The Age of Diversity (Tolerating)
Here come the '60s and '70s! Civil Rights. Hippies. Anti-war protestors. Social and political activists and militants. Presidential impeachment. Self-indulgent baby boomers entering the workforce. Drugs, sex and rock and roll. Feminism. Birth control. Legalized abortion. School busing. Affirmative Action . . and the list goes on. Remember, "As goes the world, so goes the workplace."
If opposites attract, then why do birds of a feather flock together?
Take a look at this list of social phenomena and think about how all of these trends combined would have impacted the workplace during this period. This was an age of forced tolerance for forced diversity. It was not an organizational strategy. It was an organizational tragedy. . for the traditionalists!
Need I say more? This is when the Organization Man lost his mind. The laments of the day were, "The work ethic is dead!" and "You just can't get good help anymore!" Managing became a nightmare because managers actually had to managethat is, to make distinctions and difficult decisions, and they just didn't know how to do it. And they didn't want to do it! This was the advent of weirdos in the workplace, but at this point, it was just a bunch of square pegs in round holes, and it hurt! It wasn't accepted; just barely Tolerated.
There were Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Age Discrimination in Employment, Americans with Disabilities, the Veterans Readjustment Act, and employment legislation out the wazoo. The multitude of laws requiring organizations to open their doors to diversity created great conflict and confusion. And remember that diversity was defined in strict legal terms called "protected classes": minorities, women, the disabled, and other clearly definable groups.
The sad irony was that equal opportunity measures were actually an insult to those for whom the laws were supposed to benefit. They didn't seem to realize that not all blacks think and act alike, not all women think and act alike, and so on. It was both simplistic and difficult at the same time.
Organizations hired specialists to work the numbers, called compliance officers (I know because I was one!), more to stay out of trouble than to advance the cause of diversity. It was compliance, not benevolence. Personnel became Human Resources. The glut of regulations also created a multitude of bureaucracies and bureaucrats. And lawsuits proliferated.
But, because this was such a new phenomenon, and it was forced, and still not accepted, these diverse groups learned that, to succeed, it was necessary to continue to try to "blend in" because the Organization Men were still holding the positions of power, and they detested and resisted this invasion of their sacred inner sanctum. They worshiped homogeneity, but were surrounded by heterogeneity. They idolized harmony, but were faced with conflict.
Women tried to become men (behaviorally back then). African-Americans tried to act white. Even WASP male baby boomers and former hippies like me tried to talk the talk and walk the walk of the traditionalists, not just to get along, but to get ahead. And it was painful. . for everyone!
And it never really worked. It worked in terms of opening the front door to formerly ostracized and alienated groups, but the doors to the boardroom, the executive conference room, and other circles of influence remained closed, and the same agenda remained in place, but now with some new players on the field.
Eventually, as the economy soured in the '80s, the traditional value of loyalty, which was an icon in the Age of the Organization Man, was forced out the window. And ironically, it was initiated by the Organization Men. When push came to shove, reductions in force, and other downsizing initiatives ruled the day, and sent a chilling new message to the next generation of workers that it's every man for himself now. Diversity was not only here to stay, but now the economy required some tough choices to be made.
And now the rest of the story.