Managing a Diverse Workplace

Business leaders from companies that included Starbucks, Verizon and Raytheon Company joined educators at Lehigh for a daylong impact 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 September 2015 symposium. "Everybody, of course, has a different view, but the one thing that we can agree on is that today’s workforce, 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, have got to begin to put our arms around what it is going to look like to manage this diverse workforce."

The symposium, titled "Enhancing Enterprise Value in an Increasingly Diverse Society," included a presentation by Dr. Stephen K. Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, Pa., who spoke on reinventing healthcare in America and Jefferson Health’s vision. Also, 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 and chief talent and diversity officer for Verizon Communications, addressed why diversity matters.

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

Panel discussions centered on fostering dialogue and understanding among diverse constituents, as well as workplace challenges and opportunities.

In her talk on why diversity matters, Yrizarry said it might be easier and quicker to come to conclusions by oneself, but research shows that innovations tend to be richer 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.

Panelist Hayward L. Bell, chief diversity officer for Raytheon, recalled a time when his 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."