication, which is of interest to you. I think in the common humanity, you have good art which is universal. Even if it is very different from what your own experience is, you can relate to it because it brings something out in you. The point is that, while we can do generics, we also use what is called segmented marketing that deals specifically with many cultural differences.

You have said that to understand another's cultural differences, we must look deeply at our own. How will this help us develop a heightened awareness of the value of another's differences?

What is hard for a person to do, certainly for myself, is to find out what my personal values are. One of the key elements of a diversity program is being introspective. It is hard to learn about other people. Even in a personal relationship, people can confound you, people you know very well, who you thought you knew well. You can never know for sure what somebody else is feeling or thinking or valuing. But you can study; you can do an analysis of what it is you value. And remember those broad bands that I said all cultures have in common. Identify those, how do you deal with issues of respect, what do you consider respectful behavior? And how does that behavior affect how you behave? And what happens when you meet people who are different from you, who violate those tenets? Because that's where difference comes in. Here's one very minor technique, I suggest to people -- that if you observe somebody, let's say on the street or anywhere else, who strikes you as unusual or strange, or weird, whatever term you want to use, ask yourself, "why?" That person may be all of those things, but what is much more telling is an inward question for yourself on why you think that person is weird. That tells you a lot about your values. You have a right to reach personal conclusions about yourself or anybody else. It's a question of how you apply this knowledge and feeling, not to be a way of measuring people accurately. That's the effect of this argument. You may be misreading cues that are basic cultural filters.

I see, you have to unfilter your own mind?

Yes, and that's real hard to do, I would argue.

As communicators, how can we open our colleagues' minds, and start programs in meeting needs of a multicultural work place?

Have we considered all different viewpoints or are we doing what we've always done? And what we've always done may be the right answer. It doesn't mean we've done it wrong. But again, are we being most effective, and are we reaching all the constituents we're trying to reach? How do we know we're reaching them, or are we assuming we are reaching them?

Ask yourself probing, analytical questions about what it is you try to do generally and then factor in all the differences -- then questions about difference. Are we assuming we are reaching all of our audiences? Again, is the way we reach them the way we've always done it? How do we get to know about other ways so we can do them more effectively? The most sophisticated part of the diversity program is the ideal where the manager, or any other individual, factors in how the differences of his or her work force help in doing their business most effectively. Rather than asking people to conform to the standard, which sometimes may be the best way to go, in another situation, say, can we do it differently? Would it be more effective?

How can we eliminate, and/or defuse the buzzwords that seem to accompany every program or movement in organized multicultural movements?

One of my worst worries is that many people use the term "diversity" as a nicer sounding buzzword. One of the things you need to do is try to identify specifically what you mean by diversity, how it is different from the other terms, that it is not a buzzword, that there are definitions for it. I see five concerns in the diversity area.

Number one, I worry that this concept is trendy. By being trendy it is by definition a fad. In any program you deal with, you have to make sure that it isn't faddish. Number two, most people who talk about diversity, if you look at what they write or talk about, rarely define it. Make sure you have a definition of what you mean for diversity if you want to have a viable concept and program. Number three, I am convinced that when people use the term "diversity," they are using it as a buzzword for old stuff that doesn't sound so good any more. As I said earlier, equal opportunity, including affirmative action or civil rights, generally are concepts that are valid in their own right. You have to be able to elaborate and identify how they are different. Also, by the way they fit together, and when they depart from one another. Number four, definitely we need to avoid a confrontational or judgmental approach to any of this because that's where people turn off. We must see that all human difference is looked at and identified as welcome. In other words, it is all inclusive and the only difference depends on context. Number five, no diversity program is successful without business and educational rationale, with responsibility to shareholders. We have to see a profit. And all this affects product design and delivery, as well as promoting social responsility.

As the world grows smaller, will we continue to search for ways to work through prejudice so that eventually we'll all be of one common mindset? If so, is this what we really want?

No. As the world grows smaller, the paradox is how different and more attuned

to differences we are, but then, we also have our need to conform. We have pride in the uniqueness and individualness. But we ask, are we normal? average? What do we need to be for excellence?

Gloria Gordon is editor of Communication World.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Apple Computer Inc.'s manager for multicultural programs Santiago Rodriguez
Author:Gordon, Gloria
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Interview
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:Step into multimedia.
Next Article:The (PR) mouse that roared in six languages.

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