Successful Companies Realize that Diversity Is a Long-term Process, Not a Program

April 1, 1993
The Prudential
Headquarters: Newark, New Jersey
Employees: 100,000

Reason for diversity effort:
In 1988, Prudential surveyed its African-American workers to determine why so many of these individuals were leaving the company. After reviewing results, The Prudential discovered that many of the respondents' complaints—that management was insensitive to diversity issues—were shared by the company's female, Asian and other minority employees.

In response, The Prudential's CEO asked the human resources department to devise a managing-diversity program that would "reach organizational objectives by maximizing the contribution of every segment of the employee population," says Charles Thomas, the organization's vice president of human resources. The program's goals included enhancing productivity and improving customer relationships by making employees feel more valued.

Program components

  • Training:
    All 12,000 mid-to up-per-level managers have completed a two-day training program. During the program, these managers had to develop personal action plans, stating which activities and behaviors they would develop to improve organizational diversity. Responses included such activities as actively recruiting and developing minority employees, improving communication skills and strengthening work teams. The company currently is introducing the training to all employees

  • Accountability:
    The company holds all managers accountable financially for their stated efforts to improve diversity

  • Diversity councils:
    Task forces monitor the effectiveness of the company's overall diversity effort. For example, African-American executives are structuring a cultural audit to measure employee attitudes toward the diversity program

  • Integration:
    The company has added a diversity component to existing training programs, such as team-building workshops

  • Business-unit action plans:
    The Prudential requires all senior-level managers to submit plans telling how they'll address bottom-line diversity issues. These plans include developing alternative work schedules and revising the appraisal process to account for different work styles.

The Prudential's diversity effort has gone beyond a mere program. "It has become institutionalized," says Thomas. "People no longer are afraid to talk about differences or to use words like black, white, gay or lesbian." The reason? Top management has examined the company's core values and now respects diversity issues and promotes positive responses to them. Managers are working to coach and provide feedback to employees who are different from them.

The Prudential doesn't measure the success of its program by using affirmative-action guidelines. Rather, the company's definition of diversity goes beyond race and gender to include sexual orientation, religion, managerial level, work styles and other differences. "We're doing better at promoting minorities to upper-management positions," says Thomas.

Two external consultants conducted The Prudential's management-training program. When introducing the program to nonmanagement-level employees, the company opted to train internal trainers for the task. "We didn't anticipate the time it would take to train others to do this work or how important it is that trainers first resolve their own prejudices," says Thomas. "The seven-day train-the-trainer program didn't deal with personal bias as much as it needed to."

Advice to HR professionals:

  • Secure the CEO's commitment
  • Obtain data to show how diversity issues impact the business, before implementing a diversity program. Use this data to customize the program and to create a benchmark that will indicate progress
  • Hire skilled facilitators
  • Take a holistic approach to diversity. Training is one aspect.

Avon Products Inc.
Headquarters: New York City
Employees: 7,000 (in the U.S.)

Reason for diversity effort:
In the 1970s, Avon's affirmative-action program succeeded in attracting more women and minorities to the company. By the mid-1980s, however, Avon had realized that the company was asking those individuals to check their differences at the door and to assimilate into the corporate culture. A cultural audit revealed that all employees were concerned about mobility, career development and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

"We began our Managing Diversity Program as an effort to move away from assimilation as a corporate value, and to raise the awareness of negative stereotypes and how they affect the workplace," explains Vicky Ramos, manager of Managing Diversity.

Program components:

  • Training:
    Avon developed its Managing Diversity seminar to introduce the concept of diversity and explain its impact on the business. The organization requires all employees to take the course. Unlike other companies, Avon doesn't separate participants according to managerial level. "Secretaries and vice presidents attend the sessions together," says Ramos. In addition, Avon has added diversity to all the existing management-training courses
  • Employee networks:
    Avon has six grassroots networks that address the concerns of specific employee groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, parents and long-term employees
  • National Managing Diversity Council:
    Each Avon location in the U.S. has a representative assigned to the company's National Managing Diversity Council. This council looks at how diversity issues relate to sales and customer service. For instance, the council currently is reviewing special-language marketing programs
  • Work-and-family issues:
    Avon's definition of diversity goes beyond race and gender to encompass lifestyle differences. For this reason, programs that address work-and-family issues—alternative work schedules and child and elder-care resources and referrals—fall under the Managing Diversity banner
  • Self-managed teams:
    Avon promotes management by empowerment through self-managed, cross-functional teams. "This helps employees deal directly with functional differences and how they affect working relationships," says Ramos.

Avon's success is evident in the number of women who have advanced to management positions. Fifteen years ago, there were just two female officers. Today, 75% of management-level employees are women, reflecting the company's makeup as a whole. In addition, Ramos reports a surge in the number of Hispanics now at the director level.

Avon's diversity effort occasionally has given way to urgent business needs, and Managing Diversity initiatives have been forced to slow down. "Managing Diversity is a long-term strategy, and we're in it for the duration," says Ramos. Sometimes this means that the company doesn't give its diversity efforts as much attention as necessary."

Advice to HR professionals:
"Any HR professional who's working on diversity must keep in mind that it's a long-term process, not a program," says Ramos.

Hewlett-Packard Co.
Headquarters: Palo Alto, California
Employees: 60,000 (in the U.S.)

Reason for diversity effort:
Hewlett-Packard (H-P) developed its Managing Diversity program in 1988 after an employee assessment revealed that attitudes of minority employees toward pay, benefits, work environment, management and promotional opportunities were more negative than the attitudes of nonminorities. Under the direction of the CEO, the company introduced the program as part of the management-development curriculum required of all managers, replacing a workshop in affirmative action that focused on compliance with EEO/AA legislation. The new program stresses diversity as a competitive advantage.

Program components:

  • Training:
    H-P's Managing Diversity program consists of nine training modules that cover awareness, legal issues, corporate diversity objectives, practical applications and management responsibility. More than 60% of the managers have attended these training modules. The company has included summaries of this material in an executive overview, and they've been incorporated into H-P's new-employee orientation. Courses designed to develop skills related to diversity were developed separately from the initial program. H-P has customized these skill-building courses to meet the needs of different departments
  • Employee communication:
    H-P provides employees with regular information about the company's commitment to diversity, including communication from John Young, the CEO
  • Accountability:
    H-P evaluates managers based on their abilities to achieve diversity objectives. These strategies may include new hiring policies, new approaches to employee development and efforts to remove artificial barriers to success
  • Development programs:
    H-P has established employee development and mentoring programs, to help a broader range of employees move up in the organization
  • Employee networks:
    The organization has formed employee support groups, such as the Technical Women's Group and the Black Managers' Group, to address the needs of specific employees.

Turnover has slowed down, and more women and minorities work in all levels of H-P's work force. Emily Duncan, operations manager for corporate work force diversity, says that numbers aren't the only measure of success. H-P now recognizes that different management styles are valuable, more employees are receiving support for their professional development, and there's more management awareness and ownership of diversity as a business strategy.

"Initially, we didn't realize that awareness training by itself wouldn't be sufficient," says Duncan. "There's a need for skill building, to help people use their awareness of diversity in the workplace." H-P also has learned that managing diversity requires an overall organizational and cultural change. "To be successful, we had to build support around the training program," says Duncan. "We thought that we had an overall strategy in place, but it took time to figure out how extensive the changes in our organization needed to be. Fortunately, we were able to develop these strategies as we went along."

Advice to HR professionals:
"Diversity goes beyond training," says Duncan. HR professionals need to determine their company's specific issues through a cultural audit. They need to establish goals and determine what needs to be done to reach those goals. "I see managing diversity as an ongoing process. No one workshop or educational experience will help you achieve it," he says.

Personnel Journal, April 1993, Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 54-55.