What Does the Latino Boom Mean for Business?

by Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/18562142)

In my last post, I shared a teaser with some head turning statistics oniStock_4746494XSmall.HispBusTeam Latinos that I was launching in this series. So let’s get started.

Consider this. The United States continues to be in the midst of a Latino population explosion. In the first decade of the 21st century, Latinos grew at three times the growth rate of the rest of the population—becoming the largest ethnic minority group. This has accounted for half of the overall United States population growth. At this rate, it is estimated that one in four U.S. nationals will be Latinos by 2025 and one-third by 2050. By 2060, the U.S. Hispanic population is estimated to reach 128.8 million.

So, what does this mean for businesses? There’s a largely untapped pool of talent available, who can bring ideas, connections, and information that will help to grow the Latino market as well your business. To seize the many opportunities offered by the growing Latino talent pools, corporations must heed three key principles:

  1. Understand the multidimensional diversity within the Latino community.
  2. Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent.
  3. Marry marketing psychographics to multidimensional demographics.

In this blog series, I will explore each of these principles with facts, strategies, and practical tactics. I invite you to comment along the way.

TEDxIndianapolis Talk: Why Diversity is Upside Down

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Why is diversity upside-down and how do we with what that means for our lives and our companies? Check out my recent TEDx Talk in Indianapolis, IN. I explore just how much our world’s hyper-diversity has affected practically every aspect of our lives – in our personal relationships, in our communities, and in our companies.



The Not-So-Empty Nest

by Andrés T. Tapia – Portrait of senior couple with adult son

It’s the subject of much Boomer handwringing and comedy routines: the boomerang adult. That’s the kid who on finishing post-high school schooling (or after a brief foray on their own) returns home to live with Mom and Dad.

Boomer parents are not imaging things. Their sons really are coming home to roost. And yes, it’s primarily a guy thing. That’s according to the U.S. Census, which found that from 2005 to 2011 the percentage of men age 25 to 34 living with their parents rose from 14% to 19%, but only increased from 8% to 10% for women of the same age.

If it’s any consolation to American parents, this trend is global. Young people in Europe, Japan, Canada, and other areas are taking longer to transition to adulthood. In Italy, 37% of men 30-years old and up have never left home. There are men in Japan pushing 40 still living at home. And reports from the UK show 25% of young adult males are still at home, compared to 13% of women the same age.

In a Salon.com piece that looks at this phenomenon, author, sociologist and a Johns Hopkins University dean Katherine Newman talks about her interviews with people in six countries in southern Europe, the Nordic states, Japan and the U.S. She explains some of the reasons behind this global trend.

Globalization and the recession are making it harder for new workers to enter the labor force, and the cost of housing is climbing. But other social and psychological factors are at play too. The result is a sometimes rocky, sometimes serendipitous experience for these families as they struggle to redefine adulthood and familial roles in the face of overwhelming global economic forces.

I’m glad that Newman realized that it’s more than economics keeping young people at home. There’s something else going on here and some of it’s cultural. Typically, young people in North American, Japan, UK, and the Nordic countries moved toward independence sooner than in other countries, like Spain or Italy. Newman talks of the cultural differences between countries. How a particular society describes this trend reflects cultural and social attitudes as well as political and governmental policies.

More than just an interesting demographic trend, this development is also an expression of multi-faceted cultural divisions – among countries, among generations, and between genders.

What Boomers believe is the normal transition to adulthood will soon be upended by the experiences of Millennials and Generations X and Y. Depending on where they live, parents from differing regions and countries will welcome, decry, or simply accept the return of their “adultsters.”

Engagement: The True Measure of Inclusion

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Multiracial Hands Making a CircleInclusion! It’s the rallying cry in today’s organizations – a response to the urgent recognition that diversity alone is not enough. This has become more evident as organizations have become more diverse, but have failed to achieve the promise of diversity.

While a key diversity metric is a count of the different ways an overall workforce is diverse, inclusion requires different measurements. I believe there are three key inclusion metrics: influence and decision-making power, strength of the talent pipeline, and engagement. Today, I want to talk about engagement. (Look for my take on the other inclusion metrics in future postings.)

As seemingly obvious as this is, few organizations fully leverage engagement and employee satisfaction surveys to measure inclusion. And here, I’m not talking about the four to five questions around diversity and inclusion. Rather it’s about being able to use and analyze every single engagement survey question through a diversity lens.

A good number of companies are doing demographic cuts of the data. But I’ve been surprised that it’s still a limited number. However your organization defines the mix (diversity), it should be measured by how well the mix is working (inclusion). I can’t think of a more powerful, embedded, systematic, and accepted tool to do this than the engagement survey. It’s smart to hook diversity and inclusion to engagement, which often is already an accepted, and even valued, metric.

A few tips:

  • If you are already measuring “people of color,” see if you can break the group down into the different racial or ethnic population segments. You’ll very likely find variance in the results.
  • If you are measuring engagement by age and tenure, see what it looks like when you break the data down by generation. Evaluating age ranges within a generation can be more beneficial than simply looking at age.
  • If you are proud of your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusion efforts, count your LGBT population and measure their engagement.
  • If you want to discover more people with invisible disabilities, give them the opportunity to self-identity in your engagement survey. When they do, offer a handful of questions specifically about their experience as a person with a disability in the organization.

Be sure to measure these aspects in a multidimensional way. Don’t just look at your female engagement. Rather, look at the engagement of Millennial women versus Xer women versus Boomer women. Then look at those cuts through a racial or ethnic lens. With this approach you can look at multivariate results that lead to much more pinpointed and meaningful issues that in turn lead to much more focused interventions and solutions that can lift inclusion of those particular groups.

Measurement is not enough, however. When the results come in, be sure they are analyzed in crossculturally competent, diversity savvy ways. Much interpretation of engagement results is governed by cultural and worldview assumptions, beliefs, and preferences. Challenge preconceived notions of what is and is not engaging. Tap into the different groups for insights. See what’s missing that should be considered.

Diversity and inclusion practitioners need to get really smart about the art and science of engagement. Are you a part of those key engagement conversations? If you are, be ready to provide your diversity and inclusion practitioner insight coupled with a credible grasp of the engagement discipline. For those of you who aren’t currently plugged into your company’s engagement efforts, connect with the person who owns engagement. Ask him or her, how do you use this tool? What are its advanced uses? What are the challenges? Get to know that person and their engagement work.

As you learn from them, offer to help them become even better engagement professionals by allowing them to see the diversity and inclusion implications from a crossculturally competent way. The more diverse the workforce gets, the more diversity savvy all of human resources must become when it comes to making the most of the engagement surveys.

In upcoming messages, I look forward to sharing more thoughts on the other two key measures for inclusion: influence and decision-making power, and strength of the talent pipeline. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about this topic. Share your thoughts in the space below.

2012 is the Year of New Thinking

by Andrés T. Tapia —  


With more than a month into the New Year, now is a good time to check how we’re doing with our 2012 resolutions. Earlier, Diversity Best Practices offered some practical suggestions of things you could do to increase your impact this year.

This is also  a good moment to re-examine common topics, challenges, and opportunities in a fresh way. At Diversity Best Practices, we’re committed to disseminating details about best practices, but we also strive to be at the forefront of new thinking.

What’s the new thinking in 2012 that has implications for diversity? Three things come to mind.

It’s a Multidimensional World

In today’s global, multiracial, multigenerational workforce some of the classic ways of thinking about diversity feel too limiting. With affinity groups, mentoring programs, and career fairs organized in unidimensional ways (women or Latino or Black or Asian or Gay) how do we effectively address the growing reality that people can be all of the above?

We need to challenge ourselves to think about diversity in multidimensional ways. If you missed last year’s insight paper published on this very topic make sure to check it out. The take aways included that in the past decade the number of multiracial people in United States has tripled and the Millennial generation has grown up in an era of greater tolerance, which means there is going to be an acceleration of multicultural relationships. What’s more, globalization is bringing together people from different cultures and nations, which is leading to new types of bonds that transcend traditional diversity dimensions.

The conversations around race, for example, sound and feel very different among white Baby Boomers (who tend to have grown up in more homogeneous environments and didn’t encounter diversity until they went to college) than among Millennial whites (who grew up in multicultural communities and in a growing number of cases were in the minority).

It’s imperative we have a better handle on the implications of the intersections between race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability to just mention a few. Is there a place for the gay African American or the Latino with a disability or the Asian who is a military veteran? This creates seemingly vexing new challenges in the workplace, particularly for employee resource groups. How do you accommodate this growing multidimensional reality? Many ERGs are not equipped to address this. Now is a great time to look at your team and discuss strategies.

Global is the New Local

We also need to shift how we think about global work. Instead of viewing it as an expansion of one’s domestic efforts, today’s global business culture necessitates that companies start globally to be successful. How do you do this? Instead of treating your global work as an add on, a global mindset needs to be in place when you develop your initial strategy. In effect, your entire approach becomes global, with your U.S. headquarters becoming one of your many global regions. 

This has implications for developing strategy, action plans, staffing, stakeholder analysis, and communications strategy. Even for those who are only U.S.-based, globalization is already affecting your support functions, competitive landscape, and future expansion plans. This is about the place where you stand, your punto de partida, your starting point. How much are you thinking of global as your punto de partida?

It’s Not Just About People

More and more Fortune 1000 companies are seeing that diversity is not just a talent issue. It’s actually a huge marketplace issue. The multicultural population represents a $3 trillion market. And it’s a market that is growing, as these populations enter the job market, go to school, have their first home, insurance policies, self-paid vacations. These groups will be driving consumption. In my work as president of Diversity Best Practices and in consulting, the opportunity here is bastante grande, very big. This is where executives get highly engaged when we can help them see the direct line of sight from diversity to revenue and growth.

One example of a company capitalizing on this trend: At a Walgreens in Highland Park—a Chicago community comprised of Jewish, Anglo, and Latino residents—the ice cream freezer is not stocked with Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, or Breyers, but rather La Michoacana, a Mexican ice cream provider. The brand is not well known in the United States at all, but it’s definitely recognizable to those who grew up in Mexico. The decision to feature that brand of ice cream at the impulse buying check out area is a money-making nod to the fast-growing Latino demographic in the neighborhood.

When you see something like that it means things are starting to go mainstream. How much is your diversity strategy riding that wave? How much are you lending your voice and perspective to harness the power of diversity to really win in the marketplace?

The War Is On

The talent war is going to heat up. Be on the look out. It cooled down during the recession, but the diversity of that highly desirable talent hasn’t decreased. With the economy gradually improving, competition for that diverse talent is increasing. Great talent will be available because people are ready to look for new opportunities. Just recently I was talking with the CDO at one of our financial member companies and he commented about all the great talent he has come across recently and, in contrast to last year, this wasn’t very good talent who happened to have been laid off, but very good talent currently employed at very good companies looking to make a move to enhance their careers.

To be at the forefront of doing vital work, keeping and reviewing these new ways of thinking as beacons of thinking will be essential for a successful, prosperous, and breakthrough year.


Alzheimer’s and the Basketball Coach

by Andrés T. Tapia –Alzheimers Concept

She has won more basketball games than any other Division I coach – male or female. And with plenty of more wins still in her sights, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She is 59 years old.

How much our lives and careers can change suddenly and without warning. In the turn of a moment, anyone can become disabled. Yet many are able and willing to remain productive. Coach Summitt is one of those.

But Summitt is up against formidable odds. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in the United States have the disease — including 200,000 younger than 65 — and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. Every 69 seconds, another American is diagnosed with this disease. There is no cure and treatment involves managing the disease’s symptoms

Here is Coach Summitt’s video statement about her condition.

According to a Washington Post article, Summitt’s coaching assistants will take on more of the day-to-day and game-day coaching responsibilities, as her role will transition into more of function of leading and teaching.

As sad as this news may seem, Summitt said, “There’s not going to be any pity party, and I’ll make sure of that. I feel better just knowing what I’m dealing with. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching.” She made these remarks in an interview with The Knoxville News Sentinel.

Living her life is important for Summitt and for the 16 million Americans who are projected to get the disease by 2050. Societies across the globe will have to adjust to the increasing numbers of seniors with Alzheimer’s as its toll hits family and governmental budgets. For instance, the cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s will be $183 billion in 2011, an $11 billion increase over 2010. These figures don’t include the $203 billion in value of the unpaid care provided by family members and friends.

Employers will have to figure out how to deal with the increasing number of employees who are diagnosed with the disease or those who are also caregivers for affected seniors. Some victims, like Pat Summitt, will be able to continue working for a while. Others may have to resort to various public or private programs for their care. That’s the financial side of the ledger, but all of us are more than our ability to make a living.

In the Lisa Genova novel, Still Alice, readers follow the decline of Alice, a Harvard professor with early onset Alzheimer’s. Told from Alice’s perspective, the novel illustrates how everyone around the person with the disease has to adjust to the disease — her family, friends, and employer.

Alzheimer’s disease, like many other disabilities, is an illness that no one really likes to think about. It’s scary and much too real of a possibility. It attacks the very concept of who we are and ultimately robs its victims of their identities and sense of purpose. This fact was brought home by a group of homeowners in Minnesota who vehemently opposed an assisted living center that specialized in caring for people with Alzheimer’s. More than the angry opponents realized, their fury did not hide their fears. Yet facing the possibility of Alzheimer’s enables us to face the eventuality of the disability, should it come to that, and to be better prepared to adapt and adjust.

Neither Summitt, nor her doctors or colleagues can predict how the disease will play out in her life. However, Summitt has committed to play it out to the final buzzer.

The Senses of It All: New Insights on Disability Diversity (Sidebar)

accessibilityMy visit to Serasa Experian  that prompted the blog post, “The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy,” led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
It’s so easy for sensitive and inclusive diversity practitioners to not forget to include “disability” in the laundry list of diversity issues that must be addressed. But how well do we, plus business and HR leaders and managers, truly know how to best meet their needs? My sensory disorientation during my lunch time conversation with Felipe, Diego, and João was indicative of my being blind to the subtle needs of those who couldn’t see and unable to truly listen for the needs of those who couldn’t hear.

For the organizational gyroscope on disability inclusion to be properly calibrated it’s vital to have a leader or change agent involved who also has a disability to ensure the readings of the visible and invisible oscillations are true and helpful to navigate through them. It’s no surprise then that under a diversity leader with a disability such as João, that Serasa Experian’s has become a benchmark for best practices for creating inclusion for salaried professionals with a disability.

The Environment Has to Be Deliberately Nurtured So All Can Collaborate in Creating Inclusion for those with Disabilities
To break bread over a meal is always a choreography as we sit, serve, chew, talk, listen, gesture, sip, swallow. Food is cut, drink is poured. Plates, cups, silverware, napkins come and go throughout the various courses. Our hands and arms poke, slice, bob, weave, undulate as we intermingle conversation with consumption. The choreography then becomes much more complex as a deaf, blind, quad, and clueless guy sit down to for white bean soup, sole, and filet mignon.

And here’s where waiters in the Serasa Experian dining room sprung into action. Without missing a beat, they joined the dance in anticipatory ways as they put placemats, salt and pepper shakers, glasses within the reach of the one who has blind, at times guiding his hands toward the desired object, ensuring line of sight with the one who was deaf so he could read their lips, cutting the meat into bite size pieces for easy access. Conversely, as tuned in as the waiters were to the special needs they needed to tend to as part of their job, the executives at the neighboring table carried on with their business, not in a oblivious or neglectful way, but rather in a casual way that indicated that the extraordinary choreography nearby was an ordinary part of life at the company.

This scene did not happen by happenstance. It is the result of an explicit, deliberate strategy that has been well communicated and where all employees have been properly oriented to best create an inclusive environment for those with disabilities.

Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
As much as Serasa Experian is a values-driven organization that believes in diversity, inclusion, and the financial power of having an engaged workforce, the catalyst for their extraordinary story around disability diversity was the law that set a quota for the percentage of people with a disability that should make up Brazilian companies’ workforces. It was in response to this that they brought in João who then had the powerful combination of a compliance mandate plus a leadership team that wanted to go beyond doing just enough.

And here’s a telling contrast between disability-related laws passed in Brazil and in the US, not only how compliance brings about change, but also on how the law is framed impacts the outcomes. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) focused on accessibility and accommodation. But unlike Brazilian law, it did not address representation. At its core it was about mandating that companies be appropriately proactive in creating architectural accessibility to anyone who may show up on public sidewalks, lobbies, hallways, and restrooms so that those with disabilities could get around. It also mandated that reactively accommodations be made to enable someone with a disability to do their job.

So with this compliance framing, the US ends up with wheelchair accessible buildings and handicapped parking sprouting up systematically throughout the country yet not with very many people with disabilities in the workplace.

Conversely, through compliance Brazil chose to emphasize representation but not so much accommodation in public spaces. And guess what? Brazil ends up with a much better workplace representation story but poor accessibility of public spaces.

Everyone Needs Accommodation
As I heard the stories of Nancy, Diego, Felipe, Lais, João and observed their working environment it reinforced for me that in this upside down world we need to redefine what we need disabled and accommodation and instead talk about being differently abled.

Before I elaborate, let me insert this caveat: In making the point that follows, I do not intend to equate all limitations as being equality difficult or easy or equally costly or painful. Rather I suggest that instead of looking at this as being an either/or of being able bodied or having a disability that we instead look at the issue as a continuum.

So back to my point. I see organizations and society resisting proactive and reactive accommodation because of cost and inconvenience, But let’s get some perspective about what accommodation really is. Because don’t we all, in one way or another require some form of accommodation? And are there are myriad ways in which society, the workplace, those around us accommodate our needs without question? So why should we suddenly question request or needs that may be less common but are just a serious and important as those we address without question.

Walk with me through this thought process. We can’t be in two places at once so we need telephones. We are limited in how much we can handwrite so we have devices with keyboards.. We are limited in how many tasks we can tend to so we need administrative assistants. We don’t work very well when its too hot or too cold so we need heating and air conditioning. We can get physically I’ll so we need healthcare coverage. Most of us aren’t inheritors of wealth so we need retirement savings benefits. We can’t work without resting so we need breaks during the work day and weekends every 5 days, and vacations at least once a year. We need to find babysitters so we get childcare referrals on the web. We have bodies that get fatigued and need the proper support so we have ergonomically sound chairs.

So how is this any different from the reality of a having some form of disability? In essence all things above have to do with an element of limitation of the human body and mind. We are always providing accommodation to all types. Those with disability at some level have the same need to address some physical or mental limitation that may be less prevalent than, say. our susceptibility to hot or cold. Addressing disability is simply providing what workers need to be as efficient and effective as possible and with their talents have the best chance to come out flush for the sake of the organization and the individuals.

The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy

by Andrés T. Tapia

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Andrés Tapia, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

SÃO PAOLO — My synapses were crossed. In the executive dining room, engineer Felipe Trigueros could not hear me because he is deaf, so I turned to face marketing assistant Diego de Castro who could. But it was Felipe who needed me to look at him so he could read my lips while Diego couldn’t even tell which way I was facing. Then Diego turns to Felipe to say in Portuguese what I had just said in a combination of English and Spanish. But why was Diego soundlessly mouthing the words rather than speaking aloud? Oh, yeah, duh, Felipe is deaf!

A little later a sign language interpreter comes in to further facilitate the conversation for Felipe’s benefit, particularly as I am asking questions of my new acquaintances. But after a few communication gestures he stops and Diego picks up again with the silent mouthing. I don’t get it. Oh, yeah, duh, the interpreter is a Brazilian Sign Language interpreter and we are all mostly talking in English!

So let me back up. I’m at Serasa Experian, a leading Brazilian global information services company, at the invitation of their diversity leader, João Baptista Ribas. I had met João and his boss, Tomás Carmona, the head of Sustainable Development, on a previous visit. On that trip I learned how Serasa Experian’s holistic diversity and inclusion strategy had the its start in disability due to the need to respond to a law passed in 2003 that required companies in Brazil to have, depending on their employee size, anywhere from 2-5% of workers with disability.  How different to the genesis of holistic diversity in the US which has had its start in race and gender.  João, who has paraplegia due to a congenital malformation and is in a wheelchair, was hired to lead that effort. Once he had implemented what is a truly groundbreaking approach with salaried professionals with disabilities he has been building out the more comprehensive diversity and inclusion efforts.

The first time around João and Tomás had shared their holistic diversity strategies with me and sought my reactions. On this visit we were going to dive specifically into their disability diversity work by, most importantly, meeting and having in-depth discussions with the talent with disabilities Serasa Experian had hired. Joining João, Felipe, and Diego in the conversation were Nancy Galvão who is a journalist and whose right hand withered when she contracted polio, and Laís Kari, who is a proofreader and blind — yes she is, and is among Serasa Experian’s best doing that kind of work.

These individuals were not the token representatives of disability diversity. As I walked the hallways later I met and saw dozens of employees in wheelchairs, dozens who were blind, dozens who were deaf, carrying about the business of accounting, programming, writing, marketing, etc. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.

What unfolded during the conversation was a narrative about the intersection of disability with identity, prejudice, humanity, career, autonomy, freedom, and ambition. Some highlights, first about their own experiences and beliefs and then some new thoughts they triggered for me:


Autonomy and Independence Is the Greatest Desire; Freedom the Greatest Outcome
Whether in words or in their stories, Felipe, Diego, Nancy, Laís, and João said the same thing: for those with disabilities, autonomy and independence which lead to freedom to pursue their goals are their greatest desire and what they pursue relentlessly.

Of course, they avail themselves to technology such as the cochlear implant, the screen reader that magnifies text on computer screens, the TDD telephone, as well as other support mechanisms such as the sight dog, the translators, ramps, and doors that always open outwardly. Explains João, “People say ‘poor you, confined to a wheelchair.’ But they don’t understand. I’m not confined. Rather, my wheelchair means freedom.”

“When my hand withered due to polio,” says Nancy, the writer, “my mom wanted to kill me and herself. But I wanted to be a journalist. People said that I couldn’t, because I was the one with the disability, the poor little one. Today I earn more money than any two-armed person in my family and I think I can say I am one of the happiest.”

Laís picks up on this narrative, “The attitude on the part of society is ‘No walk. No study. No work.’”  But each of these professionals has ambitions as big and mundane as any able bodied person’s. Felipe has sought career advancement and gotten it, having been promoted three times in 2009 and 2010.

“One of my dreams has always been to go to university,” says Diego who started to go blind just five years ago. “I wanted to have a house and a family and I was not going to let my going blind stop that.” He can now scratch these three items off his to-do list and he’s ready to add a couple of new ones: go to business school and become a leader within the company.

Work Is Empowering and Humanizing
“When you don’t have a job you don’t feel like a human being,” says Laís. “And it’s not just about the money. It’s also about making friends, and discovering things about yourself you did not know you could do. And it’s also about our families changing their view of what we are capable of.”

And it’s in this last statement that the key to disability diversity lies. Family members and co-workers stop seeing the disability and start seeing the person. “The best moment,” says Felipe, “is when my co-workers don’t see me as deaf but rather as a very good engineer.”

Work also allows each of these individuals to pursue their inner passions and to now make a living off of them. When I ask Laís how she ended up being a proofreader she tells me enthusiastically, “I have always loved to read. I love the Portuguese language.” And with the help of a digital replayer which is software that reads aloud what is on the screen, Laís and Priscila Neves, another blind employee I met who is a psychologist, crank up the replayers to read back to them at 10 times normal speed — so fast that it sounds like gibberish to my untrained ear. Laís zips through the document she is proofreading and, like finding a needle in haystack, plucks out the typos and misspellings.

Their stories make clear how affirming and dignifying it is to have a job, not just for those who have a disability but, when seen through their eyes, really for all of us. Think about the power of the following statement by Laís: “Now I can buy a new refrigerator for my Mom.”

As I wrap up, let me give the final word to one of my newfound friends at Serasa Experian: “Disability is not a problem,” says the blind proofreader. “What’s a problem is convincing others that it’s not a problem.”

In the battle of the senses, this makes a lot of sense.

Sidebar: New Insights on Disability Diversity
My visit to Serasa Experian led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

Click here for sidebar.

Nine Linchpin Strategies for Advancing Diversity in 2010

by Andrés T. Tapia

First, a few words on strategy and then to my specific recommendations.

Powerful strategy should always sound simple when it’s articulated.

That’s because strategy is about identifying the one or two things that are going to be pursued and, by inference, the 100 other things that could but will not be. In war it could be  “overwhelming force” or “secret infiltration.” In politics it could be, “say no to everything no matter what” or “find a way to find common ground no matter what.” In soccer, “shut down Ronaldo” or “shut down everyone else but him.”

What is hard is being able to pinpoint that linchpin issue — the one thing around which everything else gravitates. It’s that one thing that, if either enabled or thwarted, will determine the enterprise’s best chance of comprehensive success. This is difficult to accomplish, not just because it requires knowledge of the big picture, but also because it requires discernment to identify interrelationships between myriad issues.  It’s also difficult because saying “yes” to a handful of key actions or philosophies sidelines all the other good ideas — each of which has proponents, cheerleaders, experts, tools, techniques, and processes. Vested interests make it difficult for the many players to embrace a strategic direction that may not include something they hold most dear.

Diversity & inclusion strategy is no different, even though it may seem hypocritical to declare what approaches to achieving inclusion are in and which ones are out.

But strategize — and therefore prioritize — we must, if we are to move the work forward.

So in this spirit, here’s my stab at what I believe are the linchpin strategies for 9 different current diversity issues. Keep in mind the qualifier “top priority.” This does not mean that there are not other things to do, but in strategy work the goal is to put our finger on the key issue around which the many others revolve. If we pursue it successfully, we will not just change whatever it was we were going after, but also lay the groundwork for resolving many other related issues.

  1. For the LGBT community, the top priority should be to seek full equality through the courts and legislation–not at the referendum ballot box. The ballot box strategy requires convincing majorities to change (or at the very least follow through on) their beliefs in the face of controversy. That is a tall order! And it is also a very polarizing one, as we saw with 2008’s Prop 8 in California. By contrast, focusing on the courts requires influencing a handful of decision makers on how to interpret the law of the land. And when it comes to civil rights — a belief deeply codified in the US legal system — the law provides a lever with multiple precedents that is ultimately difficult to refute. Not that there won’t be intense debate and struggle. But consider how women’s and Blacks’ rights were won; what would have happened if those issues had been put to a popular vote?
  2. For Latinos, particularly on the issue of immigration reform, the top priority should be to seek full equality through the ballot box–not through the courts. Here, in contrast to the LGBT community, Latinos have the numbers to effectively influence the popular vote. The problem is that many Latinos are not registered to vote or do not show up on election day. Strategically, then, getting Latinos to vote is a great place to focus energy. From a civil rights/legislative perspective it’s difficult to influence with power when making a legal argument on behalf of undocumented people. Better to make the representative democracy argument on behalf of millions of immigrants who have built their lives, homes, and families in the US and contributed significantly to society.
  3. For African-Americans, the top priority should be enforcing compliance with already existing laws. The laws are already there to fight discrimination. The problem has been lax enforcement. Clearly Blacks are still far from being represented adequately at all levels of leadership and management, but with an African American president in the most powerful leadership position in the world, it’s now more difficult to engage mainstream society on the subjective issue of Black talent being overlooked. Instead, we need to go down the compliance route that looks at the gap between available labor force and representation within the organization. This will pave the way for recognizing African American talent on its own merits.
  4. For Asian Americans, the top priority should be to press for equity in promotions to management. While Asian Americans have their own share of being on the receiving end of civil rights violations, those in the corporate world suffer especially from a stereotype that they are good for technical individual contributor roles rather than for leveraged, people management roles. Asian Americans need to bulk up on how to make a compelling case to their organizations that the management skills they already possess are being overlooked.
  5. For white women, the top priority should be to stop waiting for men in power to make changes. As a group, women already have the power to make necessary changes. In the 2008 primary elections, Hillary Clinton referred to 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, reflecting the number of votes she had received. While the glass ceiling is still in place, these cracks have weakened it significantly. It’s now time for women in management and senior leadership to press against it assertively and bring down barriers that men have left in place.
  6. For Native Americans, the top priority should be to demand more avenues for linking up with existing economic and educational development opportunities–and to ask for more of them. Native Americans are one of the most marginalized groups in the US; the reservation system literally casts them outside of mainstream avenues of inclusion. While they have unique historical dynamics to work through with the federal government, Native Americans would be able to increase their clout if they could find common cause with other marginalized groups — particularly in the area of education, which has proven to be the greatest predictor of economic advancement.
  7. For Boomers, the top priority should be to learn from Generations X and Y. They know how to thrive in an upside-down world. Thus, instead of spending too much time figuring out how to shape them into a Boomer worldview (pay your dues, do things in order, don’t show your work until it’s completely polished), Boomers should tap their energy to help lead with alternative approaches to today’s most complex and vexing problems.
  8. For Generations X and Y, the top priority should be to learn from Boomers’ life experience. Boomers may be technologically challenged, but they have the battle scars of life — work and personal — for which there is no Twitter shortcut. Wisdom and insights come with those scars. Generations X and Y need that!
  9. For the disabled, the top priority should be enforcing compliance with the law and normalizing disability. The goal should be to get people to realize that we all are or will be part of this community. Right now disability is too feared by those without disabilities for society to be able to approach it as part of life, rather than as other.

Inherent in declaring strategy is the debate about whether the declared path is the best. Strategy without ongoing testing and challenge is useless. What would you debate here?

Recession Affects All Generations Economically; While Impact Varies, It Heightens Intergenerational Tension

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

Negotiating generational differences in the workplace can be tough. Today’s economic recession makes relationships between generational groups even more complicated.

Many Boomers feel like they have had the rug snatched out from under them. Their home equity values have plummeted, and their retirement savings have dwindled. Now, many remain in the workforce not because they can, but because they must. A significant number who have left the workforce are seeking their way back. “Middle Boomers,” those between the ages of 52 and 58, face the biggest difficulties. According to a Walletpop article, many of these Boomers are delaying retirement from age 65 to age 70—and 85% of those planning to delay retirement have been hurt financially in the recession. The biggest pain for Boomers is not necessarily the rate of unemployment, but the length of time unemployed. Members of this generation take on average 22 weeks to find a new job, compared to only 15 weeks for those aged 20 to 24, according to USA Today.

Although they spend less time in the unemployment line, many more Millennials are also finding themselves there these days. According to U.S. News and World Report, unemployment hovers at 10% for the general population, but averages a whopping 20% for those between 16 and 19 years old. Unpaid internships are on the rise. College graduates are waiting tables. The same report cites evidence that a low starting salary can follow someone throughout the early portion of his or her career. During the 1981-82 recession, graduates who found employment earned an average of 25% less than those who began work during good economic times. The earnings gap often persisted up to 15 years later.

Millennials enter the workforce with more economic pressures than preceding generations, particularly because of the debt they’ve incurred. According to an article in USA Today, two-thirds of young adults in their 20s carry some debt; this same age group tends to be late to pay off loans, too. While credit cards are part of the problem, the fastest growing group of debtors are those owing $20,000 or more in student loan payments.

With the relative lack of media coverage about them, one might assume Generation X is weathering the recession just fine. In fact, however, Gen Xers are suffering for the second time. Many of them first entered the job market during the dot.com era, when jobs were plentiful—but then suddenly vanished. Now, just as they’ve settled into homes and established their families, they are hit hard by the current recession. According to  MSNBC, this generation is the first to go largely without pensions and other job securities long enjoyed by Boomers.

Given economic insecurities, employees of all ages are tense, frustrated, on edge. When they begin to think the younger generation is hot on their heels, older workers become tense. When they and their friends fail to find summer jobs because post-retirees have taken them, younger workers become tense. When they can’t visualize career growth because they know the people above them are delaying retirement, middle-aged workers become tense. Employers can address these economy-based concerns by approaching hard decisions with compassion. When workers must be let go, employers need to show as much compassion for remaining workers as is practical—remembering that top talent can and will leave if dissatisfaction is allowed to fester. Finding flexible solutions, such as across-the-board pay reductions in lieu of layoffs, demonstrates that employers care and are willing to share economic pain.

Generational Conflict in the Workplace, the Issues Run Deep

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

Mixing workers from different generations can be like mixing volatile chemicals in a lab.  Combine hierarchically minded Baby Boomers intent on building one stellar career with techno-saavy Millennials who believe in having two or three “careers” running in tandem, and you never know when you might witness an explosion.

Turbulence across generations is not new, nor is it particularly new to the workplace. But Pew Research suggests that as Traditionalists (born roughly 1900 to 1945) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) achieve ever-greater health and longevity, the workforce generation clash grows. While Boomers and even some Traditionalists seek the seniority and rewards they believe they’ve earned for their long and loyal service, Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) struggles to find its own place in the pecking order. Finally, Millennials (born 1980 to 2000) enter the fray, bringing leaps in technology with them.

Millennials and Generation Xers are more racially and culturally blended than preceding age groups.  Pew Research reports that only 60% of  Millennials and Gen Xers are non-Hispanic whites, compared to 73% of Baby Boomers and 80% of Traditionalists. These more ethnically diverse younger generations appear more comfortable with the global, multinational nature of the world in which we live–proficient with the technology that supports global enterprise, and less fazed by seeing burkas in the workplace, sampling fusion cuisines, or joining an overseas conference call in the middle of the night.

With their contemporary outlook, Millennials and Gen Xers seem poised to take positions of power in the workplace. Yet Traditionalists and especially Boomers hold high appeal for employers. Boomers are far more likely to cite a “strong work ethic” as a defining characteristic of their generation; by contrast, “work ethic” does not even make Millennials’ top five list of self-defining traits (“technology use” tops their list, followed by an interest in “music/culture”). “Respectful,” too, is high on the list of Boomer traits that do not register among Millennials.

Generational inclusion is a huge challenge for employers who want to leverage differences productively. The Boomer and Millennial generations are roughly similar in size, and the iconic traits of both seem larger than life–to each other, and to the Gen Xers who are not sure when, or even if, they will have their chance to shine. For Boomers, it can be additionally painful to report to a younger person—and even more painful to acknowledge that the young boss knows more about technology than they do. Millennials, meanwhile, struggle with the concept of “paying their dues” and can be disinclined to seek the counsel of their elders.

In the midst of these potentially volative differences, guidance is needed. What is your organization’s leadership doing to help workers of different ages benefit from each other’s differences?

Research on Aging Workforce: Societies and Organizations Underestimating the Impact

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research and Andrés Tapia –

It’s likely that whatever we know about the rapidly aging population severely underestimates what’s in store for our societies.

It’s become common knowledge that the world is getting grayer, with older people becoming a larger part of our population. This is evident in the workforce, grocery aisles, movie theaters, at the park, in the voting booth. Indeed, it’s a natural outgrowth of a very large Baby Boom Generation cohort that, in addition to its size, also is living longer than any preceding generation due to breakthroughs in the nature of work, healthcare, technology, and nutrition.

On closer examination, the aging of the world’s population is more accelerated than most realize. A recent Census Bureau report found that in little more than 30 years, the world’s 65-and-older population will double from 7 percent to 14 percent. In less than 10 years, older people will outnumber children around the world for the first time in history. [1]

It’s important to look at the aging story by country. In certain parts of the world, the population is graying faster than the already accelerated average. Japan, Italy, and Germany are the three “oldest” countries: In each, the 65-and-over population numbers at least 20 percent. [2]

While it’s true that developed nations have higher percentages of people over 65—it turns out the aging phenomenon is widespread. About 62% of the world’s over-65 population lives in developing countries and regions such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. European countries still have the largest proportion of over-65 people, and Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest proportion of young people. But between July 2007 and July 2008, developing countries accounted for 81% of the world’s net gain of elderly people. The countries expected to experience the largest increase in 65-and-older citizens by 2040 are Singapore, Colombia, India, Malaysia, and Egypt. [3]

The implications of a rapidly growing elderly population are as mind boggling as they are underestimated. Providing retirement and health care support for older populations will severely strain many countries’ social safety nets, some even to the point of insolvency.

The working population may not be large enough to carry this burden.

The math is unnerving. Today in Europe, for each pensioner there are four people of working age. By 2050, each pensioner will be offset by only two working-age people. [4] In Japan, the scenario worsens: In 2005, only three workers supported every one pensioner, but by 2040 only 1.8 workers will support each pensioner. [5]

The Need for New Paradigms
Of course, these projections assume current paradigms. New realities demand new paradigms where the unthinkable becomes just the thing that needs to happen—for example, dramatically changing approaches to retirement, including retiring the concept of retirement at age 65. Many retirees and near retirees are declaring that they want, need, and are still able to work.

But to make this work, major adjustments to other assumptions will be required, primarily revolving around flexibility. Not just flexibility around the workday and location of the work, but flexibilitly around the amount and nature of the work. And the concept of “phased retirement” is gaining traction.

This paradigm shift of rethinking the hard and fast retirement age of 65 offers a silver lining. A possibility now arises to address the dilemma of a retiree population too big to support, as well as other workforce dilemmas, such as the looming talent shortage.

Employers know the aging workforce is coming. Their challenge, now, is to identify creative strategies to attract and retain those workers, while also eyeing the delicate balance of the needs and preferences of young, middle-age, and older workers who can be forty years apart in age.

And now it appears, employers must be ready to face this challenge even sooner than they expected.

1. Kinsella, Kevin and He, Wan. “An Aging World: 2008.” International Population Reports. June 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Dobriansky, Paula J., PhD., Hodes, Richard J., M.D., And Suzman, Richard M., PhD. “Why Population Aging Matters—A Global Perspective.” National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of State.
5. Fackler, Martin. “Lost in Japan’s Election Season: The Economy.” New York Times online. August 28, 2009.