Saturday, May 13, 2006

Diversity Confusion

"Diversity" is a popular term in many organizations, but there are distinct differences between Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Diversity Management programs that are blurred by its sloppy use.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) programs focus on compliance with the antidiscrimination laws.

Affirmative Action is more confusing and certainly more controversial. Effective Affirmative Action programs focus on outreach and upward mobility efforts to ensure that minorities, women, and people with disabilities are given equal opportunity. They emphasize opportunity but don't guarantee results. Poor Affirmative Action programs violate EEO by using quotas and disregarding merit.

The best Diversity Management programs design practices and programs to attract, retain, and better manage a diverse workforce. Poorly designed programs hold politically correct workshops that divide teams and encourage a culture of victimization.

Too many employers leap to implement Diversity Management efforts before getting their EEO program firmly established and yet the EEO portion is the most important of the three concepts. If managers don't have a strong grasp of EEO concepts, diversity programs can damage credibility and create conflict.

The best strategy is the simplest:

  • Make EEO a core value and train managers and employees in its implementation.
  • Have extensive outreach but don't let it evolve into a quota system.
  • Improve training on communicating with diverse cultures but avoid programs that divide and blame.
  • Favor inclusiveness over victimization and separatism.
  • If there is any conflict, always have EEO trump Affirmative Action and Diversity Management.

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