Building on the Promise of Diversity: How We can Move to the Next Level in Our Workplaces, Our Communities, and Our Society

C. Douglas Johnson (Management, Marketing & Logistics Department, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, USA)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 28 March 2008



Johnson, C.D. (2008), "Building on the Promise of Diversity: How We can Move to the Next Level in Our Workplaces, Our Communities, and Our Society", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 305-306.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Recognized by Human Resource Executive as one of HR's most influential people and named a top business consultant by the Wall Street Journal, R. Roosevelt Thomas provides a work that is simultaneously simplistic, thought‐provoking, theoretical and practical. The beauty of this book, Building on the Promise of Diversity: How We can Move to the Next Level in Our Workplaces, Our Communities, and Our Society, is that it can be used by diversity practitioners and/or scholars, by leadership teams and/or rank and file employees. This book captures over 20 years of Thomas's personal and professional experience working within the diversity arena and is unlike his previous works in a number of ways. The most noticeable difference is the candor by which Dr Thomas shared his personal diversity journey from his days as a doctoral student at Harvard University, to the frustrations experienced as a diversity consultant/scholar, through his thinking about strategic diversity management and its unrealized potential today. This was quite refreshing and provided useful insights to better understand his approach to diversity management. Throughout the book he encourages the reader to consider what diversity means at the individual level before attempting to think about diversity from an organizational or societal perspective. This type of thinking is essential if diversity is to move from its present state of being stuck to realize the future state of the promise that is associated with a diverse workforce, a diverse community, a diverse society. Thomas is optimistic, yet realistic in his thinking and suggestions as he recognizes it will take the effort of many in order for the promise to be achieved.

Building on the Promise of Diversity is broken into four main sections: Introduction, Context, the Craft of Strategic Diversity, and the Journey Continues. The introductory chapter provides anecdotal evidence acquired from his practical experience and includes examples of (un)successful diversity tactics employed by organizations. Questions are also posed that require serious thinking about how to move diversity to the next level, or questions whether or not this is the best that it gets. The next section, consisting of five chapters, was the “meat and potatoes” of the book as it put diversity in context, with comparisons to the US experiment, to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King's Beloved Community, to affirmative action. He concludes this section by describing the evolution of his theoretical journey that is solidly grounded in its practical application. Critics of Thomas's work in academia argue his work lacks solid theoretical grounding and rigor, while practitioners criticize Thomas for being too theoretical. Critics from both camps may express concern with Thomas's proposed “user friendly” approach. In theory, the user friendly approach may seem logical, but in practice this is easier said than done. Diversity is inherently complex given the sensitive nature of some of the dimensions and leaders of organizations must be willing to deal with the difficult issues accompanying many aspects of diversity. The author is applauded for trying to develop a way to get people to consider the possibilities of seeing the promises of diversity, and initiate a dialogue. This, unfortunately, is insufficient in moving diversity to the next level; however, this section of the book can elicit needed conversation in the classroom, training room, boardroom, or family room.

The third section of the book is where Thomas attempts to provide the reader a roadmap for making quality decisions in the presence of similarities, differences, and the related tensions via the craft of strategic diversity management, which he believes will be what gets us to achieve the promises of diversity. Thomas posits “diversity is a universal phenomenon” (p. 103) and value can be achieved as people perfect, or even enhance, their diversity craft and effectively utilize the provided framework. Thomas emphasizes the importance of making quality decisions, not focusing on whether or not the leader is affected by any “isms” (e.g. racism, sexism, ageism). He provided five core concepts and some lessons learned from Archie Bunker (a bigot on an old television sitcom), followed by five fundamental understandings to promote mastering the SDM craft, and then utilized a case study to illustrate his point. The section also included some diversity management skills and tips for moving forward. This section requires careful reading and time to digest the many options presented in order to determine the most appropriate course of action. It is also a bit confusing and the example provided to support the SDM is somewhat far‐fetched. A table or diagram would have been helpful in organizing the unique characteristics, fundamentals, and steps proposed.

The final section of the book, like the introduction, consists of a single chapter. This chapter is as powerful as the first in that it summarizes some ills facing our society and heightens the importance of us continuing America's diversity experiment. In the appendices, a self‐scoring instrument is provided for the reader to assess her or his diversity maturity and capability, with the hopes of enhancing personal development, ending the cycle of going around in circles, and advancing to the next level. This instrument seems to have face validity, but questions surface about its psychometric properties (e.g. reliability, content validity, construct validity).

While it is a fairly easy read, it is filled with substance and if time is taken for reflection, personal growth and development is sure to be an outcome of time well spent. For the academician/scholar, this book is helpful in gaining insights on applying diversity theories and concepts in organizational settings, which leads to better instruction in the classroom, as well as more informed research. For the practitioner, it offers a tool to assess an individual's effectiveness for making strategic decisions in the midst of diversity. This book gives readers outside the USA some insights to the complexities of diversity within the USA; however, some of the strategies described can be applied globally. So, whether you are a novice just beginning the diversity journey or one who has weathered many seasons on your diversity odyssey and want to move to the next level to benefit yourself, your workplace, community and/or society, Building on the Promise of Diversity is a must read.

C. Douglas Johnson, PhD, is an assistant professor of human resource management at Georgia Southern University's College of Business Administration.

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