“Diversity Management is a process of creating and maintaining an environment that naturally allows all individuals to reach their full potential in pursuit of organizational objectives, teaching them to promote, recognize and value differences and similarities. It is one starting point for building crucial organizational capabilities as a component of change strategy. As an organization development activity, it can enhance team building and values clarification.”
That was the idea behind the “Excellence Through Diversity” intervention developed by one of America’s leading Diversity Consulting firms and the executive team of a Fortune 500 Company subsidiary in 1990. The program would expose the entire organization, from bargaining unit to the C-Suite, to new ways of viewing and managing “differences.”
The purpose of the applied research was to assess whether differences in small group behaviors within the Operating Company could be attributable to its “Excellence Through Diversity” (ETD) intervention,’ in order to assess organizational culture change. Read the abstract on our website.
Five years into the Diversity Program, the startling discovery was that two separate organizations tested for relevant middle management diversity behaviors scored virtually identically. One company had Diversity training exposure and almost five years of programmatic reinforcement from performance management to posters. The other company had no direct exposure to Diversity Training at all. Both organizations were embroiled in a turbulent business environment, but only one organization’s management team had almost five years of Diversity intervention exposure in a real-world business setting.
Did the Diversity Intervention succeed, fail, or make no difference at all? Succinctly, the statistical variance (difference) between the two companies was nil with respect to the strength of six key and relevant diversity measures.
How can that finding be explained? Let me discount the ways, addressing a few obvious concerns.
The Diversity Consultant was an eminent nationally known expert on emerging workplace issues. The firm still operates today. The research methodology was vetted with members of three university faculties, and was awarded research honors by faculty, and ensconced in the school library where it remains to this day. (Not hermetically sealed.) The companies were both highly cooperative, provided executive C-Level support for the research, skilled staff and technical assistance. In short, there’s a better than even chance that the Diversity Intervention itself and the research met at least acceptable standards of quality. Read more at our website. We can now consider a few other issues.
Let’s also discount a few other things that might make the D&I consultants and practitioners feel just a little uncomfortable about a finding of “no difference.”
The finding was narrow. The research focused on management level task team behaviors.
Why measure small-groups instead of, individuals, dyadic networks or larger functional groups? One of the stated benefits of the Diversity Intervention was to “enhance team building,” so teams were a legitimate research target. The selected measures were crucial not only for diversity behaviors, but also as more general team quality determinants.
More significantly, size of the social unit is an important factor in determining specific characteristics related to performance of the larger structure of which it is a part. The larger the social unit, the better will be the generalizability of its properties to those of the parent structure. The literature going back even to the early 1950s consistently supported the idea that face-to-face groups would tend to look and behave more like the organization than the collection of its individuals, or even its dyadic networks. Teams in general would therefore be a more optimal touch-point for measuring for impact.
Why management teams? The simple answer is that the two organizations kept good records of management problem solving teams in varying ways. That included formal HR records of team assignments as career development. Also, internally published reports of team findings and recommendations and/or project outcomes were easy to locate. Those reports usually listed all assigned team participants who were accountable for the team results, the specific duration of the team from inception to dissolution, and detailed descriptions of the scope and nature of the task, methods, goals and objectives.
What does that not mean for the finding? Simply that a finding of “no difference” for the six key diversity measures did not automatically mean there were no changes or impacts at all resulting from the Diversity Intervention. The finding applies only to management level work teams of finite duration, with high member accountability, and with assignments directly related to core business. Also, the finding did not mean that the key diversity behaviors did not exist. It only indicated that there was no difference between the two organizations in the extents to which they may have existed. That could imply several possibilities for the diversity training itself, including a chance that the intervention increased the level of the key behaviors in the test group to that of the control group. There are important factors related to cohesion identified in the research that make that a distinct possibility. Finally, and importantly, though it was not the focus of the research, the data does not negate, and may infer, differential impact in other structures and processes more directly related to the social fabric of the organizations.
That differentiation between the work and the social aspects of the organizations proved to be an important distinction for the researcher. It helped to infer the answers to the questions of success or failure, the extent of either, and whether “traditional” Diversity Interventions had been strategically misdirected. More importantly, it raised the issue as to whether “Diversity” and a focus on “differences” would be the best way of approaching organizational culture in a way that could work for everyone only five years away from 21st Century workforce globalization.
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