Magazine article Personnel Journal

US WEST Finds Strength in Diversity

Magazine article Personnel Journal

US WEST Finds Strength in Diversity

Article excerpt

Recently, a vendor was giving a presentation to managers at U S WEST, the Denver-based telecommunications company. Attempting to create camaraderie among participants, he opened the meeting with a joke that made fun of a particular ethnic group. His effort backfired. No one laughed at the joke because U S WEST has spent considerably more than a decade helping employees to respect all people, regardless of any real or perceived differences.

Fifteen years ago everyone would have laughed at his joke and someone would have come up with a better one, explains Darlene Siedschlaw, director of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action compliance. Today, thanks to the company's pluralism efforts, U S WEST employees recognize that diversity is strength and that, to survive in a changing society, the company must capitalize on these differences, not ridicule them.

Siedschlaw attributes this shift in attitude to the company's pluralistic philosophy. "Here, pluralism isn't a program with a start and a finish," she says. It's an ongoing process of changing the makeup of U S WEST to reflect the melting pot of American society.

Although many companies are just beginning to grapple with work force diversity, U S WEST already demonstrates significant progress. The company selects women for management jobs 52% of the time, for example. People of color constitute 13% of the managers, and an accelerated development program for women of color is moving more of these women into management positions than ever before.

Furthermore, the company is learning how to respond better to customers who are just as diverse as employees. As Siedschlaw explains, "Pluralism is a sound business strategy."

For its efforts, U S WEST has been recognized as one of Personnel Journal's 1992 Optimas Award winners. The award is given annually to companies that display excellence in human resources management in any one of 10 categories, ranging from quality of life to global outlook. U S WEST is the winner in the managing change category.

The company's pluralism efforts have their roots in sexism and racism workshops developed in the mid-1970s at Northwestern Bell under the direction of President Jack MacAllister. When MacAllister took charge upon divestiture as CEO of U S WEST, his pluralism efforts followed, gradually evolving into the comprehensive set of programs that have an impact on hiring, promotion and the day-to-day activities of every employee. "The key to our success has been the support of top management," Siedschlaw says. "Jack was truly a visionary before his time."

The most far-reaching pluralism effort to date is a training program that all 65,000 U S WEST employees will have attended by April 1993. The company's business leaders--including Union stewards who might be occupational employees--are required to attend a three-day program called Managing a Diverse Workforce. All other employees will attend a one-day version called The Value of Human Diversity.

"As is the case with other kinds of diversity, pluralism education is something we all need to keep working on," Dick McCormick, the company's current CEO, said after attending a three-day session.

"This workshop gave me some new insights into other people's feelings...and my own. It reinforced my belief that, deep down inside, everyone has essentially the same feelings," he added. "The workshops also helped me resolve to keep working on the processes and behaviors that will make us a truly pluralistic company."

To ensure that managers embrace this notion fully, the company has developed a Pluralism Performance Menu, a vehicle for appraising the top 125 corporate officers based on how well they meet pluralism-related criteria. "For the first time," Siedschlaw says, "Instead of asking the officers 'do you support pluralism,' we'll ask them to demonstrate what they've actually done to support it."

For example, officers will be assessed based on the profiles of employees who are hired or promoted within their function, and whether or not they and their direct reports have attended diversity training. …

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