Too Late for 2000

by Harris Sussman

The Hudson Institute has just published Workforce 2020, which it calls its "sequel" to Workforce 2000.
The new book says:
"... diversity entrepreneurs misread Workforce 2000 on two counts. First, they conveyed the impression that Workforce 2000 predicted a scarcity of white (or white male) entrants to the workforce....Because Workforce 2000's message was misunderstood, the impact of diversity was exaggerated: too much attention was paid to the women and minority net new entrants, too little to the white males among the total entrants.
"The second major misreading of Workforce 2000 concerned the needs of the nontraditional workers entering the workforce....What new workers principally need-- whether they are white and male or female and minority--are the skills that education must provide, not managers trained in diversity and sensitivity."
A few pages later, it says:
"Fourth, the U.S. labor force continues its ethnic diversification, though at a fairly slow pace....Minorities will account for only about a third of total new entrants over the next decade. Whites constitute 76% of the total labor force today and will account for 68% in 2020....The aging of the U.S. workforce will be far more dramatic than its ethnic shifts."
In case the reader missed the point, on page 110 it says, "those who thought that Workforce 2000 predicted rapid diversification simply misunderstood its message."
Are those trainers and consultants who perpetrated this misunderstanding going to refund the fees they were paid? Is there any way to sue them for malicious mischief? Not to mention the role of the HR managers who hired them.
What can I say at this point that I haven't said before? How much misinformation has been presented in training sessions over the last ten years? How much have people been mislead? I suppose that some people will continue to falsify information, others will believe what they want to believe, others will push their own distortions and fabrications onto the people in their organizations. Even now, I get calls asking me to present "one- minute" diversity awareness programs that are supposed to sound the alarm about an imminent explosion of minorities that white men wouldn't be able to work with. (How come there's not much said about white women?) I refuse to do those programs, but you know what? Someone else is hired who agrees to make that presentation.
Someone else has been promulgating distortions and fabrications for years. A rapid decrease in the white (especially white male) workforce has been emphasized beyond belief. The issue of aging has been sidestepped. And dealing with institutional hostile environments has not been a focus of most programs. Instead, there are hundreds of sessions to "increase sensitivity" through doing party-game ice-breakers.
So maybe I'm addressing only one or two readers at this point. And to you I will suggest that we move into deeper waters. I've heard that most drownings occur in a bathtub, not in a lake. (I learned to swim in a marble quarry in Vermont which I was told was 200 feet deep.) What's important is that you know how to float, to tread water, to breathe.
That means dealing with the structure of work, the economics of knowledge, the dynamics of collaboration. Any diversity program that does not address increasing individual and organizational capability is a waste of time. Most of Workforce 2020 is about the social policy dimensions of economic performance, about the relationship between the skills essential for new kinds of work and preparing people to have and use those skills. The subject of workforce diversity has always been about making sure that people know what they need to know in order to do the work they will be facing. It's about maximizing human potential in people's worklife, and managing the work environment so that those potentials are able to emerge.
As an exercise in reading comprehension and statistical analysis, many people flunked Workforce 2000. As a social intervention, it's been a mess. It's important that we pay more attention this time.

Workforce 2020: Work and Workers in the 21st Century, by Richard W. Judy and Carol D'Amico, Hudson Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1997--(317) 549-4158

--published in September 1997 issue of MANAGING DIVERSITY