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Diversity Is Fine, but Employees Must Learn to Adapt to the Company's Rules

May 15, 1988

Your April 17 front page and business section articles on "Managing Diversity" were fascinating, as much for what they implied as for what they said. The front page article, "Firms Begin to Embrace Diversity," said a group of senior managers from Digital Equipment decided that nonconformity would be regarded as a valuable commodity, not a handicap. Dozens of other companies, so the article says, are latching onto the same notion.

The notion is, of course, nonsense. There is nothing worse for any kind of commercial endeavor than to have each employee pulling in a different direction, each at his own rate. To say that too much conformity stifles creativity is true, but it is a long way from that statement to the one that nonconformity for its own sake is good.

Yet the notion that nonconformity is good in itself is causing many companies to send their employees, presumably including management employees, to school to learn about the cultures and mores of minorities and women. This is certainly a wise move for the companies, since the better managers understand their employees, the better they will be able to manage. It is extremely doubtful whether it will help the minorities, since it will not teach them how to move upward in their companies.

It seems to me that it would be much more helpful to send members of minority groups to school to learn how to progress up the white man's business ladder. In your business section article "Unequal Opportunity," a non-white employee of a large white-run company is quoted as saying "I was a square peg in a round hole. To make it here I really had to chop on myself." But so did I, and I am a white male. Did the speaker expect the company to chop on itself just to accommodate him? The company, which provides our paychecks, hospital and health insurance, retirement and other benefits, certainly has the right to expect that the employee will, to a large extent, do things its way.

ROBERT A. HASKELL

Long Beach

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