Managing Diversity: Organizational Change, Part Two

by Michael Shelton, M.S., C.A.C., C.E.T.

Managing Diversity—Fourth in a Series of Five Articles


The previous article in this series on managing diversity and the camp industry discussed the primary challenge facing any diversification effort is organizational change. The second article in this series described the pivotal role of a leader in a change effort (and indeed if a leader is not the right person to lead a specified change effort, he or she should place somebody in charge that does have both requisite skills and motivation). The third article stressed the need for organizational evaluation and assessment prior to initiating a change effort. This current article builds upon the ideas presented in the earlier articles and offers some suggestions regarding organizational change for the ultimate goal of participant diversification. If a camp has a qualified staff person leading its diversity effort and has performed a diversity audit/assessment, the camp is now prepared to foster diversity within its programs and among staff and campers.

Internal Versus External Forces Changing demographics is but one of the many challenges confronting camps and other organizations. Other challenges include competitive pressure from other youth-serving agencies, changes in parental expectations, and technological advancements. Specific examples include changing state and federal regulations for young workers, fewer employees as a result of higher paying jobs elsewhere, and competition from other organizations that offer summer programming. Thus a camp that is intent on participant diversity will still face other external challenges that must be managed concurrently (all illustrations adapted with permission from Kilburg, R. 2000. Executive Coaching, Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association—see Figure 1).

At the same time a camp is facing external challenges, there are a myriad of internal problems that can act in tandem with external forces to create a damaging downward spiral. Some of the forces include co-worker conflict, a lack of mission clarity, weak or inadequate leadership, deviant norms, general workplace apathy, and/or a lack of skills and/or resources necessary for completion of a job. Imagine a scenario in which a camp is faced with a sudden negative outside force for which the director lacks sufficient skills, and the staff members are overloaded with work and are fighting among themselves. Will this camp be able to generate solutions and cope with the external force? A camp administration that recognizes diversity issues rank high on a list of challenges may still have other innumerable internal problems that prevent it from anymore than a mere cursory—and therefore predestined to failure—change effort. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 3 demonstrates the combination of internal and external forces that assault organizations (sometimes on a daily basis).

With such a bombardment of forces, it is no wonder that some camps fail or remain in stasis, unable to make major improvements and advancements. Fortunately, every camp has strengths. These are referred to as balancing or barrier forces (Kilburg, 2000). These can include administrative excellence, strong leadership, a positive work environment, an organizational structure that is flexible and rewards creativity, and a recognition that personal and professional well-being of staff members is of paramount importance to success. These forces counteract the internal and external forces. An illustration of the effect of barrier or balancing forces (BBFs) is seen in Figure 4.

As the illustration shows, barrier or balancing forces maintain a safety margin. Negative external forces are kept outside the core functioning of the camp while, at the same time, internal influences are counteracted by the BBFs. The more BBFs that exist, the more external and internal forces of a negative nature can be managed. Attempts to cope with external and internal forces without sufficient BBFs eventually wear on the camp and staff.

A well-received 2006 study by Linnehan, Chrobot-Mason, & Konrad asked over eight hundred diversity educators their opinions on the behaviors necessary for success with diverse demographics. Four distinct categories of behaviors were found. Each of these can be considered as BBFs for our camps. Camps that do not promulgate and practice these behaviors will never achieve success with diversity.

  1. The camp is willing to confront bias.
  2. All individuals are treated with respect (staff, campers, parents, community members, vendors).
  3. Proactive attempts to understand other cultures are considered imperative.
  4. The camp acts inclusively (i.e., is willing to include diverse demographic groups in all areas of programming).

In addition to the BBFs mentioned earlier (e.g., strong leadership and a positive work environment), these four are the most conducive to demographic diversification. Camps that do not act inclusively, lack respect and appreciation of differences, and are unwilling to confront bias and prejudice within their own settings will never be able to cope with the ever-growing external force of diversity even if they have BBFs sufficient to deal with a host of other pressing issues. These four are the requisite BBFs that, along with other BBFs within the camp, will prepare the foundation for success with diversity. A cultural audit will indicate the strengths and weaknesses in regard to the diversity-specific BBFs.

Cultivating Diversity at Camp

After completing a cultural audit, the most common next step in diversity management is to create a more diverse workplace. It would be reassuring to believe that a camp's reputation, accreditation, and general positive environment would suffice to encourage parents to enroll their children regardless of their cultural background. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. It is still important for prospective families to see some type of representation of their cultural group in a camp's staffing. Thus the active recruitment of employees from diverse backgrounds is typically the first intervention in a diversity agenda. More specifically, a camp may choose to actively recruit staff members from indicated demographic groups. This resembles an affirmative action intervention.

In addition to inclusive hiring, camps should adopt awareness and sensitivity trainings. It is now common custom for just about any agency and organization to mandate a cultural awareness training, particularly those in the human services fields. These trainings can last from a half-day to three entire days. Through these trainings, it is hoped that we will recognize our own personal prejudices, learn how to respond to diversity in the workplace, act inclusively, and, of paramount importance, treat others with respect.

The final tier of diversity management builds on EEOC regulations, affirmative action, and cultural awareness and sensitivity training. In the past, most diversity interventions were concerned with its legal regulation. And it is true that diversity became so intertwined with legal concerns that composition and compliance became the paramount issues befuddling organizations. Little consideration was given to the positive and negative consequences of diversity for organizational effectiveness. But in the past decade we have begun to see research into the advantages and disadvantages of diversity as discussed in this article series. Diversity can have positive and negative ramifications for organizations and the individuals that work within these environments.

Acceptance of a New Model

Diversity management as practiced in the final tier hinges on our acceptance of a new model of diversity. In short, we are looking at two organizational internal paradigm shifts introduced in earlier articles:

  1. Our camps must change in order to collaborate with new demographic populations. Just hiring a person to act as cultural liaison and offering existing staff sensitivity and awareness training is not sufficient. What exactly does a targeted population need from and within our camp to satisfy its needs?
  2. Use the "Emerging Paradigm" (introduced in the second article). Under this paradigm, diversity is truly celebrated. Individuals are tapped for their differences. Their often-different perspectives are utilized for the benefits associated with diversity, including creativity, problem solving, and organizational flexibility. Diversity enhances the entire workplace and is incorporated into the organization's mission, goals, strategies, and overall culture. The overriding organizational goal is to learn the requisite skills to interact successfully with any demographic group. Once a foundation of intercultural excellence is in place, we can fill in the details with information regarding a targeted group.

Cultivating Success With Identified Groups

Thus far all of our efforts at diversity have been focused inwardly in both examining and changing the organizational factors that may hinder a diversity effort while fostering BBFs associated with successful diversity. At the same time, our efforts must be directed outward to the demographic groups that are the potential new consumers of our camps.

Camp professionals firmly believe that camps really do have a positive influence, and we have both research and anecdotal evidence to support our claims. But healthful benefits by themselves do not necessarily sell a product. We can use the public health research base to assist us with clarification. The physical and mental benefits of physical exercise have been widely touted, and polls find that most Americans recognize this component of health. Still, only a minority participate in the daily amount of prescribed exercise. Thus, if we want to facilitate a relationship with diverse groups, we must approach them with the knowledge that the benefits of camps will not impress a large number of individuals enough to attend our facilities.

Public health specialists find that community interventions require four steps, each of which is applicable to maximizing diversity in our camps:

  1. Start locally.
    A cultural audit has hopefully identified prevalent demographic groups that might be prospective consumers for a camp. Start with these groups. Don't focus attention on a Korean community two states to the west of your facility when a Latino community is burgeoning several miles from the entrance gates of the camp. Discern the needs, desires, beliefs about youth development, and childcare customs of these local demographics in order to best modify a camp or to, at the least, have ready explanations for the immutable customs of our camps that may stand in stark contrast to their own.
  2. Start with the easiest populations.
    I recognize that there are readers that are natural thrill seekers and that instinctively have the desire to overcome any obstacle placed before them. This is a wonderful trait to have. But for the sake of your camp, don't begin your diversity effort with the most challenging population you can find, A camp that has several bilingual Hispanic staff members and inroads into a multi-generational Hispanic community will find it much more successful to target this population than that of an immigrant Vietnamese group new to the United States. The future is filled with changing demographic groups, so there is no need to foist unnecessary challenges upon our camps. Recall that a camp's ultimate goal is to learn the skills to work with any demographic population. Start the inevitable learning curve with an easy population.
  3. Generate short-term wins.
    Even though your camp may have two-week sessions, don't begin a diversity intervention with the expectation that new demographics will be so obliging. Maybe a weekend introductory camp for new groups would suffice. Attracting the attention of a local ethnic newspaper is a positive beginning. I hate to say this to camp professionals, but "lower the preliminary expectations" in regards to the extent of diversity. Creating short-term positive win-win experiences for the indicated population and the camp itself is far more beneficial than a highly touted but ultimately marginally attended camp event.
  4. Build sustainability into the process.
    Grant fundees have learned that funders—whether public or private—now require a component of sustainability before funding a project. In short, a pilot study or demonstration project must explicitly describe how the project will continue even after the original funding is depleted. Camps should take heed of this, and we too should look at how to sustain the cultural change efforts we initiate. A short-term success will lead to nothing if we don't think of how to sustain the success. This could involve media coverage, testimonials, the use of contact people, and periodic updates to indicated communities. Too many agencies have learned (including the administration of my own camp) that even the most stellar one-time success with a new demographic group does not inevitably lead to further group involvement without ongoing efforts.

Necessary for Success

Our camps will have to undergo a multi-tiered and concomitant number of changes in order for them to be successful with increasing diversity. This article introduced the four most recognized BBFs necessary for this success. Concurrent with this is the understanding that we have to make ongoing outreach efforts with these same diverse communities to engage their interest and support.

While many camps could afford an outside "expert" to lead staff through a one-day sensitivity and awareness training, far fewer could afford the expense of this expert to lead a long-term change effort targeting diversity. And, believe me, this success is a long-term process; this article itself indicated that both internal and external changes must occur, none of which can happen quickly or as an impromptu afterthought. This series of articles has introduced readers to sufficient resources to start the process. We know what to look for in the "right" leader for the change. We have enough information to perform a preliminary cultural audit. And we understand the hierarchy of internal and external changes needed for long-term success with diversity. The next, and final, article in this series will introduce readers to the myriad number of resources available to assist administrators in their quest to create a camp that has the ability to be successful with any demographic group.

A Brief Legal History
Arising from the Civil Rights Movements, the United States witnessed a series of legislation tailored to the diversity in the United States. The passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to make employment decisions based on characteristic such as sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Other laws passed about once a decade to protect ever-expanding subpopulations (e.g., pregnant women, the handicapped) from purposeful discrimination. Under the ideal implementation of these laws, all citizens, regardless of their physical composition, should have equal opportunity for employment. These laws are generally referred to in aggregate as Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Laws.

Still the EEOC laws could not eradicate bias and prejudice in employment, and many job openings were filled in house or via connections through long-standing "old boy" networks. All in all, outreach to minority populations was often minimal and cursory. Thus, many believed that a more proactive approach to employment diversification was necessary as opportunity was far from equal despite federal legislation. The goal of affirmative action is to "level the playing field" so that minority populations are able to bypass the organizational obstructions that negated their chances for employability. In practice, affirmative action means making a person's group identity affiliation a criterion in selection. This is the converse of the EEOC laws that stipulated disregarding a person's group identity in the hiring process.

EEOC laws were established on a merit basis in which the best candidate—regardless of identity—should be selected. Affirmative action gives preference to specific minority groups in the selection process as they would otherwise never have the chance to demonstrate their skills and capabilities under EEOC governance. Affirmative action has led to the creation of a variety of interventions including setting specific goals and timetables for workforce diversification, the imposition of numerical quotas, and public outreach to groups favored under affirmative action (African-Americans, Native Americans, women, etc.). Most corporations voluntarily impose affirmative action on themselves as a means to avoid legal sanctions.

Affirmative action was unpopular when it was created and now, decades later, remains contentious. Some argue that affirmative action is reverse discrimination and leads to the selection of unqualified people for available positions. Affirmative action plans must be approached cautiously as they can receive much scrutiny from the courts and are often struck down as unconstitutional. Still many in the field believe that affirmative action is needed as one of many interventions in comprehensive diversity management and that selection among equally qualified and/or comparable candidates is justified. Remember that, without doubt, the selection of unqualified candidates is not permitted under federal affirmative action guidelines.

Alba, R. & Nee, V. (2003). Remaking the American mainstream. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.`
Kilburg, R. (2000). Executive coaching. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Linnehan, F., Chrobot-Mason, D. & Konrad, A. (in press). Diversity attitudes and norms: The role of ethnic identity and relational demography. Journal of Organizational Behavior.
Schuck, P. (2003). Diversity in America. Massachusetts: Belknap Press.

Michael Shelton, M.S., C.A.C., C.F.T., is a consultant, trainer, and the director of Camp William Penn, a camp owned by the City of Philadelphia Department of Recreation. He is the author of Coaching the Camp Coach and Secret Encounters: Addressing Sexual Behaviors in Group Settings. Shelton can be reached via his Web site:

Originally published in the 2007 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.