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Managing a diverse workforce

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Written By: Mary Ellen Alu 29/9/15

Business leaders from companies that included Starbucks, Verizon and the Raytheon Company joined educators at Lehigh on Friday for a daylong symposium that aimed to foster conversations about workplace diversity and to put leaders on a path to better management of tomorrow’s workforce.

“Diversity is a word that has an evolving definition,” said Dean Georgette Chapman Phillips of the College of Business and Economics, which organized the symposium. “Everybody, of course, has a different view, but the one thing that we can agree on is that today’s workforce and tomorrow’s workforce is not going to look anything like yesterday’s workforce. The workforce of tomorrow is going to be a rich blend of different cultures, different pathways of life.”

“And we, as managers in the business world,” she said, “have got to begin to put our arms around what it is going to look like to manage this diverse workforce.”

The symposium, which included presentations and panel discussions, was titled “Enhancing Enterprise Value in an Increasingly Diverse Society.” Among the presenters were Dr. Stephen K. Klasko, president and chief executive officer of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, who spoke on reinventing healthcare in America and Jefferson Health’s vision.

Amy M. Tingler, regional director of operations in the northeast Pa. region for the Starbucks Corp., addressed Starbucks “Race Together” initiative; and Magda Yrizarry, senior vice president of chief talent and diversity officer for Verizon Communications, addressed why diversity matters.

In her opening remarks, Phillips said there was no single answer as to how best to manage a diverse workforce. She said she hoped the symposium, by fostering conversation, would help provide collective insight.

“We hope that this day of information- sharing and gathering will allow us to figure out how to enhance enterprise value,” she said, “because at the end of the day that’s what we’re all trying to do in the context of the new workforce.”

FOSTERING DIALOGUE

The morning panel discussion, moderated by Henry U. Odi, vice president for academic diversity, centered on fostering dialogue and understanding among diverse constituents. To that end, Odi asked the panelists to draw on their experiences in identifying the biggest obstacles to that.

For panelist Bernard J. Milano, president of the KPMG Foundation, it was “lack of critical mass,” something he experienced over the years in situations in which he was the only young person in a room of older people, and later, the only older person in a room of young people.

“The bottom line in that is comfort,” he said. “You don’t feel like you belong.” So without critical mass in their demographic, people might not participate in a discussion because they feel isolated, he said.

In addition to Milano, other panelists in the morning session included Robert E. Gabrys, director of education at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Timothy Grever, regional director of operations for licensed stores in the northeast Pa. region for Starbucks Corp; Sandy Harris, vice president of corporate diversity strategy and internal operations at Sodexo; and Dennis Whitney, senior vice president, certifications, exams and content, Institute of Management Accountants.

Whitney spoke of the need to understand and respect each other’s cultural differences, which could be at the heart of why someone might not be contributing to a conversation. In those instances, he said, it might help to specifically ask participants for their perspective. Whitney also said managers must continually try to integrate their teams to bring about success.

THE VALUE OF DIVERSE TEAMS

In her talk on why diversity matters, Yrizarry of Verizon Communications, said it might be easier and quicker to come to conclusions by oneself, but research shows that innovations and conclusions tend to be richer and better with diverse teams. She used the analogy of making dinner for her family. If she asked everyone’s opinion on what to prepare, she said, the process would likely be more complicated, but perhaps everyone would be more satisfied.

Imagine a workplace where you have all kinds of differences among employees, she said. “How do you create the environment that’s inclusive enough for all of that difference [among employees] to truly create value?” asked Yrizarry. It has to be part of the company’s DNA, she said.

“You have to really walk your own talk,” she said. “And you’ve got to have diversity and inclusion well defined and understood in your organization for it to be authentic.”

The afternoon panel discussion, led by Maria L. Chrin, founder and managing partner of Circle Wealth Management, focused on workplace challenges and opportunities.

Panelist Hayward L. Bell, chief diversity officer for Raytheon Company, recalled a time when the company’s best engineers, without success, were trying to figure out why a complex piece of equipment had failed. One of the company’s leaders had turned to a new junior hire and asked, what do you think? She offered a perspective that ended up solving the problem.

“That’s what inclusion looks like,” said Bell. In all likelihood, he said, the junior hire was not going to speak up, but the leader had the foresight to invite her into the conversation. The value in that, he said, is that “you never know what you’re going to get.”

Other panelists in the afternoon session included David A. Griffith, professor and chair of Lehigh’s department of marketing; Lewis I. Gantman, executive vice president of The Honickman Group Beverage Distribution Center; Jeffrey I. Pasek, a partner at Cozen O’Connor; and Frank A. Roth, Lehigh’s general counsel.

“People come to the table with their backgrounds, and that’s not their mistake or their fortune, that’s just where they came from,” said Chrin, in summarizing one of the day’s takeaways. “And therefore, they will have potentially a different perspective than you have. Understanding it, learning about it, with true interest can be very rewarding.”

Source: Lehigh University 

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