Managing Diversity: The Department of Energy Initiative

By Dobbs, Matti F. | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Managing Diversity: The Department of Energy Initiative


Dobbs, Matti F., Public Personnel Management


"Nothing Changes without Vision, and there are three things that I want you to envision whenever you think about the Department of Energy: Environmental Health and Safety, Cost Control and Diversity."

Secretary Hazel R. O' Leary May 6, 1996, Meeting of Chief Executive Officers of the Department's Management and Operating Contractors

There is no agreement in the literature regarding a definition of managing diversity. (1,2,3) As a concept, managing diversity is still evolving and perspectives differ among change agents and theorists.

Palmer posits three paradigms for defining diversity: 1. the Golden Rule, 2. Right the Wrongs, and 3. Value all differences.(4) In the golden rule paradigm diversity is a matter of individual responsibility and morality. Diversity means do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Paradigm Two views specific groups in the organization as having been systematically disadvantaged, with the aim of a diversity effort to correct injustices to groups who were selectively disadvantaged in the past. Diversity means establishing equality and justice for the target groups. In the "Value the Differences" paradigm individuals work toward understanding and interacting effectively with other organizational members. All three paradigms aim to create high performing organizations through valuing and using all the talents of the different groups in the organization.

This article examines the U.S. Department of Energy's Diversity Initiative, a strategic cultural change process; describes the key players; and discusses the driving and restraining forces in its implementation. It explores the personnel managers role and presents the lessons learned.

In the study managing diversity is accomplished via organizational cultural change and is part of an overall business strategy to achieve a high performing organization. Led by top executives the initiative involves all levels of the organization and all employees to meet the organization's mission through strategic changes in behavior, structure and management processes.

Managing Diversity Via Strategic Cultural Change

Thomas adopts a systematic, multicultural approach to diversity aimed at a fundamental change of organizational culture and management practices. This approach is intended to harness the potential of all employees toward organizational goals through strategic planning, identifying and resolving root causes of diversity issues, managerial support and employee involvement.(5) In his view, managing diversity involves: 1. examining the organization's culture; 2. identifying the fundamental elements of the culture that give rise to organizational behavior; 3. determining whether these elements, or "roots" as Thomas calls them, support or hinder managing diversity; and 4. changing those aspects of the culture that are hindrances. The aim is to change the system and modify the core culture to empower people to the highest productivity possible while maintaining high morale.

The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc. focuses on strategic cultural change as a means to attain inclusive organizations.(6) The Group identified four phases of the change:

1. creating a momentum for change;

2. building a foundation for change;

3. institutionalizing the new change, and

4. monitoring the process on an ongoing basis.

Phase one involves establishing the business rationale for the cultural transformation and advantages that accrue to the organization as a result of the change, conducting an organizational assessment of diversity issues and practices, identifying internal leadership and developing an initial plan. In the second phase the foundation for change is built via communicating and educating members of the organization regarding diversity values, goals and processes. In phase three steps are taken to institutionalize the new culture through interventions such as strategic planning, aligning people, systems and management practices. …

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