MANAGING WORKFORCE DIVERSITY

MANAGING WORKFORCE DIVERSITY

During the period from 1984 to 1990, the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire Department (PGCFD) conducted the most vigorous recruiting and hiring campaigns in its history. Services were expanded during these favorable budget times, and firefighters and paramedics were hired at an accelerated pace. Hiring women and members of minority groups was strongly emphasized. During that period, the female employee population increased by eight percent, to constitute 16 percent Of the workforce; and the number of ethnic minority personnel increased by 13 percent, to represent 27 percent of the workforce. Managing this new diverse employee population presented some problems and revealed the need for improved strategies, especially in light of predictions that during the 1990s more than 80 percent of the net new employees in the country’s workforce will be women and ethnic minority men.

We realized we would need a proactive and comprehensive plan for managing our diverse workforce if we wanted to avoid organizational turmoil, unnecessary legal challenges and complications, and decreased employee morale and productivity. We wanted a plan based on our department’s needs and its internal and external environments, and we wanted it to be developed through a participatory process.

FIREFORCE 2000 CONFERENCE

To achieve these objectives, we organized the Prince George’s County Fire Department Fireforce 2000 conference. The two-day event was held at the Fire/Rescue Training Aeademy in Cheltenham, Maryland, in September 1991.

As chief, I appointed a planning committee, whose members were to select the personnel to attend the conference, acquire the professional services needed to oversee and guide conference participants, and provide for the logistical needs of such an undertaking. As committee chairperson, I maintained close communication with committee members, to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the project

Designed to bring together a cross section of the fire department’s diversified staff, the 34 employees selected by the planning committee represented a profile of the department’s workforce as it was projected to be in the year 2000. The ratio of women and ethnic minority men chosen as participants, therefore, was greater than that which existed within the department at the time of the workforce conference. The several employee groups and associations within the fire department were asked to submit the names of individuals whom they felt were interested and would actively participate in the conference.

To avoid the possibility that participants might feel inhibited or intimidated by the presence of supervisors, attendees were firefighters and paramedics instead of officers and senior command staff members.

Two weeks before the conference, a package of reading materials was distributed to employees/conference participants. The packet included demographic material; an agenda for the conference; a list of guest speakers; an outline of the exercises to be conducted; and a letter from me, the department chief, thanking participants for their interest. Attendees were released from their work assignments during the days of the conference.

Hie goals of the PGCFD Fireforce 2000 conference were the following:

  • to demonstrate that management considered workforce diversity an important issue and that it was making an open and active attempt to improve management in this area;
  • to examine the impact the increased diversity of the staff would have on the fire department;
  • to provide an open forum for discussing divergent views and opinions and for increasing the understanding of the perceptions of the different groups within the department; and
  • to develop specific strategies for dealing with the issues identified and that were to be implemented over a two-year period.

CONFERENCE STRUCTURE

The conference was intended to be an educational as well as a problemsolving experience. Speakers—-professionals and management consultants with public safety experience—and videotapes presented information chosen to increase awareness of and sensitivity to cultural diversity issues.

The conference was structured so that employees taking part in the meeting would have ample opportunities to express their feelings and opinions. By employing the four general processes of managementbuilding relationships, exchanging information, making decisions, and influencing people—conference participants would be able to influence management and take part in the decision-making process, which ultimately would build support for and commitment to the organization, especially during the new policy’s implementation stage.

The nominal group technique (NGT). Attendees were preassigned to one of four small discussion (breakout) groups established by the planning committee. The groups, mixed in terms of race and gender, were given a topic to discuss. Each group then was to develop a list of five recommendations/issues. Members of the planning committee served as facilitators for the groups. The nominal group technique (NGT) was used to guide the group members to collectively identify problems, explore solutions, and establish priorities. The method is especially effective for helping groups whose members do not know each other well to make decisions based on consensus.

Break-out groups were used several times to develop recommendations for dealing with issues identified in earlier conference sessions. A total of 57 recommendations were generated by the groups.

WOTS-UP analysis. The groups also participated in exercises, the first of which was the WOTS-UP analysis technique. The objective was to help attendees determine whether the organization can deal effectively with its internal and external environments. This analytical approach identifies Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, and .Strengths and ways to manage them successfully. The exercise provided an objective framework within which the members of each group could work and eased the initial discussion process.

At the conclusion of the individual group discussions, each group presented its top three recommendations/ issues to the general assembly. Since a recommendation could be presented only once, groups making later presentations were able to propose their fourth or fifth recommendations. The recommendations were discussed in a general forum, and the general audience ultimately chose 12 of the recommendations to be acted on by the department. Each recommendation was discussed by the general audience with respect to its relevance, effect, and achicvability. The NGT process then was used to select the five recommendations/issues that best represented the consensus of the conference members. These issues were identified and prioritized as follows:

  • Mentor program for professional development. Attendees agreed that all personnel groups need programs to address their specific concerns. For example, recruit-mentoring programs should be different from programs
  • targeting women’s issues. Also cited was the need for programs specific to personnel wishing to follow the career officer development path.
  • Sensitivity training. Various modes of presenting sensitivity training to all members of the department were outlined. The training should be mandated for officers and supervisors and be available to volunteers.
  • Review recruiting, hiring, and testing programs. Participants felt that the department should compete more strongly for a shrinking pool of qualified, eligible candidates and that job standards should be maintained as concerted hiring efforts are implemented.
  • Promotional process development. The need for programs to help minority employees be more competitive in the promotional process was cited.
  • Continued meetings of Fire force 2000. Attendees unanimously expressed a desire to have the meetings continue so they could follow the evolution of the ideas and programs developed and continue to work together in their small groups.

RESULTS OF THE CONFERENCE

All facilitators reported that the interest evident at the conference and the results obtained exceeded all projections. Participants found the conference useful and said they were eager to participate in the implementation of the recommendations.

From management’s standpoint, the following benefits were derived from the conference:

  • Employees’ involvement in the decision-making process made it possible to achieve results that could not have been achieved had only the command staff been involved.
  • Managers have at least 34 change agents (conference participants) and advocates working with them to sell these program to all employees.
  • The team building, networking, and commitment to the issue of cultural diversity built over a very short period of time was outstanding. Attendees’ comments relative to the success of the conference as they return to the field is stimulating interest in this issue.
  • Conference participants appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the organization by helping to propose solutions.
  • Among the limitations of the PGCFD Fireforce 2000 conference were the following:
  • The compressed time frame limited the opportunity for attendees to discuss and analyze each issue as extensively as they would have liked.
  • From the outset, it was explained that only “realistic”—especially with regard to costs—recommendations could be made, since generating recommendations that could not be implemented most probably would increase frustration within the department. Conference attendees, therefore, did not consider solutions that involved hiring or contracting with additional personnel.
  • The conference was a first step toward reaching a final solution. Therefore, additional meetings and work would be needed.
  • Few officers or members of the senior command staff were at the conference. It is therefore possible that all pertinent factors related to the recommendations may not have been considered.
  • A conscious effort to have women represented in a greater ratio than that applicable to the department at the time of the conference was not realized, since women were in the minority when the break-out groups met—a factor that may have caused gender-related issues to be discounted, especially when employing the NGT method of voting.

ACTION PLANS

The progress made as a result of holding the conference will erode unless definitive action is taken and conference recommendations are implemented. The response of the department to the recommendations made at the conference will be the true measure of its success with respect to its ability to manage diversity in the workforce. To help ensure that the major recommendations are implemented in an organized and effective manner, “action plans” were adopted for each of the five major recommendations.

Each break-out group was assigned a recommendation for which it developed a five-part action plan for its implementation. The plan’s components are as follows:

  • Goal. Articulate a well-defined goal for each plan.
  • Work steps: Create a list of the most important tasks to be performed.
  • Measurements-. Adopt a method for measuring progress.
  • Time frame-. Develop a schedule for full implementation.
  • Resources: Estimate the financial resources, staff, and equipment needed to implement the recommendation.

The action plans were disseminated to all management team personnel to ensure full understanding of what is to be accomplished. The Office of the Fire Chief will monitor progress and compliance.

An annual PGCFD Fireforce 2000 conference is planned so that the progress of the action plans can be evaluated, the necessary changes or clarifications can be made, and feedback can be provided to the department management.

ENDNOTES

  1. Johnston, W.B., Packer, A.H. Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century (Hudson Institute: Indianapolis, IN, 1987).
  2. Yukl, G.A. Leadership in Organizations:, 2nd ed. (Prentice-Hall, Inc.: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1989).
  3. Delbecq A., Van de Ven, A. “A Group Process Model for Problem Identification and Program Planning,” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 1971, 7:466,491.
  4. Rowe, A.J., et. al., Strategic Management—A Methodological Approach, 3rd ed. (Wesley Publishing Company: Reading, MA, 1989)

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