Would you believe forty years have fleeted by since we first heard these haunting lyrics of Bobby Dylan?
Come gather ’round peopleWherever you roamAnd admit that the watersAround you have grownAnd accept it that soonYou’ll be drenched to the bone.If your time to youIs worth savin’Then you better start swimmin’Or you’ll sink like a stoneFor the times they are a-changin’
Peter Drucker, a respected and seasoned observer of global events, has studied how the world has been changing and offered his opinion. “No one born after the turn of the 20th century has ever known anything but a world uprooting its foundation, overturning its values and toppling its idols.” In a speech given last August entitled “Sleepwalking through the Apocalypse,” William Van Dushen Wishard of WorldTrends Research agreed with Peter Drucker’s view and added: “Basically the story of the 20th century was about a world where the historic, social arrangements, spiritual underpinnings and psychological moorings that had anchored nations for centuries, have been in a transition of epochal proportions. The underpinnings of life as we’ve known it are shifting.”This is pretty heady, heavy stuff for a beautiful October day in New England. Let’s lighten it a bit by recounting the story of Lugubrious Larry and Happy Harry, seven year old, twin sons of a very worried and distraught mother. Larry was a born pessimist who always saw the dire side of things; Harry was the eternal optimist who saw the best in everything. So concerned was the mother that she sought the counsel of the world famous, child psychologist, Doctor Leigh Onda Couch. The good doctor had a solution for Larry’s lugubrious pessimism and Harry’s elated optimism. He would see the boys and cure them in one session.On the appointed day, Doctor Couch put Larry in a room with every toy and game imaginable, ice cream, candy and all sorts of goodies. At the same time, he confined Harry to a room filled with nothing but horse manure. He promised the mother: “After two hours in those rooms, Larry would lose his lugubriousness and Harry would see that everything isn’t always rosy.” After the two hours the mother and doctor opened the door of Larry’s room and to their amazement found Larry sulking in the corner and sobbing: “I was afraid to play with the toys because I might break them and if I ate the candy and ice cream, I would get a tummy ache.”Both the mother and doctor were disappointed but at the same time they were convinced that they would find Harry in a very somber state. When they opened the door they were shocked to see Harry throwing the manure in all directions. He was taking turns laughing and singing and was having a lot of fun. You’d think it was Christmas, he was so happy. Doctor Leigh Onda Couch challenged Harry with: “How can you be so happy in this terrible room”. “Gee, doctor, with all this manure, there has to be a pony here someplace!”Sure, “times, they are a-changin'”. We see this every day in the workplace, in our businesses, and in the arena of diversity recruiting. So often we focus on the negative aspects of diversity in the workplace but this month we’ll take a lengthy look at a few bright spots, some positive and innovative things that are happening in corporate America. We’ll try to emulate Happy Harry in his quest for the pony.Let’s start in Brockton, Massachusetts, once the shoe-manufacturing center of the universe and the hometown of legendary boxing champions Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler. Brockton and some of the surrounding towns are highly diverse communities. The Brockton Credit Union, a leading area employer, has reached out to the minority communities in many ways: working with civic and faith-based organizations, spearheading outreach programs to assist high school dropouts, and, conducting practical financial management seminars for high school students and minority employees of local companies. The Fifth Annual Credit for Life Fair was held on April 30, 2003 at Massasoit Community College. This daylong interactive program taught high school students how to use credit cards, the importance of establishing a responsible credit history, and basic financial management skills. In the five-year history of this program, hundreds of young Americans have learned the importance of managing their money and safeguarding their credit.Companies demonstrate concerned citizenship by encouraging their employees to develop partnerships with community organizations. These partnerships and alliances connect the companies with local dealers and suppliers, with community-based and professional organizations, religious groups, schools, colleges, local governments, and the media. These partnerships provide immense benefits to the community. Here are a few examples:
- Through organizations such as Minority Interchange, New York Life employees participate in developmental and community activities that benefit both the employees and the company.
- Schering-Plough supports programs for minority students in science and business at several colleges and universities.
- The Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta’s Community Leadership Fellows Program is a five-day program spread over five months for leaders from all sectors of the metropolitan Atlanta Community. “These leaders are Atlanta’s best and brightest,” states Douglas N. Daft, Coca Cola CEO. “We are pleased to partner in such a worthwhile endeavor. We committed to funding the program for four years because we want it to have significant and lasting impact on our community.”
- General Motors Minority Dealers Association offered scholarships to minority students across the country through a scholarship program created by members of General Motors Minority Dealers Association.
There are many meaningful ways that corporate citizens can help out in the community and at the same time be catalysts for recruiting new employees. Some of the programs I’ve witnessed at various companies throughout the years include:
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- Junior executives in the Boston area teaches at a prep school for inner-city kids and prepare high school students for their SATs
- Coaching Little League baseball teams; organizing, managing, and coaching in basketball leagues
- Companies that assist diversity entrepreneurs to start businesses and grant low interest loans to give financial support to minority-owned businesses
- Organizations that fund programs to promote home ownership in ethnic communities
- Supplying education materials and sponsoring educational events and speakers; offering ESL courses to employees and their families; planning and staffing remedial reading centers for children; offering tutoring programs to inner city high school students
- Companies that encourage employees to go after awards from diversity and other organizations, e.g., Black Engineer of the Year, Women of Color in Technology; SHRM, Hispanic Journalists, NOBCCHE, (this makes community members take notice and want to be affiliated with the company)
- Providing workshops to community groups on cultural awareness and respect for cultural differences
- Sponsoring programs that build low-income housing, e.g., Habitat for Humanity International, and encouraging their employees to volunteer for the construction teams
- Sponsoring ethnic festivals and neighborhood activities, e.g., carnivals, picnics, sporting teams and leagues
- Providing tickets to professional sporting events to neighborhood children; organizing and chaperoning museum trips for children
- Participating in food distribution programs and staffing meal serving centers for the poor; volunteering at homeless shelters and neighborhood health centers; funding and providing volunteer staff for neighborhood dental clinics
- Sponsoring meetings of various diversity groups at company sites
- Providing “job campaign workshops” for college and high school students, and for religious and community groups; sponsoring “Saturday College” for the diversity communities on resume writing, interviewing, job campaigning, etc; teaching INROADSes
- Sponsoring internship programs for low income community members; partnering with junior colleges and employers on a high-growth job training programs
Until its sale in 2002, Community Newsdealers was the home delivery subsidiary of The Boston Globe. CNI, a $100 million company, had a workforce of 1000 direct employees (30% diversity) and 2600 contract employees (68% diversity). CNI had an extraordinary record of diversity successes, cultural competency, and significant involvement in the ethnic communities of Boston. The former CEO, Lou Brambilla, was the spark plug and leader of CNI’s efforts and remarkable achievements. He and his team started from scratch, learned from their mistakes, stuck with it, and made it happen.Lou’s formula for success in the community is pretty straightforward and leaves no room for doubt: “We have to be part of the community and really mean it. We have to respect the community to be respected by the community. We had to earn their trust by doing what we said we were going to do, by being honest and consistent, and by always being there. Once we had their respect and trust, the community would do back flips for us. We offered English language classes for new people; we gave cultural awareness classes to the traditional workers. We had to embrace diversity, honestly and totally.”I asked Lou what lessons he and his management team learned in their efforts to welcome, accept and encourage inclusion in their workplace. His answer is a blueprint for success and deserves to be quoted in detail:”There is no silver bullet: No two companies will find the same solutions to the challenges that transition to a diverse workplace may provide. There is no panacea. We do believe that companies that remain pro-active on issues will be much better positioned to avoid trouble spots. Ours was a reactive organization, so we learned that lesson the hard way.Become partners in the search for a better life: This is especially important for immigrant populations, but it’s also true for your company. We are all looking for ways to become more successful. When we provide a person from a different culture a better way of life, everyone prospers.Everyone has to get on board: Focus on your traditional workers. Make sure they know that this can be a win-win situation. A better way of life, better opportunities, increased compensation, better benefits, etc., are products of a company being able to develop a unified workforce for common goals. Accepting and encouraging diversity is just “good business.”Find ways to knock down the language barriers: Sponsor language classes for ESL and English speaking employees; make sure that materials are available in multiple languages; promote ESL employees to act as intermediaries; encourage your English speaking employees to learn foreign phrases, etc. Nothing will span the gap between cultures more immediately than two people being able to say good morning in a language they both understand.Recognize cultures at odds: It’s not just a white vs. color issue. It’s not just an American vs. another culture issue. As your workforce becomes more diverse, you will have to recognize and deal with all cultures. Since each culture has very unique beliefs and practices, make sure that you are providing a workplace that encourages them to understand each other and the traditional culture.Some are from Venus; others are from Mars: As the popular book says, men and women are different. This is especially true within the new cultures in your workplace. In many societies, the idea of a woman supervising a man would simply be out of the question. Don’t forget that the distaff side of your workforce, regardless of their nationality, will need your backing to be effective. Those with cultural apprehension of accepting a woman’s role in your business must be schooled in “how it is” in our diverse workforce environment.Comparative intelligence perception: Our experience tells us that you will have to teach the fact that just because people are different, it doesn’t follow that they are less intelligent. When a supervisor instructs a subordinate and the subordinate doesn’t seem to understand what is meant by the order, there is a problem of communication, not intelligence. Did you ever notice that you raise your voice when a person from another culture asks you to repeat a statement? The odds are that the other person is neither deaf nor unintelligent but that you have not communicated effectively.You can change behavior but probably can’t change beliefs: Sad to say many of the attempts you make to change the way people feel will be unsuccessful. A percentage of employees will soften their attitudes, and many will actually become your champions in the workplace, but there’s always a few that can’t be convinced. Don’t feel frustrated by not being able to change people’s minds. Rather, concentrate your efforts on changing their behavior.Zero Tolerance: In a business setting, you have the right to demand performance from your employees based on the policies of the organization. Acts that stand in the way of accepting diversity cannot be tolerated, regardless of an employee’s personal prejudices. Demand 100% compliance with company policy. Implement and actively exercise a “Zero Tolerance” policy when it comes to subverting company attempts to provide a welcoming atmosphere for diverse cultures.Accept the fact that the way the job gets done may change: The saying “different strokes for different folks” is really a fact in a workplace of diverse cultures. In America, we want the job done now; we have a sense of urgency for the present task. People from the new cultures in the workplace may not share that sense of urgency. Be aware and respect differences. Meet your new employees half way on the sense of urgency issue; focus of getting the job done.Re-write the book: Bring people from each of your diverse cultures to the table. Let them give you direct and honest feedback on your policies and programs. To be successful in recruiting, retaining and serving a diverse workforce you must be willing to re-write the book on everything you do. Training may take longer, orientations take on a new importance, and recruitment programs need new target audiences. Every phase of your operation needs to be re-inspected and perhaps re-designed. Get input from the employees who will make your programs successful.You are not a missionary: This is not a charitable venture. Accepting and encouraging diversity in the workplace is mandatory to make your business objectives achievable. It is rewarding to help make people successful but the effort must be shared. Resist the temptation to be a one-way benefactor. There should be a business reason why you’re participating with new organizations, new civic groups, and new markets. There should be no stigma attached to a quid pro quo when it comes to investing your business time and money into speculative marketplaces.Lead by example: We stuck by our guns, and made sure all our employees knew we were totally committed to encouraging diversity. No exceptions. No excuses. It started at the top and was expected at all levels of the organization. When management makes that kind of a stand, backed by a Zero Tolerance policy, things just seem to fall into place.Recognize your strengths and weaknesses: Diversity in the workplace is perhaps the most important topic of the last decade in American business. Everyone faces similar problems and concerns in a diverse workplace. There has been an explosion of professional resources to help you identify and solve these problems. Do what you can with your own talents. Everyone in the organization is a stakeholder in the workplace so include everyone in the planning and implementation of your programs and initiatives. When necessary reach out for qualified help. Setting a solid foundation means you’re on your way to a diverse and inclusive workplace. It is simply good business sense.”