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.



India’s Modernization Fraying Extended Families


As families grow more nuclear in India, nostalgia for the extended family has become a middle class obsession writes New America Media Editor Sandip Roy.

Here are some excerpts from his article:

Consider, for example, the recent five-handkerchief Bollywood hit Baghban. Yesteryear superhero Amitabh Bachchan plays an aging patriarch who is shuttled back and forth between his busy children. Unable to live with his wife any more, he steals tender moments with her secretly by telephone late at night.

Indians are graying, with 81 million over the age of 60. The population above 80, however, is growing fastest. By 2050, according to UN estimates, 48 million Indians will be over 80. Overall, Indians seem unprepared for the reality of how to integrate older generations into a more Westernized society where younger adults hold economic power and feel too busy with work demands to accommodate their parents.

“Until the 90s, there was strong family support,” says Premkumar Raja, secretary of Nightingales Medical Trust in Bangalore, which provides medical services for elders. “Elders were taken care of in the family. But with globalization the joint family system is breaking.”

Adults hemmed in by the pressures of work and raising their own children show signs of stress that reach dangerous levels: cases of elder abuse and neglect have been on the rise. Despite these problems, however, elder advocates say the solution is not an old age home in every district or more western-style retirement communities. Premkumar Raja at Nightingales Trust says what India needs are more day care centers. “We don’t want to separate elders from their families.”

Jai Prakash agrees that keeping parents and children together is important. Children who may not live with their parents can often live near them, she says, perhaps upstairs in a separate flat. Sometimes parents now live with their married daughters, once a major social taboo. “New forms of family are emerging,” Prakash observes. “You can’t really write the obituary of the Indian extended family just yet.”

These developments in India have important ramifications not just for families there, but for families throughout the global workforce.  As I argue in The Inclusion Paradox, employers need to play a role in supporting sustainable family structures in our upside down world. Offering workers flexibility can not only help reduce family stresses such as these, but make for less distracted, and more productive, employees.

When It Comes to 21st Century Families, Individualistic American Worldview Bending Toward Communal: Multi-Generational Homes Make a Comeback

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

multigenerational_EuropeanAmThe “traditional” nuclear family may seem like an American ideal. Indeed, starting just after World War II and continuing to its peak in the 1980s, the nuclear family was the norm. But an early 1940s trend that faded, yet started a slow resurgence in the late 1990s, is gaining steam: multi-generational families.

Increasingly, two generations of adult family members are sharing a roof. Some of you may say this reflects an increase in elderly parents moving in with their adult children, where they are poised to help raise grandchildren and even contribute financially to the household. Some of you will attribute the trend to an increase in young, unwed mothers whose parents are willing and able to help raise their grandchildren as part of their household. Others will point to “Boomerang” Millennials, who return to their parents’ home to take up residence, often due to economic struggles particularly during this Great Recession. And still others of you will note that rising rates of immigration—particularly among Latinos and Asians, who highly value families and respect their elders—are responsible for this trend.

All of you are correct.

multi-generational-family_AfAmThe trend toward multi-generational households is multi-faceted, and shows several social trends converging. A difficult economy, increased immigration, greater longevity, delayed marriage, and even work-life struggles (working moms seeking reliable care may prefer a parent to a day care center) are all factors in the rise of many-generation families.

According to this Pew Research Center report, Boomerang adults are most responsible for the rapid increase in multi-generational households. In 1980, 11 percent of young adults (between the ages of 24 to 35) returned home to live with their parents. By 2008, 20 percent of young adults returned home. Interestingly, this age group is the only one in which men make up the greater share. Among the elderly, the reverse is true: Women are a larger portion of those in multi-generational homes. Overall among the elderly, the same percentage as young adults (20 percent) enjoy a multi-generational home, up from 17 percent in the 1980s.

Multi-generational_LatinoCulture and ethnicity contribute to the trend. According to Pew, “Hispanics (22%), blacks (23%), and Asians (25%) are all significantly more likely than whites (13%) to live in a multi-generational household.” This is a natural behavioral interpretation of the communal worldview of these racial/ethnic groups. Even so, multi-generational households increased across all populationsbetween 2006 and 2008. Why may this be for European Americans? As we indicate in our Hewitt crosscultural training, worldviews are significantly influenced by what is required for a community to survive and thrive. And changing conditions for European Americans plus the influence of a greater number of communal diverse groups in American society, are leading to new interpretations of family that bend somewhat away from an exceptionally strong individualistic bent to a more communal one.

The lifestyle implications of multi-generational households are abundant, ranging from increased grandchild/grandparent interaction to increased strife among in-laws. But these lifestyle changes also make themselves felt in the workforce, where they are less likely to be acknowledged or addressed. For example:

  •  Women—and men—who are sandwiched between caring for their children and their older, in-residence parent, often struggle with work-life balance.
  • According to this PBS article, they also may need health care emphasizing stress relief.
  •  Older, but still working-age, women—and men–who are rearing their grandchildren may need increased health care for themselves, and also may struggle to secure health care for those grandkids (particularly when the parent is unemployed).
  • These same grandparents may require legal support to ensure guardianship of their grandchildren if needed.

Multigenerational_AsianThe benefits of multi-generational households can greatly outweigh its challenges. Employers savvy about this trend can look for creative ways to support members of multi-generational households, thus helping preserve a strong and growing kind of family unit.

Call Center Employs 250 People with Disabilities — Has Lowest Attrition in High Attrition Industry

J. Lodge, a Call Monitoring company in Fort Myers, Florida, employs over 250 Americans with disabilities–and boasts the lowest attrition in their industry. No other call center even comes close.

According to Executive Vice President Andy Schrider, the company’s dual mission has been the same for 11 years: to help clients improve the customer care experience within call centers, and to provide meaningful employment for Americans with disabilities. “Our employees are a part of our mission and they truly believe in it,” he recently shared on Think Beyond the Label‘s website. “They are able to work from home while maintaining a flexible schedule to meet their needs. Our clients love our mission and the superior service that we provide, and we are always growing.”

 The company is named after a man named Jackie Lodge who suffered from quadriplegia and could only control his wheelchair with his tongue. Despite his intelligence because his parents had been killed when he was only a boy, he was forced to live in the state’s only available accommodation–a home for people with extreme mental disabilities.

Jackie was often bored and welcomed any visitor who would strike up an intelligent conversation. Andy Shrider’s family got to know him, bringing him crossword puzzles and magazines just to help him occupy his mind. At that time, Andy’s father was in the call center industry, which suffered from two main problems: poorly educated employees and horrific attrition. A call center job was not valued by most of the agents who had one, and they often moved onto other industries. Corporations were desperate to get good people to manage the moment of truth with their customers. The Shriders saw this need for an attractive labor force and the need of the disabled community to gain meaningful employment, and decided to do something.

That was when they started J.Lodge, structuring its employee model around those with physical disabilities. This model has been the backbone of J.Lodge’s success and is what differentiates it from their competitors.“Our employees are professionals like you and me,” says Shrider. “They are just looking to work and add meaning to their life like anyone else. You could not ask for a better employee.”

So add J. Lodge to the success stories of companies who counter the barriers I capture in my chapter, “Disability: The Diversity Issue We Fear the Most” in The Inclusion Paradox. They not only do not fear disabilities, they are in fact, redefining ability and in so doing driving up their margins through low attrition.

Does your company have a similar story to share? If so, I invite you to share it with readers on this site. And if not, what’s keeping your company from tapping this prime talent pool?

Work from Home on Way to Becoming the Norm

According to HR.BLR.com, the number of people working at least partly from home has been on the rise–up to 11.3 million in 2005, a 17% increase since 1999. Those who enjoy this kind of flexibility in their work environment are also more likely to report flexibility in scheduling work hours: In 2005, about 23% of home-based workers reported their weekly work hours varied, compared with only 10% of those who worked outside the home.

Given the domestic pressures many women feel, it’s not surprising that over half of these home-based workers are female.

In The Inclusion Paradox, I offer evidence of how meeting the need for work/life flexibility helps employers recruit and retain the best talent in an increasingly diverse workforce. While it will be no surprise to most that the 2010 census will confirm an acceleration of the trend toward working from home, I predict the numbers will be stunning — full-time or part-time work from home will have gone mainstream. Company policies and processes to manage this kind of workforce will continue to lag behind.  This revolutionary change in how we work also calls for a closer synergistic collaboration between the Real Estate, Technology, and Human Resources functions. Currently these three operate separately and sub-optimize what an interdisciplinary approach could accomplish.

What changes do you see need to happen for companies to better accommodatethis inevitable transformative change of where work happens?

Wives and Mothers Rising in the Global Workforce

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research –

As noted in my January 27 post, women by some measures are exceeding men in education—but still not getting equal pay at the end of the work day. The following two news stories from different parts of the Western world, however, illustrate how married women are increasingly becoming valued as indispensable to the 21st century global workforce.

Although a gendered income gap remains, wives in the United States are seeing their economic status increase. According to a Pew Research study titled “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives,” compensation is more equitable for married women than it once was. In 1970, only 4 percent of marriages included a wife earning more than her husband–even though 20 percent of married women were more educated than their husbands. As of 2007, 22 percent of U.S. marriages involved a woman who earned more than her husband, paralleling more closely the reality that 28 percent of those marriages included women who were more educated than their husbands.

Unfortunately, not all married women in the West have made this much progress.

A New York Times story details how in Germany, working women—mothers, in particular—are still struggling to keep their heads above water. There, the cultural ideal of a nurturing mother being a stay-at-home mother is so strong that most state-run schools dismiss children at 1:00 p.m. Consequently, most working mothers have part-time jobs, or no jobs at all, so they can be home for their children. Lunch and after-school care are not always easily available. Significantly, mothers who work more than part-time have earned a nickname: “Rabenmutter.” This translates to “raven mother,” or a mother who pushes her chicks out of the nest.

The good news is that Germany’s traditional views about mothers and school hours are beginning to change. As the birth rate plummets and concerns about labor shortages in the female-dominated service sector rise, more Germans recognize that women should not be forced to choose between children and career. Since 2003, nearly a fifth of Germany’s 40,000 schools have phased in afternoon programs, and more plan to follow suit.

“This is a taboo we just can’t afford anymore,” says Ursula von der Leyen, the German labor minister. “The country needs women to be able to both work and have children.” This trend turns the question of child care into one of economic competitiveness, notes Karen Hagemann, professor of European and gender history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As German businesses are discovering, career-minded women are not the only ones who benefit when the workplace, and society, adapt to accomodate them.

The Gender Performance Flip-Flop

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research –

It begins in early education: Girls academically outperform boys, starting in primary school . The problem is nearly universal, happening in the United States, the United Kingdom , the United Arab Emirates , and, in fact, in all 43 countries studied by Unesco and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Particularly in reading, and sometimes in math and science, girls do better in school than boys.

Hard evidence to explain this imbalance cannot be found, but theories abound. Some suggest boys have more difficulty with language skills, giving girls a natural advantage. Other theories debate whether classrooms are designed to meet boys’ needs, or wonder whether boys’ brains simply develop a bit later than girls’ brains.

In previous decades, the gender gap in primary and middle school did not persist beyond high school, mostly because girls often chose not to pursue education beyond high school. In the 70s that trend began to change; by 1979 women had a slight edge in undergraduate enrollment. And by the 1990s women started to steamroll past men: Ratios of men to women on college campuses tend to hover around 55 to 45 (women to men). Higher enrollment is backed by higher performance: Women tend to get better grades and earn more honors.

In fact, by 2005, women took the lead in graduation rates—finishing their education in higher numbers than their male counterparts.

A victory for women?

Actually, the gender imbalance on college campuses poses social difficulties and even safety problems. A recent Chicago Tribune article speculated that the practice of “hooking up”—pursuing a sexual relationship before having an actual relationship—is on the rise, and in part results from the surplus of women found on college campuses. Men can call the shots. Various related issues abound.

Far more troubling, though, is that the academic gender imbalance does nothing to sway the employment gender imbalance. Sure, men may under perform academically, and they may graduate in fewer numbers, but they are more likely to be employed at a higher salary than women.

How can this be? Women academically outperform men, and are graduating from college in larger numbers than men, but still are underpaid. They still are dramatically underrepresented in board rooms and at the C-level.

A recent study of MBA graduates finds that the wage gap is real, but small initially. After 10 to 16 years, men dramatically outpace women in terms of income. Key factors: Men log more hours at the job, and have fewer career interruptions .

For employers, this should be a wake-up call. High-achieving women’s contributions are being limited by a lack of workplace flexibility which allows those who put a high priority on family life to continue achieving on the job as well. Without these women in positions of leadership, businesses are failing to make the best use of some of their potentially most valuable employees.

Diversity News Commentary: Debunking Working Mom Mythology

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research –

The myth goes like this: Mothers work only because, financially, they need to. As soon as their husbands become wealthy, they choose, and prefer, a life at home, caring for their children. More than five years ago, this was the story painted in a 2003 New York Times magazine article called “The Opt-Out Revolution.” Following it came a barrage of related stories, furthering the myth. The Times article offered numbers: The percentage of new mothers going back to work dropped from 59 percent in 1998 to 55 percent in 2000. Examining the Stanford graduating class of 1981, 57 percent of women from that class spent at least one year at home caring for an infant in the first decade after graduation. Among Harvard Business School grads from the classes of 1981, 1985, and 1991, only 38 percent of the women were working full time.[1]

The article offered a theory, as well. Increasingly, it said, women simply are choosing a balanced life at home, versus the frenetic pace of a high-powered career. In other words, rather than pursue equality with their male colleagues, women are—when they have the means—making a choice to walk away. “Why don’t women run the world?” the article asks. “Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.”[2]

But new statistics on working mothers tell a different story.

For the first time, hoping to better understand American families and households, the Census Bureau conducted a study of mothers—those who work, and those who stay at home. The study found that, contrary to the belief that women “opt out” as soon as they have the means, stay-at-home moms are younger and less educated than working mothers. Specifically, in the year studied[3]:

  • About 44 percent of stay-at-home moms were under 35, compared to 38 percent of mothers in the labor force.
  • More than a quarter of stay-at-home moms were Hispanic, compared with 16 percent of working moms. In fact, 34 percent of stay-at-home moms were foreign born.
  • Among stay-at-home mothers, 19 percent had less than a high school education, compared to 8 percent of working moms.

So, were those reports about wealthier mothers opting out unfounded? Not quite. A 2007 study by the Council on Contemporary Families foreshadowed Census Bureau findings. Looking through the lens of husband’s income, the Council’s study found two groups of mothers less likely to be employed: those with husbands at the lowest income levels, followed by those with incomes at the very highest levels.[4]

One might argue that these groups represent the extremes: Mothers with the least choice, and mothers with the most choice. This, if accurate, would tend to validate the belief that mothers leave the workforce once they feel financially able. But digging deeper, a more endemic workforce issue surfaces.

Mothers with the wealthiest husbands opt out because they don’t need to work, right? In fact, many of those mothers pursued prestigious college and post-graduate degrees. These highly educated women fly in the face of the fact that more educated moms tend to work more (per both the Census and the Council on Contemporary Families reports). Why? A recent New York Times column opined that these women feel they must stay home to keep the family running while their high-paid spouses travel and work more than 70 hours a week.[5] Indeed, the lack of flexibility for many working men—particularly the highest paid of them–poses challenges for both working and stay-at-home moms.

A different study—again previewing the Census Bureau findings—suggests women with high-paid spouses are not so much opting out, because they prefer the stay-at-home, nurturing lifestyle, but marching out, to protest employers and a society that cannot offer the flexibility they need to make their lives as working mothers tenable.[6]

Imagine, then, the plight of women whose husbands are not so well-paid. The group of mothers most likely to stay home is less wealthy, less educated, and often foreign born. These less-skilled women simply can’t find ways to build their skills and still cover child care costs. They can’t find unskilled labor that pays nearly well enough to offset child care costs. They can’t find jobs that offer sufficient flexibility to reduce their need for outside child care.

The common thread: Flexibility. Specifically, a lack thereof.

In other words, women are not opting out because they don’t want to work. They opt out because they can’t make it work.

Employers have heard the cry for increased flexibility for decades now—since the late 1970s, when women first entered the working world in significant numbers. Dodging the issue might be practical now, given today’s difficult economy, particularly when many men are available to fill both highly skilled and unskilled jobs that mothers could perform as well. But short-term solutions bring long-term pain: In the not-so-distant future, the American workforce will get older. Countries that cannot replace aging workers will be disadvantaged. Countries that cannot find ways to develop skills and employ all possible workers will be left behind.

[1]Belkin, Lisa. “The Opt-Out Revolution.” New York Times magazine. October 26, 2003.



[2]Belkin, Lisa. “The Opt-Out Revolution.” New York Times magazine. October 26, 2003.

[3] Census Bureau statistics from: Edwards, Tom. “Stay-at-Home Moms are More Likely Younger, Hispanic, and Foreign-Born Than Other Mothers.” Census Bureau. October 1, 2009. Link: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/families_households/014266.html

[4]Cotter, David; England, Paula; and Hermsen, Joan. “Moms and Jobs: Trends in Mothers’ Employment and Which Mothers Stay Home.” Council on Contemporary Families. May 10, 2007. Link: http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org/subtemplate.php?ext=momsandjobs&t=factSheets

[5] Warner, Judith. “The Choice Myth.” New York Timesonline. October 8, 2009. Link: http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/the-opt-out-myth/#more-1117

[6]Williams, Joan C.; Manvell, Jessica; and Bornstein, Stephanie. “’Opt Out’ Or Pushed Out?: How The Press Covers Work/Family Conflict.” UC Hastings College of Law. 2006. Link: http://www.uchastings.edu/site_files/WLL/OptOutPushedOut.pdf

Featured Post: Work-Life Flexibility — The Mother of All Battles

by Andrés Tapia —

The flexibility revolution began by working moms a generation ago has metamorphised into the hue and cry of workers everywhere. Dads who have taken on more child care as Mom has her own client deadlines to meet now clamor for it. Many of those around the classic retirement age who want to keep on working, but at reduced hours, seek it. Xers and Millennials, well, they simply expect it.

The convergence of the digital revolution with 21st Century lifestyle demands — from nursing baby to nursing ma, from training for a marathon to trekking to Machu Picchu, from feeding the homeless to caring for one’s own health and retirement savings needs — creates a voracious appetite for flexibility that is catching employers off-guard.

Current embedded workforce and workplace policies are so 20th Century, and today we are seeing the accelerated deconstruction of the workforce, the workday, and the workspace.

The deconstructed workforce includes temps, contractors, outsourcers, retirees, interns, alumni, off-ramp and on- ramp professionals. It also includes project teams that span seven continents.

The deconstructed workday means that 9-to-5 could soon be the alternative work pattern. Parents are off at 2 pm to tend to doctors’ appointments and after-school activities only to log back in after the dinner dishes are cleared. Then there’s the midnight conference call with Delhi, the 6 a.m. with Krakow.

The deconstructed workplace means that dedicated offices are going unused 30 percent of the time (ref. Gensler). And where is the workplace after all? At the corporate campus? Or can it also be at a Starbucks patio table where a worker is firing away on her Blackberry?

It is at this point that the Mother of All Battles materializes. The reasons for flexibility all seem to make sense to this emerging workforce with its changing needs and desires. But organizations and their managers are not ready and the resistance is fierce.

Of course there are plenty of managers who feel quite comfortable with providing flexibility, but for many others it goes against long-standing managerial principles like the need for workers to be under the constant watchful gaze of the supervisor in order to be productive.

For progressive companies, these trends create opportunities for strategies and policies that can lead to being more attractive, leaner, and productive employers.

These top business priorities — attracting the best talent, managing costs, and increasing productivity — can be better achieved, I believe, if corporate leaders look more strategically at the intersection of people, space, and technology. Talent decisions, for example, in order to be spot on, now really can’t be made independent of the implications of technology and changing space needs. Space and technology together, for example, can now be attraction strategies. They are also approaches that could lead to new, more synergistic conversations between heads of HR, real estate, and IT — those who are managing corporations’ most expensive assets.

Deconstruction means that something new must be constructed. A new interpretation is needed for work. Is it what managers see their workers doing or is it the results?

It will be those companies that tackle these challenges creatively and realistically that will reap the rewards of a better managed and empowered human resource and the costs required to propel it forward.

For more, check out this excerpt from The Inclusion Paradox where I devote a whole chapter to this topic.