Fall 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 3 // To The Point // 3TP1

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An Emphasis on Diversity in CES

A multicultural organization is built on both diversity and pluralism. The emphasis on diversity isn't a repackaged version of Extension's Civil Rights programs. There's much talk about diversity throughout the system. Now is the time to convert talk to action.

Curtis Gear
Community Development Specialist
Community Dynamics Institute
University of Wisconsin-Extension

Today's focus on diversity started in the 1960s with the idea that the "Melting Pot" theory excluded people of color from the American dream ideology.1 Fertilized by continuing demographic change, this idea has grown into a cultural phenomenon destined to revolutionize the way everyone in the U.S. -including Extension-conducts business. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, the disabled, and other so-called "different" people outside the mainstream have shed their "minority" labels. These groups, along with Caucasian women, are entering the workplace and other arenas with a renewed sense of identity. Each group brings its unique historical experiences and sociocultural values and norms. Members of these groups expect to be accepted and respected for their capabilities based on "who they are," rather than organizational expectations that they assimilate and "be like everyone else."

The concept is controversial. Many people ask: Is diversity simply the current fad tied to political correctness? Is a it another way to label affirmative action/equal opportunity efforts? Why should Extension be concerned with diversity when resources are being reduced? Still others who say valuing diversity is important ask: How do we change our organization? These questions must be addressed if we're to achieve diversity in all dimensions of Extension.

The Language of Diversity

Diversity is defined as differences among people in age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and other human differences. Pluralism is defined as an organizational culture that incorporates mutual respect, acceptance, teamwork, and productivity among people who are diverse in the dimensions of human difference. A multicultural organization is built on both diversity and pluralism. Such an organization:

  • Values human differences as a competitive advantage.
  • Has a pluralistic culture that reflects the interests, contributions, and values of members of diverse groups.
  • Provides opportunity for full and influential participation by all organizational members in decisions and policies that shape the organization.
  • Eliminates discrimination throughout the organization.2

The emphasis on diversity isn't a repackaged version of Extension's Civil Rights programs. Diversity goes beyond equal employment opportunity/affirmative action (EEO/AA) to develop an organizational culture where diversity is valued and pluralism is achieved. The distinguishing features between EEO/AA programs and diversity efforts are:

EEO/AA Emphasis on Diversity

  • Government initiated
  • Extension initiated
  • Legally driven
  • Productive/effectiveness/relevance driven
  • Problem/prevention focused
  • Opportunity focused
  • Focus on program and employment
  • Focus on work and program neutrality environment and the use of workforce skills
  • Reactive/proactive
  • Proactive

Commitment to Diversity

Is diversity a fad? Commitments made by the national and state Extension Systems suggest not. In 1990, the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and the Extension Service-USDA adopted a new mission and vision for the system that would provide quality programs "on the cutting edge of contemporary issues" and "serving a diverse clientele who relate to the issues identified."3

An ECOP Task Force on Diversity was appointed to examine CES efforts and capacity to meet the challenges to the system in a multicultural society. The task force report emphasized that, "The ability of CES to play a pivotal role in meeting adult education needs in the future is dependent upon its ability to expand programs to access both diverse and traditional audiences, and its capacity to reflect diversity at all levels of the System."4 In the interest of action within CES institutions, the Personnel and Organization Development Committee (PODC) was charged by ECOP to develop an implementation plan and to manage the diversity effort. In October 1990, ECOP and ES-USDA established An Emphasis on Diversity in the Cooperative Extension System and adopted a plan to stimulate organizational change.

Achieving Diversity

Facilitated by the PODC Subcommittee on Diversity, five interrelated activities have been undertaken. These are: completion of a strategic plan for the CES Emphasis on Diversity, creation of a Council on Diversity composed of people with expertise in helping organizations achieve diversity to advise CES on its change efforts, establishment of an Extension System Awards Program for Diversity, a series of regional diversity training workshops for Extension administrators, and planning for a 1992 National Training Conference on Diversity and Pluralism, to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for teams from Extension programs in each state.

State and territory Extension organizations are also engaged in a variety of efforts to address diversity at the local levels. Several are implementing a strategic plan for diversity. More than 20 have elected to include plans for diversity programs in the plan of work process. Some administrators are boldly taking the position and communicating with clarity a vision of achieving and sustaining pluralism as an integral part of Extension's workforce, programs, audiences, and relationships with other people, groups, and organizations.

In December 1991, a Western Regional Diversity Training Conference was held. Further, a number of states are conducting diversity training aimed at helping faculty and staff build competencies to relate to and work with diverse populations; expanding abilities to develop programs with and for diverse audiences; designing strategies to become a multicultural organization, which includes ways to help traditional stakeholders value diversity; and exploring topics related to managing a diverse workforce in a changing environment.

More Must be Done

There's much talk about diversity throughout the system. Now is the time to convert talk to action. The first need is for emerging leaders to effectively implement the system's accepted strategic planning goals identified in Pathway for Diversity. These goals are to:

  • Incorporate pluralism as an integral part of the system's mission and vision and affirm its support and commitment to achieving and sustaining pluralism.
  • Establish a physical, psychological, and emotional environment that creates, fosters, and sustains diversity and pluralism and eliminates discrimination at all levels.
  • Increase and sustain the diversity of the system's workforce, including leadership, to better reflect the diversity of the population.
  • Expand the diversity of current and potential audiences and programs to reflect the population.
  • Include members of diverse groups as full and influential participants in all aspects of its organizations, especially in decision making and policy development.
  • Provide equitable partnerships, funding, and support for all Extension organizations, including 1890 and 1862 Extension organizations, Tuskegee Extension, District of Columbia Extension, and ES-USDA.

The second need is for effective management of diversity to allow these goals to be met. According to Loden and Rosener, managing diversity involves going "beyond stereotypes, developing authentic relationships with diverse others." It requires "decoding garbled communication" that can demean others, improving language sensitivity, and setting out clear standards about what's appropriate and inappropriate language. Women aren't "girls" or "gals." Chinese people aren't Japanese, and so on. Attention must also be given to "patterns of interaction that occur within groups that help or hinder the accomplishment of tasks." Recognizing that "virtually all major institutions in America-public, private, academic, and not-for-profit-have been built around the values, attitudes, and behaviors expressed in the homogeneous ideal," managing diversity also requires managing culture clash.5 A proactive approach to recognizing and respecting the core values and unique contributions of various groups is the foundation for building and sustaining a multicultural organization.

The Bottom Line

Leaders capable of building a shared vision of how a future is tied to becoming a multicultural organization must emerge from all levels of Extension. As a multicultural organization. Extension will be committed to diversity in terms of staff, volunteers, and program audiences. It will fully include people from diverse groups in all aspects of policy formation and decision making. As such, Extension could model diversity throughout its organizations and thus lead society toward pluralism. Looking at the bottom line another way suggests Extension must develop understanding and systematic attention to diversity to remain relevant, productive, and effective into the next century.


1. Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT, 1963).

2. Strategic Planning Task Force on Diversity, Pathway to Diversity: Strategic Plan for the Cooperative Extension System (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, ECOP, October 1991).

3. Strategic Directions of the Cooperative Extension System (St. Paul: University of Minnesota, 1990).

4. Task Force on Diversity, Addressing Diversity in the 1990s and Beyond: CES Can Make A Difference (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, ECOP, April 1990).

5. Marilyn Loden and Judy B. Rosener, Workforce America: Managing Diversity as a Vital Resource (Homewood, Illinois: Business One Irwin, 1991), pp. 57-156.