Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hold Hands and Sing - Harmonizing Diversity Firms Manage Work Force of Many Races, Backgrounds Firms Manage Work Force of Many Races, Backgrounds

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hold Hands and Sing - Harmonizing Diversity Firms Manage Work Force of Many Races, Backgrounds Firms Manage Work Force of Many Races, Backgrounds

Article excerpt

SOME 250 blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics stood hand in hand singing a gospel hymn at one of the country's oldest banks. Not your typical business meeting. This was the scene at the Bank of Boston's headquarters earlier this month. In honor of Black History Month, the bank's black caucus sponsored a forum on workplace diversity.

Richard Orange, a leading diversity consultant who led the forum, used music to help create a dialogue between African-American employees and their nonblack colleagues. His theory: Getting people who are different to talk removes fear and lets people be themselves - and that enhances productivity.

How many people feel "free" to be themselves, Mr. Orange asked the mostly black group. Only a few hands went up. "Why do we need to be free?" he boomed from the podium. "If we're free, we free up these institutions."

The message is one that's beginning to penetrate corporate America: How can companies create an environment that allows people with different backgrounds to work together more effectively and better respond to different customers.

In the last decade, businesses of all sizes and across all industries have begun to implement programs to help workers recognize and respect people of different races, ethnic origins, genders, and sexual orientations. The strategy is known broadly as diversity management.

In a 1995 survey by the American Management Association in New York, half of firms surveyed said they had formal diversity-management programs, up from 46 percent in 1992.

The rise of such efforts represents firms' growing awareness that the workplace and customer base of the future will be increasingly diverse because of demographic changes at home and the globalization of business. As a result, more companies see leveraging a diverse work force as a competitive advantage.

"In our society, we'd like to think we're open-minded, but there are lots of issues around race, gender, age, religion, etc., that we have to deal with to make certain that people are more effectively and fully utilized," says John Fernandez, president of Advanced Research Management Consultants Inc., a Philadelphia-based firm specializing in diversity consulting.

But some diversity consultants criticize many companies for treating diversity as "the flavor of the month," citing firms that offer only a half day of diversity training a year and call that diversity management.

"Managing diversity is not a program, it's a way of doing business," says Roosevelt Thomas Jr., head of the American Institute for Managing Diversity at Morehouse College in Atlanta. …

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