Dear Joyce: You would do a great service to employees everywhere if you would write about diversity in the workplace.
Although a recent substantial study reports that fewer than a third of American workers believe their companies have effective diversity management programs, many people are going all out to spread the message that the American work force is changing and so must American business.
One example is the Association Forum of Chicagoland's annual diversity scholarship program for minority working adults. The Forum is comprised of 33,000 association executives in nonprofit organizations. The scholars, chosen by the Forum's Foundation, receive a package of career-advancing awards, from mentoring and education to professional memberships and networking events.
-- Dick Barton, Chicago
A: Federal statistics say that by the end of next year, 85 percent of those entering the work force will be women, people of color and immigrants. Latinos and Asians will represent more than half of the U.S. population growth every year for the next 50 years.
I asked three of this year's Association Forum scholars to respond from the trenches on how diversity is doing on several scores. The scholars are David E. Johnson, project manager of professional relations and professional development, American Association of Diabetes Educators; Jackie J. Harris, database analyst, American Dental Association; and Eric Hayes, network operations manager, American Dietetic Association.
Q. Are there advantages to being a minority?
Johnson: Being in a minority has given me both a strong sense of self and the ability to view problems from unique perspectives. When dealing with (others), I often ask myself, "Whose voice is not being heard in this situation?"
Harris: I cannot recall a time when being African-American helped me secure a position, a promotion, or a positive work performance review.
Hayes: Many employers are now offering minority employees skill-building, career development opportunities.
Q. Is the welcome mat put out by employers for minorities?
Johnson: Not in my experience. But you can often gauge the environment through unspoken clues. Are minorities featured in company publications? Are minorities represented in upper management positions? Do handbooks mention holiday leave for Christian holidays only or for other religions as well?
Harris: The answer depends on multiple factors, a couple of them: (1) how many minorities are employed by the company and (2) the size of the company; true or not, the perception is that larger companies are more welcoming than smaller ones.
Hayes: I believe there is finally genuine commitment from employers to identify the things that make us all the same while at the same time explore how we can use the things that make us different to everyone's advantage.
Q. Are you included in social activities with co-workers?
Johnson: Included. It can be awkward when conversations regarding race or politics come up because my co-workers look to me as the minority expert. Or they use the fact that they accept me to make statements that are slightly ignorant.
Harris: I have noticed a shift in the tide where social activities are becoming more diverse and open to anyone who enjoys the activity.
Hayes: I have never gotten a sense that I was asked or not asked to participate in any event or activity at work strictly because of my skin color. My co-workers know me for who I am and what I can bring to the activity.
Joyce: Thanks to all for your candid remarks on the status of diversity in the American workplace.
Contact Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk(@sunfeatures.com, or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007. Sorry, the volume of mail makes personal replies impossible.