What’s the Difference?

filed under Accountability, Cultural Change, Key Concepts & Conversations.

A challenging task in the red hot field of diversity leadership is that of understanding differences between good diversity practices, or what used to be called “diversity management”, and equal opportunity or affirmative action.  These confusions create some of the biggest organizational barriers to reaping the benefits of diversity.

All three concepts can be traced to the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, though a few visionary companies took voluntary steps to improve race relations as early as the ’40s.  Diversity practices today are distinguished from Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Affirmative Action (AA) programs.  The ideas of culture (diversity and inclusion) and compliance (EEO/AA) best capture this distinction.

EEO and AA programs were designed to prevent and/or correct discriminatory practices and historical patterns that adversely affect certain groups, particularly with regard to workplace representation.  These programs are legally driven. They consist of systematic steps that result in quantifiable, numbers-based outcomes. They primarily benefit protected classes of employees. Written anti-discrimination policies describe an organization’s commitment to compliance.

EEO and AA programs are designed to ensure representation and inclusion of certain kinds of diversity in the workplace. These programs, sometimes called “accountability structures”, have actually been related to the effectiveness of certain types of diversity training.  For example, check out the work of Alexandra Kalev, et al. in the American Sociological Review (2006).

However, representation alone is not sufficient to create positive diversity practices and inclusive culture. Compliance without cultural change can add challenges.  These challenges may appear as a “revolving door” (higher turnover among protected groups) and/or higher intergroup conflict, among other things.

In contrast to legal compliance programs, implementing good diversity practices is a voluntary, proactive process of learning and change.  It creates an inclusive workplace culture where all employees are 1) treated with dignity and respect, 2) valued for their contributions and 3) work together to create competitive advantage.

Good diversity practices create a culture of inclusion.  Inclusive cultures are responsive to changing demographic, economic, social and market conditions. Good diversity practices include and positively impact everyone – no exceptions.

Portions of this post are excerpted from our white paper,  “Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Diversity: Toward an Understanding of Compliance and Culture”. Contact us for a copy of the complete article.

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