Career and culture
'Diversity' diversified: Not all black and white
(CNN) -- "When I started, the primary focus of diversity work was black-white issues and male-female issues, coming out of the '60s and the civil rights movement. Society really needed to address issues of institutionalized racism and sexism."
At 43, Mark Williams, a motivational speaker and founding chairman of the Diversity Channel, draws on 20 years of personal observations in the field.
"And while those issues haven't gone away, what's happened in the last 30 or 40 years is new. You have a compendium of issues now.
"Sexual orientation, for example: We just had a speaker (Brian NcNaught), who's considered the 'godfather' of gay diversity training. There's marital and parental status. Age. Just many, many slices on the same topics.
"In the '80s, we got a multicultural influence from immigration -- people came to us from South America, Asia and Africa in numbers that never came from Europe. Then in the '90s, we saw global growth, mergers, acquisitions, the competitive landscape shifted. No longer is this just diversity issues from the United States, but also 'How do I move my business overseas?'
"Today, depending on who you talk to, anybody can see diversity as any one of those issues along the continuum."
'Flip-chart and overhead projector'
Williams, whose new project is the pending launch of his Web-based Diversity Channel, has been joined this week in Atlanta by McNaught and others for the second Linkage Incorporated conference on "Leading Diversity."
Program director Robin Pedrelli says last year's inaugural conference attracted 235 attendees. This year, she says, more than 600 people have registered -- the fee is $1,495 per person -- for the programs, which are to close Wednesday with Williams' address: "New Century diversity Initiatives -- Reaching Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime."
And while some fairly predictable challenges of workforce attitudes and human-resources approaches are surely being raised, discussed and debated in keynote talks and "application team" sessions, Williams is focused on the need for some updated modes of staff education.
"Believe it or not, in the field of diversity, most people are still in a room with 25 to 30 other people, a flip-chart and overhead projector. There's a fundamental bias against using technology in this field. People believe it has to be face-to-face training and that all the knowledge you need is in the room. I don't believe that. I don't believe one trainer in front of 25 or 30 people can possibly bring the depth of knowledge needed in a world of this much difference.
"For example, Marriott was one of my clients. They had 100,000 people worldwide. It was impossible for them to continue an initiative on diversity in the workplace -- as it is in any organization, not just Marriott -- if they'd tried to train 25 people at a time. No global organization can do it.
"You've got to use technology. So we're all working to figure out how the emotional, evocative and spiritual aspects of diversity are still a part of it, and yet everybody can have access to it."
Hence Williams' focus on the fledgling DiversityChannel.com, which on Wednesday at 2 p.m. EST is scheduled to show his keynote address about cultural niche marketing. The site, he says, is funded by Provender Capital Group, a venture-capital concern. The program, as he describes it, will offer 24-hour access to training and developmental materials, online, by CD-ROM, and maybe via cable TV at some point.
Sponsors of the Linkage Incorporated conference this week include Amgen, Ernst & Young and DiversityInc.com.
With a subtitle of "Redefining What It Means and Why It Matters," the conference features these highlights.
Maya Angelou's participation in the conference is titled "Renewing the Spirit" and is billed by conference organizers as a performance in which the poet, author and Wake Forest University professor offers perspective on the topics at hand from the viewpoint of a child, a civil-rights activist, an actress and author.
Brian McNaught is author of "Gay Issues in the Workplace" and "Now That I'm Out, What Do I Do?" His presentation at the Linkage Incorporated conference is said to be geared toward demonstrating that homophobia and heterosexism in the workplace can adversely affect productivity.
In a panel appearance, five business and employment specialists are "Responding to What the Census is Telling Us." Participants are Phyllis Busansky (Hudson Institute); James F. Holmes (U.S. Bureau of the Census); Paul Igasaki (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission); Kelley Chunn (Kelley Chunn & Associates, consultants); and Lilicia Perry (Home Depot).
And at least some of these careerists in diversity can be expected to echo the passion that Mark Williams brings to the work. "My parents," he says, "are educators. They worked in the Norfolk, Virginia, school system. And I was about 8 or 9 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
And I remember sitting there saying, 'I'm going to continue that.' I knew that would be part of my life's work."
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