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Diversifying Diversity. – book reviews

Dr. Roosevelt Thomas is the author of “Beyond Race and Gender” and the founder and president of The American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc.


A former university professor and administrator known widely for his work in the area of diversity, Dr. Thomas has written a new book, “Redefining Diversity,” which moves from his concept of managing Diversity in “Beyond Race and Gender” to the concept of Diversity Management.


This is far more than a play on words, semantics or a subtlety. Not only does Thomas contend that we should expand our concept of diversity beyond race and gender, but that the notion of diversity management extends beyond Human Resources to all areas of management. For Thomas, this new notion of diversity is about more than issues of people (workforce diversity). It also includes such management concerns as globalism, acquisitions and mergers, work/family issues, cross-functional coordination, and managing change.


Thomas explains diversity and complexity as mirrors of each other: as complexity increases on any level, this broadened definition of diversity also increases. Far more discussion in “Redefining Diversity” focuses on diversity issues that extend beyond race and gender.


In order to further understand this expanded definition of diversity extending beyond people and human resources, Thomas introduces us to the Diversity Paradigm — a tool for addressing an array of management issues. The diversity paradigm presents eight options for action which managers may use when addressing any given issue, problem or circumstance.


These eight choices form the core of the actions that are used in the diversity management process. The eight actions options are: Include/Exclude; Deny; Assimilate; Suppress; Isolate; Tolerate; Build Relationships; and Foster Mutual Adaptation.


These actions represent the limits or the full spectrum of action opportunities available for the On almost any complex management issue. Most of us are very familiar with and understand these diversity action options as related to race: race and the action of inclusion or exclusion; race and the action of denial and assimilation; race as it relates to isolation, tolerance and building relationships as action options; and finally, race and the action of fostering mutual adaptation. It is not difficult for us to play out these various action scenarios in our own experiences and as a reflection of institutional and societal behavior at various stages in the history of race relations in America.


Extended beyond race, however, the diversity paradigm is less obvious. Thomas takes considerable time in describing and defining each of these options, noting specifically that only one, fostering mutual adaptation, “unequivocally endorses diversity. The others seek to minimize or eliminate diversity and complexity.” Throughout the book, Thomas uses the Diversity Paradigm as a way of examining issues and problems faced in corporations.


Each usage thereby creates a better understanding of each of the action options and how they can be used in different contexts beyond race and gender issues.


He also provides circumstances where the actions may be used in combination and for good as well as bad results. Thomas describes actual case examples of using the diversity paradigm as a tool in work/family issues at BellSouth, re-engineering and restructuring at Hallmark Cards, globalism at EDS, and implementing a seamless multi-strategy business philosophy and strategy at Goodyear Tire and Rubber.


After completing this 241-page book, you not only have a full appreciation of his expanded concept of diversity, but you have a framework for the utilization of the diversity paradigm in a variety of actual circumstances that confront managers. In most instances one can clearly follow the logic of the diversity paradigm as a tool for addressing a particular issue.


However, there are several instances where there appears to be a forced fit of some of the action options. In some respects Thomas’s expansion of the diversity definition has the potential to weaken the momentum of the diversity movement as a tool for changing the racist behavior which has historically pervaded corporate America.


By providing a framework that permits corporate America to cloud the issues of race and gender by defining so many other management concerns through a diversity lens, we run the risk of having even less change in areas related to workforce diversity and its reason for existence in the first place. This questions whether we have enough confidence in corporate America’s true commitment to leave the definition of diversity so broad.


“Redefining Diversity” is far more a basic text on management than diversity as a circumstance that ultimately leads to an environment that effectively uses all of its human talents to reach its bottom line. In his preface, Thomas describes his first book by stating, “I described a process by which organizations can create an environment that allows all employees of all cultural backgrounds to reach their full potential in pursuit of company objectives.” He acknowledges that he now may have come full circle by the model he presents in “Redefining Diversity,” which essentially is a very broad based model for management of any sort.


In his redefinition, diversity is appropriate, useful and applicable to not only people but to “intangibles — ideas, procedures, ways of looking at things.” He has moved from the notion of diversity as a vehicle to understand differences regarding race and gender as they pertain to a strategic business tool.


As I read Thomas’s book, I was intrigued by his conceptualization. With each example he used to play out the application of the paradigm, I gained a further appreciation of where he was headed in firming up the model. Page after page, I couldn’t help but think how, if his model gained widespread use, it might affect the overall corporate climate.


 Although there has been some progress as it relates to the “old” diversity model, there is much more to do. What would happen if corporate America began to view diversity in this very macro manner? How easy it would become to have the singular issue of workforce diversity then stand in an even longer line to receive appropriate attention and priority.


Where would corporate America place workforce diversity if they had a legitimate context within which to reduce it’s significance and corporate priority? What if they had to decide whether to “do diversity” or “restructure?” The potential certainly exists and I believe that history teaches us, that unless these issues are “in your face” they rarely receive attention.


I recommend that you read this book and ask yourself: Should it be viewed as a resource for business management or a resource for diversity? Then simply ask yourself from the perspective of your race and gender: Where does this approach take us? Better yet, ask yourself: Where does this approach leave us?

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