Valuing Differences Isn't the Same As Managing Diversity

April 1, 1993
The diversity training movement has been around for a long time and has gone through many incarnations. In the 1960s, companies often dealt with issues of diversity using a confrontational, encounter-group style. With the 1970s came the introduction of sensitivity-training courses and awareness of affirmative-action statutes and how to deal with them.

In the 1980s, corporate America began to value differences, says Roosevelt Thomas, president of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, in Atlanta. He says that unfortunately, the valuing-differences approach focuses on assimilating differences into the culture; respecting them as long as they don't interfere with working relationships. This approach works to change personal bias, rather than organizational bias.

Today, companies are moving toward managing diversity, a process by which the company—not the employees—makes the effort to embrace differences. "Managing diversity means creating an environment that enables all participants to pursue organizational goals," says Thomas. With this approach, companies can move beyond race and gender issues and look at how all differences—age, tenure, lifestyle, managerial level, department and sexual orientation—affect working relationships.

"The issue isn't racism or sexism, but diversity," explains Thomas. "If a company can manage diversity in one dimension, it can manage all dimensions of diversity."

People assume that valuing differences and managing diversity are the same, he adds, but they aren't. "Managing diversity looks at corporate culture, whereas the other approach is geared toward changing personal bias," he says. "An individual can appreciate differences, be free of bias, and still not know how to manage a diverse work team. It boils down to a managerial issue. To use diversity to a business advantage, you must manage it."

Personnel Journal, April 1993, Vol. 72, No. 4, p. 58.