Building on the Promise of Diversity: How We Can Move to the Next Level in Our Workplaces, Our Communities, and Our Society

Building on the Promise of Diversity: How We Can Move to the Next Level in Our Workplaces, Our Communities, and Our Society

by R. Thomas


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The ""numbers"" were achieved. The workshops attended. Most people in your organization have gotten their ""isms"" under control. But here you are again, recycling yet another round of costly diversity programs -- and still unable to overcome the problems and reap the benefits of your diverse workforce.

That's because most organizations, despite good intentions and hard work, are stuck in their diversity efforts, says R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., a leading diversity expert who has continually raised the bar on how we think and act on a complex array of diversity issues. In our communities as well as in our workplaces, a feeling of frustration has emerged as the promise of the Civil Rights Movement and affirmative action has become overly politicized and polarizing. But managing diversity is not a new issue. In fact, it is both a hallmark and core challenge that organizations and society have confronted since the founding of America, ""an experiment in diversity.""

Building on the Promise of Diversity is Thomas's impassioned wake-up call to bring diversity management to a wholly new level -- beyond finger-pointing and well-meaning "initiatives" and toward the shared goal of building robust organizations and thriving communities. This original, thoughtful, yet action-oriented book will help leaders in any setting -- business, religious, educational, governmental, community groups, and more -- break out of the status quo and reinvigorate the can-do spirit of making things better.

The book includes a deeply felt analysis of the sometimes tangled intersections between diversity management and the Civil Rights Movement and affirmative action agendas . . . a personal narrative that charts Thomas's own evolution in diversity thinking . . . and a roadmap for mastering the powerful craft of Strategic Diversity Management™, a structured process that helps you:

* Realize why multiple activities and good intentions are not enough for achieving sustainable progress.
* Recast the meaning of diversity as more than just race and gender, but as any set of differences, similarities, and tensions -- such as workplace functions, product lines, acquisitions and mergers, customers and markets, blended families, community diversity, and more.
* Accept that a realistic goal is not to eliminate diversity tension but to use it as a catalyst to address key issues.
* Recognize diversity mixtures, analyze them accurately, and make quality decisions in the midst of differences, similarities, and tensions.
* Build an essential set of diversity skills and develop your "diversity maturity" -- the wisdom, judgment, and experience to use those skills effectively.
* Reflect on the ways you might be "diversity challenged" yourself.

Diversity is the reality of America today. Whether you let diversity be a drain on your organization or a dynamic contributor to your mission, vision, and strategy is both a choice and a challenge. Building on the Promise of Diversity gives you the insights and skills you need to navigate through simmering tensions -- and find creative solutions for achieving cohesiveness, connectedness, and common goals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814417058
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 10/24/2005
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 491,277
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

R. ROOSEVELT THOMAS, Jr., Ph.D. (Atlanta, GA) one of America's most respected authorities on diversity issues, is CEO of R. Thomas Consulting Training, Inc. and founder of the American Institute for Managing Diversity. He is the author of Beyond Race and Gender (AMACOM 0-8144-7807-7) and Redefining Diversity (AMACOM 0-8144-0228-3). M

Read an Excerpt

Building on the Promise of Diversity

By R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.


Copyright © 2006 R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-0862-1

Chapter One


ACROSS AMERICA these days, leaders of all types of organizations are voicing disillusionment about the current state of diversity. It is an enormous topic, with enormous consequences.

While typically we tend to think of diversity as being a concern of the business world, this state of anxiety is not limited to corporate CEOs. Leaders of other organizations-religious, educational, governmental, and social action groups-express the same misgivings.

"I'm concerned that we have plateaued" is a common sentiment. "Where do we go from here?" they ask. "We've got to raise diversity a notch if it's to meet today's challenges." Even though they articulate their concerns in different ways, intuitively these leaders are all searching for the same thing-a way to move to the next level.

Talking with them brings to mind the refrain from an old Peggy Lee hit. "Is that all there is," she sings in a world-weary voice as great expectations go unfulfilled. Indeed, weary is how many of us feel. What happened, they wonder, to the original promise? They yearn for a lasting solution to the equal-representation conundrum so that they can focus on other areas.

Evidence of both weariness and yearning abound.Corporate leaders gear up for the latest diversity effort, imploring their organizations to "do something different, so we don't have to do it again." Leaders in all sectors debate the "right wordings," as if semantics were the bridge to the next level. Diversity? Inclusion? Multiculturalism? Cultural competency? Attendance at "best practices" conferences is brisk as organizations search for the panacea that will catapult them to the next diversity level. Community leaders fret about potential Balkanization.

Underlying all of this sentiment is an unspoken fear: "What if there is no next level? What if this is as good as it gets?" I don't think it is. But an old folk saying comes to mind: Nothing changes if nothing changes. If we're unwilling to change what has gone wrong, this may indeed be as good as it gets.


Currently, most organizational leaders, along with the broader society in the United States, subscribe to a politicized definition of diversity-namely, that it is a code word for affirmative action. In that coded sense, diversity means fostering the recruitment, promotion, and retention of members of "protected classes." The hope is that using the term diversity will avoid the stigma that has traditionally been attached to affirmative action.

"I believe in diversity."

"I respect diversity."

"We promote diversity."

"Diversity is good for business."

Statements such as these, so familiar in the business world, are tip-offs to this approach. They suggest that diversity is something that must be created or sanctioned. Yet diversity, per se, disentangled from its politicized definition, need not be approved of or promoted. It already exists. It simply is.

Whenever I describe myself as active in the diversity arena, I inevitably have to explain that diversity is not synonymous with affirmative action and equal opportunity. And yet, wherever I turn, I see evidence of the tightness of the affirmative action/diversity knot. When I make presentations based on my understanding of diversity, someone always comes up afterward and says, "That was not what I expected." Many people come prepared to hear me discuss "diversity" as a euphemism for affirmative action.

A content analysis of "best diversity practices" supports my personal experience. Factors related to "the numbers" or "the representation of minorities and women" are often cited as the rationale for diversity efforts. In Diversity Inc.'s 2004 listing of the qualities of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity, for example, four of the six most frequently mentioned factors concerned the representation of minorities and women (see Figure 1-1). In Fortune magazine's 50 Best Companies for Minorities, the five most frequently cited rationales also deal with representation (see Figure 1-2).


I believe that the predominant use of the term diversity as a euphemism for affirmative action has significant negative consequences. Affirmative action is the subject of considerable controversy and debate. To equate the terms is to tarnish diversity's credibility with those who discredit affirmative action.

It is also to assume that the word diversity has no substance of its own. This assumption is doubly harmful. It hamstrings our ability even to identify diversity in its broadest sense-as something that exists beyond the workplace-and to develop appropriate processes for its management; it also inhibits our ability to recognize that such identification and processes are needed. This is not a question of altruism, but rather business necessity. Corporate leaders in particular would do well to turn their attention to identifying and addressing diversity outside of the workforce (more about this subject in Chapters 7 and 8), simply because it can produce considerable financial rewards.

Perhaps most destructive, however, is that politicizing any issue turns it into a power struggle. One side must win; the other must lose. By politicizing diversity, we have hindered greatly our ability to work creatively and flexibly to develop techniques that complement the traditional affirmative action framework. Those who discredit affirmative action feel validated; those who want to promote it feel frustrated.

The Difficulty of Change

Even people who have grown weary of the endless diversity cycle and wish to approach diversity differently find that it is not easy to do so, given the entrenchment of the code-word definition.

One reason this definition is so entrenched is that diversity is widely seen as a legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. Arguing to free "diversity" from its current politicized definition can be seen as arguing to abandon that movement, something few want to see. As a result, the politicized definition will likely continue until the perceived incentive for definitional change outweighs the disincentive.

There are, however, substantial incentives for complementing the prevailing definition. I believe that as people think more deeply about diversity, they will become aware of its roots independent of affirmative action and the Civil Rights Movement. They will explore the potential of universal definitions to foster quality decision making. Then they will look for ways to develop complementary relationships between traditional and universal definitions of diversity. This book is an effort to encourage that to happen.


Three things seem critical to defining and attaining the next level of diversity effectiveness:

1. Serious and deep thinking about diversity approaches

2. Developing approaches that can be used by leaders and individual contributors alike

3. Developing approaches that can be applied to both organizational (micro) and societal (macro) diversity issues

Serious Thinking

Collective and individual thought must be given to core questions about our approach to diversity issues. Helpful questions include the following:

* What events or ideas are the source of my (our) diversity-related thinking?

* What fundamental concepts (i.e., definitions), principles, and frameworks undergird my (our) thinking?

* How did my (our) thinking evolve to this point?

It is important to explore your thinking over time because, like maps, even good approaches can become outdated. During my twenty-plus years of addressing diversity, my understanding of it has matured. My thinking has evolved beyond frameworks that once proved extremely helpful but later became inadequate. (This personal odyssey, offered to you as an example, is described in Chapter 6.) Deep, serious thought along these lines will help you to spot needed revisions.

Effective Diversity Approaches

The value of any approach is how fully it allows us to address related issues. So the core question for a given diversity approach becomes: Do the concepts, principles, and tools help me to understand and navigate the dynamics of the diversity I encounter? If they do, the approach is valuable; if not, there is need for change.

One change is needed in nearly all organizations: We must develop approaches that can be used by everyone. Current practices focus on equipping leaders and managers to address diversity and ignore individual contributors. Where rank-and-file employees do engage in diversity "programs," it is assumed that buy-in by management is what really matters. In practice, it sometimes appears that responsibility for diversity effectiveness always rests with someone else. Typically, I hear three refrains:

Executives say: "We get it at the highest levels; middle management is the problem."

Managers say: "Management gets it. Our challenge is the employee ranks."

Employees say: "This won't work without senior management leadership."

Who doesn't get it may be a moot point. Success with diversity requires effectiveness from all people in the organization. Unfortunately, for large and small entities, working diversity issues at all levels can be a daunting challenge. In one mammoth enterprise, a senior executive asked, "Do you realize how large we are? Do you know how difficult it is to bring about change?"

I do recognize the magnitude of the challenge, and I certainly know how hard it is to bring about change. But diversity effectiveness must exist at all organizational levels, and developing approaches that work for everyone has become critical.

Finally, we must simultaneously address diversity issues at both the micro level (organizations) and macro level (society). Most forums tend to address one or the other. Yet micro and macro issues provide context for each other; the effectiveness of one affects the success of the other.

Leaders in all fields recognize this fact. Corporate executives complain, "How can I deal with organizational diversity as you prescribe when society lags far behind us?" Meanwhile, leaders of organizations that advocate for societal change ponder how to get corporations to do better with diversity issues. Indeed, this concern was the genesis for the Civil Rights Act and affirmative action. Societal observers such as John W. Gardner have noted the need to address diversity in communities to reverse the trend of growing fragmentalization.

If we are to achieve the next level of diversity effectiveness, we must find approaches that can be used readily with both micro and macro issues, because they are interdependent. Such approaches would play a major role in securing across-the-board progress and addressing the challenges of increased community diversity.


At this point you may be thinking, "I understand what you are saying about going to the next level, but I don't feel any urgency. Really, is diversity still a challenge? Is there really a need for another book on diversity?"

This perspective reflects a belief that organizations have put diversity to bed. Leaders who hold this view typically believe the following about their situations:

* We have made significant progress in moving toward proportionate racial and ethnic representation in our workforce. Our weaknesses can be traced to an inadequate supply of qualified minorities, a circumstance that we are seeking to remedy through scholarships and internships. Indeed, our corporation and others have won awards for our efforts with representation.

* We have stamped out any symptoms that suggest discrimination exists. Without a doubt, we are now discrimination free.

* Through awareness and respect, we have achieved and maintained harmony among the different racial and ethnic subcultures.

* Nobody is jumping up and down claiming we have diversity problems. And even if problems should occur, we know how to minimize the damage.

These leaders logically wonder, "Why should we disturb the status quo? Why can't we pronounce our diversity efforts a success and move to the next challenge? Do we really need any more explorations of diversity?"

My answer is a resolute "Yes, you do." Six reasons come to mind:

1. Rank-and-file participants in your organization do not share your rosy view about progress with diversity. They often ask me, "Roosevelt, has there been any progress over the past twenty years?" When I detail what I consider to be accomplishments, their responses are along the line of, "Okay, if you say so-but I'm not convinced."

2. Just below the "harmonious" surface is a simmering uneasiness. Many employees feel a lack of connectedness, cohesiveness, and a sense of belonging. Even as they are moving up the organizational ladder, the rank and file experience a lack of integration.

3. Most leaders assume that achieving harmony is the goal, and they stop there. But even when there is racial and ethnic harmony, and in a setting certifiably free of racism, sexism, and other "isms," conditions generating racial and ethnic tension can thrive. The very presence of multiple races and ethnicities can give rise to differences and related complexities.

4. If they have not prepared for these complexities, leaders can experience difficulty making quality decisions.

5. If we move beyond the politicized definition of diversity as code for affirmative action and instead accept it as a set of differences and similarities along any dimension, it readily becomes clear that organizations face enormous, ongoing diversity issues. Lingering acquisition/merger concerns; interrelationships between functions and departments; relationships with consumers or clients; concerns about innovation, products, and services; relationships with the larger community-any or all of these, and an infinite number of other possibilities, create a challenge to making quality decisions. Interestingly, leaders know this at a gut level. When I am asked what I do for a living, how I respond determines the reaction I receive. If I say, "I am a diversity consultant," I get one of those "Are people still doing that?" looks. But if I say, "I help people make quality decisions in situations where there are differences, similarities, and related tensions," I get a warm, interested response. "That sounds interesting," they say. "We have some of those challenges." The challenges they're talking about go beyond race and gender and beyond the politicized definition of diversity.

6. Finally, even if organizations have their act together, communities do not. Community leaders and commentators openly worry about splintering. Since business organizations do not operate in a vacuum, their leaders must address the influence that community issues have on their efforts to manage diversity effectively.

In sum, organizational leaders who boast that they have completed their diversity agenda are essentially in denial. I guarantee you that unrecognized or unacknowledged diversity issues will compromise your organization's efforts in pursuit of its mission, vision, and strategy, if they are not already doing so. Leaders who persist with a head-in-the-sand approach do so at their peril.


As you perhaps have surmised by now, this book is not so much about diversity per se, but rather more about managing differences and similarities through a formalized process of diversity management. Fostering mastery of the craft of diversity management is a central aspect of this book.

You may be surprised that I speak of "craft" in this context. Set aside any visions you may have of embroidered denim or scented potholders. Think instead of the exquisite craftsmanship of a master cabinetmaker, or the artistry behind stained glass windows in a cathedral. Imagine the years and years of work devoted to perfecting these crafts to their highest level.


Excerpted from Building on the Promise of Diversity by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. Copyright © 2006 by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



Part One Introduction 1

1. Diversity: In Search of the Next Level

Part Two Context

2. The United States: An Experiment in Diversity

3. The Civil Rights Movement: In Pursuit of the "Beloved Community"

4. Diversity and Affirmative Action: Past, Present, and Future

5. Current Status of the Diversity Field: Just Plain Stuck

6. A Personal Odyssey

Part Three The Craft of Strategic Diversity Management

7. Strategic Diversity Management: Undergirding Concepts

8. Strategic Diversity Management: Five Fundamentals

9. Strategic Diversity Management: The Decision-Making Process at Tjax Company

10. Strategic Diversity Management: Foundation for Success

11. Getting Started

Part Four The Journey Continues

12. Becoming a Diversity Leader

Appendix: The coaching Instrument




What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"As he has done in his past publications, Beyond Race and Gender and Building a House for Diversity, in Building on the Promise of Diversity, Dr. Roosevelt Thomas has again asked us to expand our discourse and practice on diversity beyond limited conceptual models that prevent the realization of the richness and vitality inherent in our communities, our workplaces, and the greater society. 'Making quality decisions in the midst of differences and similarities (Diversity Management)', the author informs us, has powerful implications for organizations as well as for the leaders who are courageous and skillful enough to accept the challenges of a new era." — Dr. Walter Fluker, PH.D., Executive Director, The Leadership Center at Morehouse College

"At last, a clearly written guide by a leading expert that tells how to jump off the conventional diversity track and move yourself and your organization to a higher level of performance." — John Alexander, President, Center for Creative Leadership

"If you could read only one book about diversity, this is it! Roosevelt Thomas analyzes what we have been, describes what we are, and is helping to create what we can be."

— Marshall Goldsmith, world-renowned executive coach and thought leader; co-editor or author of 19 books, including Coaching for Leadership and The Leader of the Future

"Frank and provocative, Building on the Promise of Diversity will enormously enhance the quality of thinking about and the effective management of diversity. Avoiding the trap of pointing fingers at who is right or wrong and disappointed expectations of the past, Dr. Thomas offers a practical, experience-based framework within which leaders in public and private institutions can ‘raise the game’ of diversity management to the level needed in our modern society."

— Dick Sibbernsen, VP Human Resources, BellSouth Corporation

"R. Roosevelt Thomas has provided a vital service in offering a detailed prescription for advancing the dynamic of diversity in American society. Even more important, he has reanimated the great vision of our greatest national treasure: the American Dream itself."

— Marc H. Morial, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Urban League

"America’s history is distinguished by its adventurous spirit, never satisfied with the status quo, always believing it can be better. Roosevelt takes us through the evolution of diversity, his personal journey, and many of the institutions that make us who we are as a nation. He challenges our contentment with being stuck in our current diversity paradigm and provides fresh thinking for using diversity management to harness the talents of all Americans, which is essential for competing effectively in a global economy."

— Thurmond Woodard, VP, Global Diversity, Dell

"The remarkable Dr. Roosevelt Thomas, whose name has been synonymous with diversity leadership, has done it again in this splendid new book."

— Sheila Wellington, Clinical Professor of Management, Stern/NYU School of Business;

former President of Catalyst

"At last, a clearly written guide by a leading expert that tells how to jump off the conventional diversity track and move yourself and your organization to a higher level of performance."

— John Alexander, President, Center for Creative Leadership

"“A robust and thoughtful work. Readers will gain the benefit of Roosevelt’s years of experience, his clarity, and his ability to provide a lens from the viewpoint of both the manager and the employee. This is a great book for any organizational leader stuck in ‘knowing’ but not yet able to move into ‘doing.’"

— Beverly Kaye, Founder/CEO, Career Systems International, co-author of Love It, Don't Leave It: 26 Ways to Get What You Want at Work and Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay"

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