Friday, February 12, 2010
By Mary Moore
Kim Dukes-Rivers has expanded a Cornell University diversity program to Boston.
A new diversity certification program being offered in Boston by Cornell University highlights the business case for encouraging differences in the workplace, including how generational differences can affect a company’s culture.
Diversity can mean differences in race, economics, marital status, job status, age or sexual orientation — and each of these can affect a worker’s perception.
To date, 13 executives from local companies and organizations are participating in the $9,000, five-month program, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan, Putnam Investments, , , among others. The classes finish with an exam, and participants who receive a passing grade end up as certified diversity professionals.
Cornell expanded its diversity program to Boston — only the second time the program is being offered outside New York — through the finesse of Kim Dukes-Rivers, founder of Diversity Staffing Pros, a year-old Boston firm. Dukes-Rivers said she knew of the program’s national reputation, and from her experience matching diverse candidates with employers, she was well aware of the need for Boston-area companies to deepen their understanding about diversity in the workplace.
“This issue has moved from affirmative action to diversity to inclusion. It’s the difference between someone being invited to have a seat at the table and inviting them to be part of the conversation,” said Dukes-Rivers.
And a business case can be made for workplace diversity, said diversity experts, centering on the fact that competitive companies and organizations are those that reflect the communities and markets they serve.
“If we look at this only through the lenses of companies, they’ll say we’re all compliant and we’re very inclusive. But if you have a sales team that’s not reflective of the market, how successful are you going to be in penetrating a target market?” asked Darnell L. Williams, president and CEO of the , which hosted a recent daylong seminar on diversity.
In addition, it is more costly for a company to recruit and hire a new worker rather than make the environment comfortable enough for workers to stay. That’s among the reasons Blue Cross has four employees participating in the Cornell program, said Joyce Beach-Small, the health insurer’s director of diversity.
Blue Cross wants to build a “workforce that reflects communities we serve. We want to be seen a market leader and an employer of choice,” she said.
Most important, said Beach-Small and other workplace diversity experts, the Cornell program underscores the reality that workplace diversity has shifted from a conversation about compliance and the legal requirements of affirmative action to a deeper discussion about how to create an inclusive working environment.
“There’s been a lot of talk about companies saying workers are their most important asset. How do you treat a best asset?” asked Robin Vann Ricca, senior director of workforce learning and development for The Home For Little Wanderers. “People respond to different things.”
To that end, age and generational differences have become critical issues for employers to consider, complicated by the fact that, when groups form in the workplace, “age trumps ethnicity,” said Beach-Small. Younger workers of different races and ethnicities tend to bond and have more in common with each other, especially around technology, than with their older counterparts.
“I wouldn’t say we should lose sight of other diversity issues we focus on,” said Beach-Small. “But the generational realities are phenomenal. Just phenomenal.”