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Utilizing the rich resources of a diverse workplace.

As a new century grows ever closer, the call for increased attention to issues of quality, world-class management, competitive advantage, ethical practice, and efficacious management of human resources is heard with increasing frequency and intensity. Domestic as well as international economic and fiscal policies demand that industries achieve greater precision and maximum outcome in their operations in order to maintain a place in the current dynamic business environment. Nowhere are such issues more pronounced than in the health care industry, especially the managed care sector. Current market forces encourage physician executives and practitioners alike to reevaluate their operations, seeking not only solutions to identified challenges, but also opportunities for better product delivery, outcome, and integrity.

Numerous individuals have placed the key to achieving management goals in the hands of employees and the managers who are charged with their supervision, calling for identification of the organization's stakeholders and empowerment of employees and staff members to take responsibility in the decision-making process.(1-3) Engaging in team building and utilizing teams to increase organizational creativity and productivity are now well-documented themes in the managerial environment. These themes start with the assumption that a collective group of individuals, varying in number and expertise, will somehow magically and effectively interact to produce the desired organizational and product outcomes. This assumption is a major one and one that managers and executives increasingly find to be a substantial challenge.

Historically, organizations and their managers have viewed the management of finances and fiscal issues as being the "hard" issues and human resource management and productivity as a function of staffing as being the "soft" issues. In large businesses, human resource management is viewed typically as a cost center--a financial reserve from which dollars might be withdrawn to serve other areas of the organization perceived (frequently incorrectly) to be more crucial to organizational function and outcome. Such thinking is beginning to change, with the growing realization that organizational vitality and productivity are inextricably linked to the development and management of the human resources available to the organization.

The U.S. labor force is rapidly changing. At the core of the change is the issue of increasing diversity in staff, both general employees and executives. Without a strong understanding of the current diversification within the labor force, executives and managers will be at a substantial loss to devise interventions and promote employee staffing patterns that optimize productivity and enhance organizational goals.

Diversity: What It Is Not

* The term diversity is not a euphemism for a particular group, subgroup, racial/ethnic minority, or gender. Diversity is a broad concept, inclusive of numerous categories or dimensions within the human context. It is pluralistic, not singular, in scope.

* Diversity is not synonymous with race and ethnicity. Racial or ethnic status is merely one dimension or category on the diversity continuum. Failure to recognize this frequently leads to a narrowing of perspective in the workplace and further misunderstandings regarding the vastness of the diversity concept.

* Diversity is not something that will go away or diminish over time. Rather, the increasing diversity within our workforce population is emerging as a major resource upon which managers and organizations can draw in seeking solutions to various aspects of their businesses. As noted by Johnston and statistics from the Hudson Institute, nonwhites, women, and immigrants will account for more than five-sixths of the net additions to the workforce between now and the year 2000. These groups constituted only about half of the workforce in 1927.

* Diversity is not synonymous with cultural background. Like gender, ethnicity, and other human dimensions, cultural background is only one aspect of the concept.

Diversity: A Look at Its Dimensions

Diversity has a number of inherent dimensions that can be categorized into subgroups. Figure 1, page 20, offers a format for thinking about those dimensions of diversity frequently evidenced in the workplace. Note that the variables associated with each dimension are explanatory and inclusive rather than exclusive. Another approach to defining the dimensions of diversity has been set forth by Loden and Rosener.(4) As shown in Figure 2, page 21, their approach organizes dimensions of diversity into primary and secondary categories. Loden and Rosener define primary dimensions of diversity as immutable human differences that are inborn and/or that exert an important impact on early socialization and an ongoing impact throughout an individual's life. Secondary dimensions of diversity are viewed as those that can be changed. They are mutable differences that are acquired, discarded, or modified during an individual's lifetime.

Though the two formats for observing diversity are offered here to enhance understanding of the complexities of the concept, it should be noted that the differences between the two are primarily philosophical and sociological. The format offered by the author does not include the socioeconomic status elements that Loden and Rosener view as secondary dimensions. Further, the author views gender and physical ability as dimensions that are potentially mutable, especially in the highly technological age in which we exist.

The Demographics of Diversity

The American workforce and economy are currently being shaped by numerous demographic realities:

* The population of the United States and its workforce will grow more slowly than at any time since the 1930s as we approach the year 2000.

* The U.S. population and workforce is aging and will continue to do so, while the pool of young workers entering the labor force will decline.

* Increased numbers of women will enter the workforce, but the rate of increase will gradually diminish.

* Visible ethnics or people of color will represent a larger share of new entrants into the workforce.

* Immigrants will represent the largest share of increase to the population and workforce.

Given these demographic drives and corresponding pressures to produce more competitively, the necessity for utilizing all of our human resources becomes crucial. Managing human resources in ways that will allow for and promote understanding among diverse groups is especially important. Effective interpersonal interaction among staff and employee teams has never been more crucial.

Valuing Diversity

Executives and other employees in the organization must understand the importance of valuing diversity. Copeland and Griggs, who coined the phrase "valuing diversity," intend by it that organizations must reorganize and appreciate that humans are individually different; that diversity is an advantage when valued and well managed; and that diversity is not something the organization simply tolerates but rather encourages, promotes, supports, and nurtures? If such attitudes and orientations are integrated into leadership and management styles of the organization, enormous benefits are realized. Higher quality solutions are found when work teams draw from the different perspectives of a diverse workforce.

Strong managers are self-assessing and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Further, such managers are attuned to the rich resources inherent in a diverse employee base, resources that can augment and complement manager styles, leadership approaches, and desired results. How might management executives initiate the valuing of diverse perspectives in their organizations? Here are some approaches proven successful in managerial settings.(5)

* Adapt training to the specific learning styles of diverse groups.

* Provide workplace training on diversity. Such training must be continuous and ongoing. One-shot seminars with little follow up frequently prove to be of little value.

* Assess and examine the impact of biases and stereotypes through experiential training.

* Meet regularly with a colleague who also desires to manage with greater sensitivity to workplace differences. Exchange goals, share ideas, and report on your progress.

* Use cross training and job rotation to help managers and other employees work together.

* Learn about individual prejudice (yours and others) and how it affects management style in organizations.

Changing Altitudes

Barker, a futurist working in the area of human motivation and change, has noted that humans are by nature resistant to change.(6) In order for individuals to change their attitudes, beliefs, or behavior, he says, they must first change their way of thinking about an issue, a group of persons, a procedure, etc. so that they can begin to see a broader perspective in which to function. With regard to diversity, it is the executive who must take leadership responsibility for identifying ways to assist individuals in changing attitudes and beliefs that are inconsistent with a pluralistic organization. It is important to have an understanding regarding human prejudice and the role it plays in our individual approaches to the world.

Allport defined prejudice as a strongly held bias, usually against someone or something.(7) His findings are especially germane to the management of diversity in the workplace, as he found prejudice to be an underlying issue for all human relationships. Some causal factors Allport found for prejudice include the individual's personality core, social learning as a child, upward mobility conflicts among "in" and "out" groups, and a certain amount of ethnocentrism among all groups. In managing diversity, an awareness of the functional role of prejudice, its basic causes, and the nature of prejudice itself can enhance managerial effectiveness.


1. Johnson, W., and Packer, A. Workforce 2000. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hudson Institute, 1987.

2. Kanter, R. When Giants Learn to Dance. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

3. Reich, R. The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

4. Loden, M., and Resener, J. Workforce America: Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Homewood, Ill.: Business One Irwin, 1991.

5. Copeland, L., and Briggs, L. Going International: How to Make Friends and Deal Effectively in the General Marketplace. New York, N.Y.: Random House, 1985.

6. Barker, J. Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success. New York, N.Y.: Morrow and Co., 1992.

7. Allport, G. The Nature of Prejudice. Boston, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1954.

Elaine King Miller, PhD, Associate professor of Management, Department of Management, College of Business, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American College of Physician Executives
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Author:Miller, Elaine King
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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