Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Stress Diversity in Employee Communications

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Stress Diversity in Employee Communications

Article excerpt

Companies that do not incorporate diversity as a key part of their business plan will be at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, everywhere in corporate America these days, managing diversity has zoomed to the top of the hit parade of management priorities. Among the companies on the cutting edge of this initiative are Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems, Wells Fargo, Levi Strauss, AT&T, Pacific Gas & Electric, TRW, Motorola and Hallmark Cards.

Managing diversity through communications may well be the greatest challenge and opportunity facing all of us over the next several decades. By the year 2000, only 15% of new entrants to the work force will be U.S.-born white males. Imagine: The majority of all new labor entrants will be people of color, women and immigrants.

A colored shirt

"The world is a colored shirt with white buttons. America is beginning to look more like the world. It must do business in that world," said Nancy Hicks Maynard, former co-publisher of the Oakland Tribune, at PRSA's National Conference in October 1993. "So managing diversity in America is fundamental for productive future global life."

Fortunately, more and more companies are recognizing the importance of implementing diversity programs to compete for talent, changing markets, and success in the global market.

As a result, they are reemphasizing employee communications. Employee communications, until recently an industry stepchild, are likely to jump to the top of the public relations priority list. "Employee communications will play a central role in strengthening the understanding between employee and the company ... essential to productivity and growth," said Linda C. Bock, vice president of communications, Mutual of New York, based in New York City.

"Our employees are being asked to think radically differently about our business," suggested Scott Aiken, vice president of public relations for Cincinnati Bell Telephone in Cincinnati. "The same requirement has been imposed by global economics on auto workers, steel workers, farmers and even IBM."

Listening for and understanding cultural differences as assets are talents demanded of today's corporate communicators. There is no alternative to frank and honest discussion to help people understand their differences, to address their concerns, and to recognize that in unity there is strength.

Mistrust rhetoric

Many employees are not sure they can trust the rhetoric of diversity. As communicators, it is our job to help them through creative internal communications initiatives (see "Raising Awareness Precedes Changing Attitudes," page 36). This may well mean finding new frameworks and forums to reach today's multi-interest employee. Some examples are communications and interpersonal sensitivity programs, functioning as the organizational conscience on diversity; and the training of managers in mentoring, negotiating and conflict management.

"Imparting diversity goals to employees is not simply a matter of issuing a memo," said Michael Rossiter, manager of Levi Strauss' Value Diversity Program in San Francisco. Levi Strauss managers at all levels participate in an intensive four-day program which challenges them to discover the bases of their own prejudices, such as race, age or sexual preference. Through this process, the company challenges and reaffirms its own cultural values.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), also based in San Francisco, recognizes that managing diversity is a long-term evolutionary process based on enlightened communications. The company's five-year diversity plan includes articulating its vision; surveying employees' current perceptions of how diversity issues are handled; and training and educating management about diversity issues while monitoring results to evaluate company effectiveness.

Training the trainers

A key piece of PG&E, plan is its "Train-the-trainer" program, developed by former diversity programs manager Ronita Johnson with consultant Julie O'Mara. …

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