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Marchel Rumlaklak Highline Community College, WA Article Review Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity

Abstract This paper will address the notions inside an article by David A. Thomas and Robin J. Ely, titled Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity. This article published in September-October 1996 edition of Harvard Business Review. Thomas and Ely (1996) focus their research and teaching focus on the influence of race, gender and ethnicity on career dynamics and organizational effectiveness (p.79). The purpose of this article is to give an explanation of why diversity efforts are not fulfilling their promise and presents a new paradigm for understanding and leveraging diversity (p.80). The article also have goal to help business leaders see what their own approach to diversity currently is and how it may already have influenced their companies diversity efforts (p.81). The authors concerned about diversity in the workplace nowadays due to people common assumption about diversity is only about increasing the number of workers from underrepresented groups in their company workforce. This assumption limits companys ability to tap into the greater benefits of maximizing diversity in their workforce. Companies may reap the benefits from their workforce diversity if they see and channel it from different perspective than the common approach. Although these benefits include increased profitability, they go beyond financial measures to encompass learning, creativity, flexibility, organizational and individual growth, and the ability of a company to adjust rapidly and successfully to market changes (p.80).


Common company approach to tap the benefit of workforce diversity is by assigning an employee to a position which is closely related to his or her ethnic background. The example can be assigning a Hispanic executive as a marketing manager to Latino market segment or an African American employee assigned to reach out to African American market segment. While this can be beneficial for the companys operation, the more complete benefits of workforce diversity are still untapped. This approach is limiting the greater role of diversity in the

workplace. Diverse workforce bring with them not only specific information regarding their ethnic backgrounds, but also variety of skills and strategic talents that are essential for companys operation. The common definition of diversity in the workplace is the companys ability to increasing racial, national, gender, or class representation in their workforce in other words, recruiting and retaining more people from traditionally underrepresented identity groups. Organizations usually take one of two paths in managing diversity in the name of equality and fairness they encourage (and expect) women and people of color to blend in (p.80). This definition put limitations on how company sees diversity and managing it. This banal perspective put the company at a disadvantage point from holistic approach of utilizing its diverse workforce to bettering companys overall performance. The common definition of diversity emphasize on quantity the numbers of employees from minority groups in a company and their contribution. As a result, a particular company assuming that it already gives its diverse employees the equality and fairness they long for, and failed to be cognizant that it has passed the greater opportunity to tap into its workforce diversity. Through ubiquitous definition of diversity, companies managements felt that they already addressed and solved diversity issues in their respective company if they give a portion of job positions to employees from minority groups. This practice overrides the inherent values of diversity in a company workforce and can left certain employees from the minority groups felt arbitrarily taken advantage off. The thesis in Thomas and Elys article is; the full potential of diversity in the workplace cannot be reaped unless companies see diversity through Learning-and-Effectiveness Paradigm which is truly reflecting the true definition of diversity; therefore the paradigm shift from old to new paradigm is essential to help companies and individuals see and reap the full benefits of diversity in the workplace. The two old paradigms which are mistakenly deemed as the best ways to see diversity are the Discrimination-and-Fairness and Access-and-Legitimacy Paradigm. Let us dig deeper into each of these paradigm. The first paradigm is Discrimination-and-Fairness Paradigm. The words on the name of this paradigm are; discrimination, depicting the situation on the workplace which encompasses discrimination practice towards minority groups. Discrimination is a practice where certain employee is treated based on his or her skin color, ethnicity, or gender not because of skills. Fairness is an idea to treat all employees equally without partiality. Because of the diversity situation going on, the government created the federal Equal Employment Opportunity regulations that requiring employers to hire employees from minority groups to certain particular portion and treat their employees without discrimination also uphold the principles of fair

treatment and equal opportunity in the workplace. The goal of this paradigm is to increase the number of workers from underrepresented groups in a company. The benefits of this paradigm include the increased demographic diversity in an organization and it often succeeds in promoting fair treatment. However this paradigm has considerable drawbacks. It focuses merely on practicing that all employees are the same overriding the important differences among people. This paradigm is color-blind and gender-blind; diversity cannot influence organizations work or culture. The company should operate as if every person were of the same race, gender and nationality. This paradigm literally puts the company to be blind to the cultural differences (p.81). By limiting the ability of employees to acknowledge openly their work-related but culturally based differences, the paradigm actually undermines the organizations capacity to learn about and improve its own strategies, processes and practices (p.82). The second paradigm is Access-and-Legitimacy Paradigm. The definition of this paradigm is companies taking advantage from their workforce diversity by pushing for access to diverse clientele segments to gain legitimacy to market their products or services for these clients. Companies can reach out to these clients by matching the demographics of the organization to those of critical consumer or constituent groups. In some cases, the effort has led to substantial increases in organizational diversity (p.83). If the first paradigm put on blind eyes to employees differences, the second paradigm accepts and celebrates differences. The main goal of this paradigm is to utilize diversity in the company structure to maximize companys market base. The Access-and-Legitimacy Paradigm focuses on match the companys diversity workforce with consumer diversity structure. With this access, the company can gain foothold in the new customer territories. One particular benefit of this paradigm is its market-based motivation and the potential for competitive advantage causing the entire company structure understand and supporting the paradigm. Similar with the first paradigm, the second paradigm also has significant drawbacks. In their pursuit of niche markets, Access-and-Legitimacy organizations tend to emphasize the role of cultural differences in a company without really analyzing those differences to see how they actually affect the work that is done. The leaders of this paradigm are too quick to push staff with niche-capabilities into differentiated pigeonholes without trying to understand what those capabilities really are and how they could be integrated into the companys mainstream work (p.83). Finally, the Access-and-Legitimacy Paradigm can leave some employees feeling exploited. Many organizations using this paradigm have diversified only in those areas in which they interact with particular niche-market segments. In time, many individuals recruited for this function have come to feel devalued and used as they begin to sense that opportunities in other parts of the organization are closed to them (p.84).

The third or a new invented paradigm is Learning-and-Effectiveness Paradigm. In this, new emerging paradigm, companies have learned that they are not making the most of their workforce diversity. These companies improve their effectiveness by encouraging employees to draw upon their cultural background in achieving companys target. The goal of this paradigm is to learn from mistakes on previous paradigms in order to maximize companys outputs while in the same time show the employees from minority groups that their skills and niche-talents are appreciated and utilized in proper channels without devaluing or arbitrarily taking advantage from them. All organizations that are cognizant about this paradigm developed an outlook on diversity that enables them to incorporate employees perspectives into the main work of the organization and to enhance work by rethinking primary tasks and redefining markets, products, strategies, missions, business practices and even cultures (p.85). The employees at the companies that see diversity through this emerging paradigm agreed that they felt respected and valued. There is no drawback in the emerging paradigm because this paradigm focuses on the integration. The first and second paradigms focus on assimilation and differentiation while the new paradigm transcends both. In the new paradigm, there are elements of first and second paradigm with more holistic approach. Like the fairness paradigm, it promotes equal opportunity to all individuals. And like the access paradigm, it acknowledges cultural differences among people and recognizes the value in those differences. Yet this new model for managing diversity lets the organization internalize differences among employees so that it learns and grows because of them (p.86). On the Learning-and-Effectiveness Paradigm, diversity is portrayed as a tool to make the organizations learn and grow to achieve maximum benefits in all work aspects. The companies who adopt the third paradigm have incorporated employees niche talents to improve companys performance. In this third paradigm, the companies combine the good practices from the first two paradigms only this time they step further ahead more than just trying to equally treat or accept and celebrate their workforce diversity but also learn from their employees of constructive inputs then combine it with companys policies to create a mutual diversity environment in workplace where all employees include those from minority groups feel appreciated and valued. To be able to evolve from the status quo of first and second to the third paradigm, companies need to create and stimulate preconditions that may prepare the organization to be ready for diversity transformation. These preconditions are essential to ease the paradigm shift process and make the company ready for action. The companys leadership and organizational culture must be cognizant about the eight preconditions for the paradigm shift:

1. Diverse workforce will embody different perspectives and approaches to work and value variety of opinion and insight company values employees individual opinion and assess them to be incorporated to the internal policy. 2. Recognize both learning opportunities and challenges presented by different perspectives company learn from the previous two paradigms while embracing the ideas in the third paradigm. 3. Create an expectation of high standards of performance from everyone company must have high expectations from all employee regardless employees diversity background. 4. Stimulate personal development company nurtures employees career growth by providing trainings and education programs. 5. Encourage openness company tolerates debate in workplace and support constructive conflicts. 6. Workers must feel valued company must give proper appreciations to employees so they may feel empowered and committed to their jobs. 7. Well-articulated and widely understood mission companys mission must be clearly communicated to all employee so they may strive to achieve common goals. 8. Relatively egalitarian, non-bureaucratic structure company encourages exchange of ideas as inputs to bettering work performance. Discussion

We observed that the way a company define and act upon diversity matters are based on how the company looking at diversity. This is called paradigm. defines paradigm as a standard, perspective, or set of ideas that shaped the way we look at something. Hence it is understandable that all companies actions and decisions were based on how they see diversity through a paradigm of their own choosing. It is solely depend on company internal policy to see whether they see and act upon diversity in their workforce through first, second or third paradigm. According to the article, companies usually adopted first or second paradigm on the early stages of their business. Afterwards, because of managements awareness or external findings, some companies learned that they need to shift their diversity paradigm due to poor company performance and grievances from employees of minority groups. These companies who learned that they need to use new diversity paradigm later on adopted the third paradigm which is Learning-and-Effectiveness Paradigm. This process is not occurring only in business

world, we often times failed to see diversity through the correct paradigm due to our own biases and preferences that skewed the way we perceive diversity in our networks. We should be able to assess what is our personal also our workplaces paradigm towards diversity. If we find out that the companies we working for are still on the first or second paradigm, it is our responsibility to introduce to the third paradigm to responsible persons for further follow-up. It is not an easy task to shift from old paradigm to a new one, therefore the company must lay ground for preconditions which were discussed above. The preconditions will help the company ease the transition process from old to new paradigm. If we talk about diversity in the workplace nowadays, there is still large number of companies in America that put minimum efforts in diversity issues. An article by Kevin Whitelaw in NPR website showed the cold fact that diversity efforts are uneven in U.S. companies. In this article, Whitelaw reported that corporate America experienced uneven progress in managing diversity in the workplace. Significant number of companies made defensive moves due to legal requirements by hiring workers from underrepresented groups and didnt go beyond that. This practice is typical first paradigm approach in a company. Most company continue to do this until around 1980s when companies started to think that they need to step up their approach in diversity issues because they started to realize its importance in retaining talented employees from minority groups. Another challenge in managing diversity in workplace is resource limitation. Whitelaw highlighted in his article, many companies are too small to support formal diversity programs or devote significant resources to training. This is a major threat for diversity management in a company. If there are not enough time and resources allotted for diversity, it will be hard to determine companys position in diversity paradigm and planning for paradigm shift if needed. A good example of a company that continues to fully support diversity efforts in the workplace is Xerox. The article reported that Xerox has officially recognized employee caucus including one for minority groups. This caucus actively support diversity issues in work and communicate with senior executives about potential diversity related work issues. From this report we can draw conclusion that Xerox is looking at diversity from the third paradigm. By this example, Xerox has proven that it is trying to integrate diversity into daily functioning of work. For a company to perform well, it needs to pay serious attention to diversity issues of its employees and strive to manage diversity through the third paradigm. With the growing number of minority workers in the U.S. workforce nowadays, good diversity management is a key to maintain good performance of minority workers and the company as a whole.


As a conclusion, we have learned extensively that diversity is more than just having more colored people or more women in the companys workforce. Most industry professionals nowadays are still view diversity through the old paradigms. This is not their fault because in the beginning the issue of diversity brought to spotlight due to lack of minority groups representation in the industries. As academic researchers continue to invent new methods to benefit from diversity, companies must keep themselves updated with these breakthroughs so they can improve their performance. Companies that constantly keeping pace with latest management improvement techniques will have competitive edge that can retain, even attract more and more talented employees. To be able to succeed in todays globalized business world, a company or an individual must develop strong intercultural and diversity competencies. Intercultural competency includes how to interact professionally with people from other culture at work while diversity competency includes how to work with people who are different than us, be it gender, race, ethnicity, income level, physical traits, sexual orientation, or religious based. A good manager will be successful if he or she has strong balance of skills required at work. These skills are technical, administrative, management and people skill. Diversity and intercultural competencies are the crux of most of the issues faced by managers when dealing in the realm of people skill. By correctly apply and continuously improving those two competencies, managers will be able to tap into the holistic benefits of diversity in each of their company, resulting in good career progress, happy employees and low turnover rate. At the end of the day, the golden rule; treat others the way you want to be treated will always safeguard us in dealing with diverse types of people anywhere.

Reference Thomas, D. & Ely, R. (1996, Sept/Oct) Making Differences Matter: a New Paradigm for Managing Diversity, Harvard Business Review, volume 74, pp. 79-90. Whitelaw, K. (2010) Diversity Efforts Uneven in U.S. Companies, NPR. Retrieved on May 17, 2013 from Definition of Paradigm. (2013) Retrieved on May 17, 2013 from