Diversity education is becoming a solution for many businesses. In the European Union, it is offered to small and medium-sized businesses to develop their capacity to include people of across states in the union and cultures. Australia’s government utilizes diversity education to end a history of discrimination against Aboriginal and Islander people. Asia finds it useful for increasing productivity in multinational companies, and for addressing the historical challenges of achieving harmony between Muslim and Hindu citizens. South Africa has implemented diversity education to adjust to the removal of the Apartheid system. The United States has offered diversity education for decades, although the rationale for its use has changed over time.
This article is limited to characterizing the history of diversity education in the United States. A history of diversity education in other countries and continents will follow in future issues.
Diversity Training and education in the United States
Many organizations, communities, military sectors, and higher education institutions have been conducting some form of diversity education since the 1960s in the United States. Businesses used diversity training in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s to protect against and settle civil rights suits. Many organizations now assume that diversity education can boost productivity and innovation in an increasingly diverse work environment. The assumptions about the value of diversity training, as a result of its changing functions and uses, have evolved over the decades.
Diversity education basically started as a reaction to the civil rights movement and violent demonstrations by activists determined to send a clear message to Americans of European descent that black people would no longer remain voiceless regarding their treatment as citizens. Social change in order to achieve a more stable society prevailed was the rationale for the education, which primarily focused on training to increase sensitivity towards and awareness of racial differences.
Encounter groups became a popular training method for bringing white and black Americans together for honest and emotional discussions about race relations. The military employed encounter groups in what is perhaps the largest scale diversity education experiment ever conducted (Day, 1983). Many of the facilitators viewed the “encounter” among racial group participating in diversity training as successful when at least one white American admitted that he or she was racist and tearful about racial discrimination and white supremacy.
Employing a black-white pair of facilitators was considered essential for exposing participants to the two race relations perspective and to model cross-racial collaboration. The facilitators were typically men, and the white facilitator was most valued if he could openly show emotions about his own journey in discovering his deep-seated racism.
Facilitators saw their work as a way to achieve equality in a world that had historically oppressed those with less social, political, and economic power. Confronting white Americans who made excuses for, or denied their racism, was common in this diversity training approach. The goal was to increase white American sensitivity to the effects of racial inequity.
White American participants tended to respond to confrontation in sensitivity training in three important ways. One group of whites became more insightful about the barriers to race relations as a result of being put on the hot seat during the encounters. Another group became more resistant to racial harmony as they fought against accepting the facilitators’ label of them as racists. A third group became what the military referred to as “fanatics.” These individuals began advocating against any forms of racial injustice after the training.
H. R. Day’s (1985) research on diversity training in the military indicates that the Defense Department Race Relations Institute reduced the amount of training hours and curtailed the use of the “hot seat” techniques in response to negative evaluations by many participants who completed the training. Diversity training in corporations also began to change as Affirmative Action laws were being curtailed by the federal government.
While gender diversity education began to emerge during the 1970s and 1980s, diversity education in the United States expanded in the 1990s to focus on barriers to inclusion for other identity groups. Ability difference, ethnic, religious, gay, lesbian, and other worldviews began to appear in education and training.
Some diversity pioneers argue that the broader view of diversity has “watered down” the focus on race to the extent that it is no longer seriously dealt with in training. Their assumption is that focusing on prejudice towards other groups does not activate the visceral reaction needed for individuals, organizations, and the society as whole to deal with core discrimination issues.
Recent research shows that people in the United States have more negative reactions towards people who are gay or lesbian (Devine & Monteith, 1993). It seems that many Americans share an anti-gay and lesbian attitude, primarily based on religious beliefs. However, even the attitude towards gays and lesbians is becoming more positive way, as indicated by the success of the movie Brokeback Mountain about two cowboy lovers, and the introduction of legislation that protects their rights (Vaughn, 2002).
Multiculturalism refers to the inclusion of the full range of identity groups in education. The goal is to take into consideration each of the diverse ways people identify as cultural beings. This perspective has become the most widely used approach today in diversity education. The inclusion of other identity groups poses the challenges of maintaining focus on unresolved racial discrimination and effectively covering the many different identity groups.
The current focus on white privilege training in one sector of diversity work maintains a place for racism in diversity education. White privilege education involves challenging white people to consider the benefits they reap individually as a member of the racial group with the most social, political, and economic power.
While white privilege, multiculturalism, and racism work are each very important, diversity professionals must keep in mind that organizations vary in diversity education needs. Determining how to meet these needs requires the trainer to possess critical thinking skills and an ability to facilitate issues outside of her or his cultural experience. The capable diversity professional has the ability to determine when race education is the suitable intervention, when gender orientation is called for, when addressing homophobia is necessary, etc.
Discussions about gender differences, sexual orientation, Native American identity, Latino empowerment, white privilege, etc. provide a rich context for understanding the complexity of American diversity. Today’s savvy diversity trainer has the expertise to take a multicultural perspective in facilitating and training, and he or she commands knowledge of the range of identity groups. Giving each identity group the attention it deserves is no small matter as a result.
The reality of global mobilization has required an even broader view of diversity work due to working with an increasingly cross-national audience. The use of the label African American, for example, is complicated by white and black Africans immigrating to the United States. An organization may have employees from the former Yugoslavia, refugees from Somalia, guest workers from India, and people with limited English-speaking skills-just to name a few modern diversity challenges. Religious diversity accompanies globalism, which is also included in modern diversity education.
It is likely that this complexity of identity group needs prompted diversity professionals like Judith Katz to focus on promoting inclusive organizations. The objective is to remove the barriers to productivity for every member of the organization with particular concern for historically excluded group members.
Another recent change is the emphasis on diversity education, rather than diversity training. While the use of one term versus another is regularly debated, it is a valuable exchange of ideas. From the author’s perspective, the term diversity education both broadens the view of what diversity programs within organizations are about and manages the often negative connotation diversity training activates. Perhaps more important is that the term allows us to distinguish between diversity training and other programmatic activities among diversity practices.
In addition, diversity expertise has changed over time, which partly reflects changing demands and the growth in the field’s body of knowledge. A description of the profession before the rise of the chief diversity officer tells us a lot about what diversity professionals faced as consultants.
Diversity professionals are hired on staff in organizations that understand that diversity is capital and harnessing it in the service of productivity requires a long term commitment. An in-house diversity professional is responsible for leading a diversity initiative within an organization. Some have the title chief diversity officer or vice president of diversity, while others are considered diversity coordinators or steering committee chairs. Regardless of what they are called, these positions are becoming increasingly prevalent in organizations. Not long ago, a human resource officer would hire a consultant or trainer to handle a diversity matter with sensitivity-awareness training as the expected the solution.
Diversity pioneers laid the foundation for the emergence of today’s diversity leaders. A diversity pioneer is someone who has been in the profession for more than twenty years, which includes those who have served either as an in-house or consulting professional. The in-house professionals are activists for diversity, inclusion and fairness. It is the contributions of external consultants and trainers that is the focus in this article.
Here is a list of diversity pioneers in the United States:
o Elsie Cross
o Price Cobb
o Sybil Evans
o John Fernandez
o Lee Gardenswartz
o Lewis Griggs
o Ed Hubbard
o Judith Katz
o Frances Kendall
o Fred Miller
o Patricia Pope
o Ann Rowe
o Donna Springer
o Roosevelt Thomas
The list is based on data collected a couple of years ago by Diversity Training University International students. An editorial staff member brought to the author’s attention that he began his diversity teaching and consulting career in 1986. His initial reaction was feeling intimidated by the thought of placing his name on a list with such an esteemed group of pioneers.
Few diversity pioneers had specialized training when starting out in the business. Louis Griggs, for example, is a Stanford MBA. Judith Katz had a more closely related background with a doctorate from University of Massachusetts that focused on race relations. She also taught in the University of Oklahoma Human Relations Program for ten years prior to entering the business sector as a fulltime consultant.
The author is trained as an applied research cultural- cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego. After receiving the doctorate in 1986, he taught cultural competence for nearly two decades. Each diversity pioneer had had to learn about how to navigate the landmines in diversity work while on the front lines as consultants, trainers, and educators.
What the pioneers may have lacked in credentials specific to the diversity profession, they more than made up for with the bumps and bruises they endured in the trenches of just doing the work.
Raising the Bar
Judith Katz was a student activist for social justice in the late 1960s. Judith began her diversity profession by focusing on racism from a white American perspective. By the mid 1980s she was working for The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. Affirmative action was at its height, and many companies utilized independent diversity professionals to provide programs to help increase the numbers of African Americans and women employees. Some organizations utilized diversity training to safeguard against civil rights suits during this period of time. Much of the training “focused primarily on black-white racial issues and sexism”, according to Judith, “with little if any attention given to, Latino, Asian, sexual orientation, age or people with disabilities.”
Judith also noticed that the business case in those days emphasized diversity as doing the right thing, rather than as a business imperative. People were expected to fit into the existing organizational culture. It was difficult at the time to effect real organizational change.
“The major change is that diversity is now accepted as a key business driver, rather than diversity for diversity’s sake.” This was accompanied by a shift away from the confrontational approach common in the early stages of diversity education history. According to Judith, “for some folks diversity was about compliance (the concern about law suits) for others it was about increasing individual diversity awareness. The confrontational approach to raising individual awareness did not create systems change in the long run. Some individuals became more aware but the very systems, structures and processes often remained unchanged. Judith notes that many organizations still approach diversity from a compliance perspective but, more and more organizational leaders are going well beyond that. They understand that “if you are not leveraging diversity, you are not in the game of business today.”
Judith is concerned about the challenges that continue to face diversity professionals as well as chief diversity officers. The following is a list of some of her concerns for in-house professionals who lead diversity initiatives:
o Diversity leaders must contend with organizational leaders who give lip service to the diversity initiative without putting their hearts and souls into it or offer it the necessary resources for success.
o As a result, diversity leaders too often shoulder the full weight of the diversity initiative.
o They can get too buried in the work to be effective.
o They are expected to partner with many different parts of the organization, which contributes to additional stress.
o They work alone and are expected to single-handedly get a very difficult job done.
o They are expected to manage a highly political role while getting their job done and legally protecting the organization.
The result is that leading the diversity initiative can be a very difficult, demanding, and lonely job from Judith’s perspective.
Judith believes that leaders of organizations need to “raise its bar” for expectations in delivering results from the diversity initiative. This is the best way to support the diversity officer. A good example is to make people in the organization accountable for contributing to promoting inclusion-especially managers and supervisors. Linking bonuses and merit pay to clear diversity and inclusion metrics is seldom given serious consideration in even the top fifty diversity companies. But this obviously raises the bar of expectations and performance.
Thanks to Judith, diversity consultants and trainers have a role model. In the author’s opinion, she is one of the few who can successfully engage business leaders in serious discussions about organizational inclusion.
Valuing diversity is a term that’s used quite a bit these days in making a case for diversity and inclusion-Thanks to Lewis Griggs. When he coined the words during the early 1980s, his clients thought it was “too touchy-feely.” It wasn’t affirmative action or equal employment opportunity language. One African American male colleague told him that the terminology was downright dangerous because white America was not ready to value people for their differences. But, fortunately for us, he had a vision.
Lewis is a European American who came to diversity work through his own individual growth experiences. Griggs says “While doing international training during the early 1980s, I realized that people from other countries had more knowledge about me as an American than I had about them. This meant the ‘other’ had more power over me in our interactions. I discovered how ethnocentric I was.” Griggs figured that if he was ethnocentric about people from other countries, then “Could I be ethnocentric here in the United States?”
Griggs continued to do ground breaking work. He developed a series of valuing diversity videos. Then he developed one of the first online diversity training programs. The annual diversity conference offered by the Society of Human Resource Management was created by Lewis. Thanks to Lewis, increasing numbers of organizations have embraced the idea that we need to value differences.
Avoiding a Backlash
The higher education sector started offering diversity courses in the general education curricula during the 1980s. Stanford University and the California State University at Fullerton, for example, dared to offer mandatory cultural diversity courses to fulfill general education requirements. There was considerable debate among academicians about whether or not the canon needed protection against including diversity courses.
The author found himself in the middle of the cultural wars as a new assistant professor with a joint appointment in Ethnic Studies and psychology. His training made it easy to interweave cultural differences into developmental, social, and cognitive psychology courses. He also taught mandatory general education diversity courses. The primarily European American, politically conservative students were very resistant to the required courses.
Students resisted less as the courses integrated into the curricula over the years, but many continued to struggle with the material due to difficulty with accepting values and beliefs different from their own.
Recruitment of historically excluded group members, especially students of color, was the primary focus at most universities. No one would seriously listen to ideas about creating an inclusive organization before increasing the numbers of students of color. The attitude was “let’s just get as many students of color in as possible and worry about how to retain them later”. Retaining and graduating these historically excluded students became major problems as the numbers of recruits increased.
The author also witnessed incredible gains in attracting students of historically excluded groups and creating an inclusive environment-only to see those gains undermined by changes in the leadership and economic climate. The lesson learned is that sustainable diversity and inclusion initiatives require an on-going commitment to remove all the barriers that can lead to reverting to old ways of doing business (Fenn, J. & Goforth-Irving, C., 2005). Diversity and inclusion must, for example, be part of each and every new initiative that comes along in order to protect the organization from moving back to earlier inclusion stages.
As economic, political, and global changes required new ways of solving old problems, the pioneers experienced many bumps in the road. This brief history suggests that their sheer determination and commitment built an invaluable foundation from which we all can draw meaningful lessons. This magazine is designed as a solution for building on the pioneers’ foundation so that we can better manage the impact of inevitable environmental changes that impact diversity work.