August 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 4 
Main Feature

We’ve come a long way, everybody

How diversity has evolved—and where it is now

At Boeing’s January 2004 Global Diversity and Compliance Summit in Long Beach, Calif., Non-Executive Chairman Lew Platt described how his view of diversity had changed over four decades at Hewlett-Packard.

“I lived through what I would characterize as three different periods,” Platt began. First, in the 1960s and 1970s, was compliance with affirmative action guidelines and Equal Employment Opportunity laws: “making the numbers so that we would be awarded contracts.” Next, in the 1980s, came “the emergence of social consciousness ... because we thought it was time we make up for some of the sins of the past.”

The breakthrough, said Platt, came in the mid-1990s, when business leaders “began to think about diversity as a way to enhance business outcomes.”

Joyce Tucker, Boeing vice president of Global Diversity & Employee Rights, sees the business world’s shift to diversity resulting in part from the controversy surrounding affirmative action. “To lessen the hostility, people started saying, ‘We’re going to “diversify” our work force,’” she said. “The words changed, but it meant the same thing.

“But then,” Tucker continued, “affirmative action and diversity started meaning something entirely different. Affirmative action was the initiative that addressed your need to comply with your federal contractor obligations, and diversity programs were initiated to say that there is a big need to leverage the skills and talents of a variety of people in our work force.”

Lee Gardenswartz, a diversity consultant and coauthor of the book “Diverse Teams at Work,” points to yet another cause for the shift: Business strategy is increasingly reflecting the effects of globalization.

“Diversity may have started out to fight oppression and create equality,” Gardenswartz said, “but it now involves recognizing that intercultural literacy is a competence that one cannot function without.”

Ted Yamamura, a Commercial Airplanes employee and president of the affinity group Boeing Association of Asian Pacific Americans, agreed. “The marketplace has changed,” he said. “A major portion of our airline sales are outside the United States. We need to be able to relate to that area of the world.”

Yamamura, along with Lisa Sanchez, president of affinity group Boeing Women in Leadership, and Dian Jackson of the Boeing Wichita (Kan.) Diversity Council, believe that their views have come to be more accepted by Boeing leadership over time.

“In the past couple years, I have heard more about strategy, and that there’s a reason we [support diversity],” Sanchez said.

The leader of the Boeing White Employees Association affinity group, James S. Andrews of Boeing Wichita, has another take on Boeing’s progress.

“We used to look at our population as a melting pot of different cultures, or a soup,” he said. “We didn’t really celebrate, and actually kind of denied the differences that made up that soup. … Now we tend to look at things more like a beef stew. We recognize the different elements that make up who we are.” Gardenswartz noted that this shift from denying differences to celebrating them signals a more complex understanding of diversity.

Tucker and Andrews both noted the forecast that by the year 2040, the current 25 percent “minority” portion of Boeing’s work force will increase to 50 percent. “If you plan to be a viable company in 2040,” Tucker said, “you have to reflect the diversity that is going to be your work force.”

And so Boeing has its Global Diversity organization, summits, affinity groups, management training, and relationships with diverse educational and technical communities. What’s next?

“What’s next is, the culture has to change,” Tucker said. “Diversity has to be something we do without even thinking about it.

“If we do that—and we will—it’s all about shareholder value,” Tucker said. “If you have a place where people feel their ideas are valued and respected, you can’t help but be the best.”

—Maribeth Bruno


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