An Analysis of Diversity Training Provided by Business and Industry

Work in Progress at the University of Illinois

Rose Mary Cordova-Wentling

Demographers predict that by the year 2000, 85 percent of the new workers will be a combination of immigrants, women, and non-European Americans. Increasingly, workplaces will face the same issues and problems that public schools have been facing with regard to understanding and utilizing the full range of human potential within this very diverse population.

In the past, for many reasons women and non-European Americans have not been as successful, by any measures, as European American males in the world of work. For example, in 1986, Korn/Ferry found that of 1,362 senior executives only 29 were women and 13 were people of color, a total of 3 percent at a time when women and people of color made up 51.4 percent of the workforce. Fortune magazine's 1990 survey of 799 companies turned up only 19 women among the 4,012 directors and highest–paid executives. Not much has changed since 1978, when the same survey produced only 10 women among 6,400 executives. This kind of underutilization of human potential is not only harmful to the individual, but is also harmful to business, and all the complex interweavings of the social fabric.

We are at a critical point in history where two forces are in a position to reverse this situation: the School-to-Work Opportunities Act and diversity training.

School-to-Work Opportunities Act

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act provides states with federal assistance to develop and implement a statewide school-to-work transition system to assist new entrants to the labor force. An important component of this legislation is the creation of partnerships between schools and employers. The legislation seeks to include employers as full partners in providing students with high-quality, work-based learning through job training or work experiences. One of the major goals for this system is to assist all students in the successful transition from school into meaningful, high–quality employment.

What Is "Diversity?"

There are numerous ways in which different individuals have defined diversity. Definitions of the term range from narrow to very broad. Narrow definitions tend to reflect Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) law and define diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, age, national origin, religion, and disability. Broad definitions may also include sexual orientation, values, personality characteristics, education, language, physical appearance, martial status, lifestyle, beliefs, and background characteristics such as geographic origin, tenure with the organization, and economic status. This project has focused on diversity in the broadest sense, which includes all the different characteristics that make one individual different from another. The major purpose for defining diversity so broadly is that it is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone as part of the diversity that should be valued.

Implications of Workforce Diversity

The ethnic, racial, cultural, and gender composition of school age youth is much more diverse than that of the contemporary workforce, and this has implications for the implementation of the work-based learning (WBL) component of the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. Over the next 20 years, the U.S. population is expected to grow by 42 million. Hispanics will account for 47 percent of this growth. African-Americans will account for 22 percent. Asians and other people of color will make up 18 percent of this increase, while Caucasians will account for only 13 percent. These and other statistics indicate that in the future, minority growth will exceed non-minority growth in the workplace, thereby promoting the need to understand the implications of workforce diversity.

As business, industry, and schools struggle to come to terms with "diversity," the question of how to accommodate workforce diversity has become a primary focus and a major challenge. The question of how to work with employers to implement the School-to-Work Opportunities Act and accommodate the work-based learning needs of a diverse group of students will also become a major challenge.

Why Try to Change?

In their 1994 Training magazine article Allison Rossett and Terry Bickham indicated some reasons organizations provide diversity programs:

Diversity training should enable these companies to be better prepared to accommodate the needs of the students placed in their charge for work-based learning. And, indeed, many of the nation's major employing companies (many of them multinational corporations) have initiated training for new and continuing employees to try to achieve a wide array of diversity goals in their high performance workplaces. For example, American Express has developed systematic training programs that link diversity, team building, and quality. All their employees are required to attend and to develop action plans based on the skills and awareness acquired in the training. The top managers at General Foods spend a specified period of time learning to understand diversity and its linkage to quality. U.S. West, a Denver-based telecommunication company, has had diversity training programs for many years. All their employees, including officers, the president, and the chair of the board have attended diversity training sessions on a regular basis.

However, such companies are not likely to be geographically accessible to the large number of students in urban and rural settings who will participate in school-to-work programs. These students will more likely be placed in small firms where diversity training is limited if provided at all.

According to diversity expert Dr. John Fernandez in his 1993 book The Diversity Advantage, business and educational organizations that learn to use diversity as an asset will stride ahead of those that don't. The payoff will be increased productivity, higher quality, more adaptability to change, more innovation, and increased job tenure.

This research project is intended to facilitate the implementation of the School-to-Work Opportunities Act and help to assure that the social environment at work-based learning sites will be conducive to the vocational and social needs of a diverse student population.

This study is designed to address the following major key questions:

  1. What are the social barriers that have inhibited the employment, development, retention, and promotion of underrepresented groups in the workforce, and are likely to affect the successful implementation of school-to-work programs?
  2. What effective strategies/practices/policies are being used to remove these barriers and what are the implications for training? What are appropriate ways for school personnel to intervene on behalf of students, and can this be done in a training mode?
  3. What are the goals of effective diversity training programs? What are the environmental characteristics of effective work-based learning sites? What social goals should be espoused for all students in work-based learning programs?
  4. What criteria relative to diversity should be used to evaluate the quality of work-based learning sites?

Project's Progress and Purpose

Through the use of in-depth literature review; interviews with diversity experts; on-site case studies of selected diversity training programs; and focus groups with school-to-work directors, this project will collect the information needed to answer the above questions. Research will be completed in fall 1996.

Results are intended to provide information needed by school-to-work program coordinators as they select sites for work-based learning, and by work-site supervisors of WBL programs as they train students who are likely to be younger and more ethnically and culturally diverse than today's American workforce.

For more information, please contact the following individuals at NCRVE, University of Illinois, 345 College of Education, Champaign, IL 61820. Rose Mary Wentling, (217) 333-0807, FAX (217) 244-5632. Mildred Griggs, (217) 333-0960, FAX (217) 333-5847

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