Diversity in the Workforce Series Report #3: Current Status of Diversity Initiatives in Selected Multinational Corporations

Publication December 1997

The main purpose of this descriptive and exploratory study was to provide information on the current status of diversity initiatives in a sample of multinational corporations headquartered in the state of Illinois that are committed to addressing diversity in the workplace. The study attempted to explore eight areas of concern: (1) context of diversity initiatives, (2) diversity initiatives, (3) planning, (4) implementation, (5) evaluation, (6) factors assisting in their success, (7) barriers that have hindered their progress, and (8) future plans.

Research Methods

Two major methods of the data collection were used to collect the information in the study: (1) face-to-face interviews and (2) document analysis. Eight diversity managers/ directors who worked in eight multinational corporations, annual reports, and related documents were the sources of information for this study. The first major method of the data collection to determine the current status of diversity initiatives was in-depth, semistructured interviews. An interview guide was developed and pilot tested with two of the multinational corporations headquartered in the state of Illinois.

The data were collected from eight face-to-face interviews with managers/directors of diversity departments. Initial contacts were made with the study participants via telephone. Appointments specifying date and time were made. Study participants received a letter explaining the purpose of the study, reminding them of the date and time of the interview, and including a copy of the interview guide. A week before the appointment, another telephone call was made to the participants confirming their availability. All the interviews were conducted in the offices of the participants. These interviews ranged from one to three and a half hours, with an average time of two hours.

The second major method of the data collection was a document analysis of the corporations’ annual reports and related documents. This information was used mainly to verify the information provided by the study participants and to provide a better understanding of the corporate context. The document analysis started two months before the interview process and continued until the final data analysis for the study.

The data from the interviews and document analysis were content-analyzed. Participant responses were filed according to the topic or issue addressed. Emergent themes were ranked by their frequency of mention and were then categorized. A thorough document analysis was conducted to verify, enrich, complement, and provide examples of the information obtained in the face-to-face interviews. Data obtained through the interviews were analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively.

Summary of the Findings

Based on the data gathered from the previously mentioned sources, some of the following major findings were apparent. The multinational corporations in this study defined diversity very broadly so that it could include everyone in the organization. The advantage of the broad definition is that it acknowledges the differences all people bring to organizations as assets. Corporations came to this definition based on the specific needs of the corporations and affirmative action and compliance issues that, over time, became more inclusive. The data also showed that, even though each one of the corporations participating in the study has its own culture, they have certain commonalties. There were three main ways in which study participants described the organizational culture. First, these organizations have cultures that value diversity. Second, their organizational cultures accept and recognize diversity as a key business issue. Finally, organizational cultures were described as all inclusive.

Seven factors influenced diversity in the organizations studied: (1) demographic changes, (2) diverse marketplace, (3) the need to improve productivity and remain competitive, (4) globalization, (5) top management focus on diversity as a business strategy, (6) legal concerns, and (7) diverse work teams. Among these factors, demographic changes, diverse marketplace, and the need to improve productivity and remain competitive are the most common factors influencing diversity initiatives in the multinational corporations. These three factors were recognized by all the participants as driving forces of diversity initiatives in their corporations.

There was a total of 116 domestic diversity initiatives currently in place in the corporations in the study. Diversity initiatives are being developed in the areas of leadership and management, training and education, community relations, communication, performance and accountability, work-life balance, and career development. The area in which there has been the greatest effort is leadership and management. Diversity initiatives in training and education were considered the second most common areas. Although many initiatives were identified, no single diversity initiative used in isolation is effective.

The most effective diversity initiatives were education and training, followed by leadership and management and then performance and accountability. Even though diversity training and education are considered the most effective initiatives, companies are not placing their greatest efforts there.

The data also revealed that half of the multinational corporations participating in the study are also implementing a variety of diversity initiatives at the international level. A total of ten different international diversity initiatives were identified. The international diversity initiatives most frequently mentioned were marketing plans for international customers, worldwide diversity conferences, and diversity education and training. Inclusion and the full utilization of people, regardless of their background, were the principles identified as connecting both domestic and international diversity initiatives. Other commonalties between domestic and international initiatives were appreciation for cultural differences and adaptation of products and services for diverse customers. The data revealed that some diversity initiatives are being transferred from the United States to other countries and vice versa.

The data revealed that all the corporations in the study were attempting to measure the effects of diversity initiatives on employees and organizations. This study also revealed that corporations were using twelve varied methods to evaluate their diversity initiatives. The methods most commonly used are employee surveys and employee data. Other methods used are management annual performance reviews, 360-degree feedback, and focus groups. The majority of the corporations considered their diversity initiatives very effective and as having a positive impact on employees and organizations. For some corporations, it was too early in the process to judge the effectiveness of their initiatives.

All of the corporations participating in the study have future plans for implementing domestic and international diversity initiatives. The largest number of future plans was in the category of domestic diversity initiatives. The most common plan for domestic initiatives was to continue addressing the current initiatives. Having more effective evaluation of diversity initiatives was a major concern that needed to be addressed in the future. More than half of the study participants planned to get further recognition for their work on diversity. The main reason for getting recognition in the future was that it will help them to attract and retain outstanding people with different backgrounds. These companies were also interested in banning all other policies that are interfering with their diversity initiatives. Internationally, corporations that are currently implementing diversity initiatives are planning to continue with them and expand their diversity initiatives to other countries.

Wentling, R. M., & Palma-Rivas, N. (1997, December). Diversity in the workforce series report #3: Current status of diversity initiatives in selected multinational corporations. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

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