October 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Extension Leaders: Moving Beyond Affirmative Action to Value Diversity

Multicultural organizations value diversity and are challenged to take steps to foster pluralism. A study of Ohio Extension administrators using survey instruments and focus group interviews examined perceptions about Extension's response to diversity issues, knowledge of administrators toward diversity issues, and organizational ability to provide equal opportunity to all employees. Outlined are steps leaders have taken since the study to foster diversity within the organization, including the development of a diversity plan with goals and action strategies.

Barbara G. Ludwig
Northeast District Director
Ohio State University Extension
Wooster, Ohio
Internet address: ludwig.2@osu.edu

Men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which
they are born, the city apartment or farm in which they learn to walk,
the games they played as children, the old wive's tales they over heard,
the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed,
the poems they read, and the God they believed in.

                        W. Somerset Maugham
                        (quoted in Tiedt & Tiedt, 1990, p. 69)

Why are USDA, Extension, business and industry talking about diversity, multi-cultural organizations, and change? It is likely that the Hudson Institute initiated much of the interest. In June of 1987, this non-profit research organization published a study funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Work Force 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century (Boye & Conn, 1992). The study examined demographic data and trends for the new millennium. The Institute predicted that just 16% of the new entrants to the labor force by the year 2000 would be white males, that almost 61% of the new workers would be women, and 29% would be minorities (Geber, 1990). In other words, companies and organizations like Extension will be hiring different people in the future than they do today. However, those in management and leadership positions will continue to be more similar in demographic composition to the leaders of the 90's than the population of the new millennium.

A multi-cultural organization values diversity, going beyond simply containing many different cultural groups to fully integrating people into both its formal structure and informal networking (Cox, 1991). A key to establishing a multi-cultural work force appears to be competent leaders at the upper and middle administrative levels. The effective leader will create an environment where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged, an environment where "we" is everyone.

As an organization, Extension must look at itself and raise the following questions: Are we valuing diversity? Are middle and upper level administrators culturally sensitive and able to manage a culturally diverse work force? Do we understand the impact of culture on communication and performance? In Ohio, Extension administration undertook a study to look at itself and determine the current knowledge and response by Extension leaders toward diversity issues (Ludwig & Cano, 1992). The results may help other Extension systems that are seeking similar answers.

Diversity Study of Ohio Extension Administrators

The population for the descriptive study in Ohio included a census of the Administrative Cabinet, Organizational Support Team, County Chairs, and District Specialists with support team responsibility (N = 108).

A self-administered questionnaire was developed to collect data. Questions on the questionnaire were adapted from survey instruments developed by Simmons (1992). Validity was established utilizing a panel of experts on research design, diversity in organizations, and knowledge of diversity from Ohio State University (OSU) and ES-USDA. Reliability for the Diversity Awareness Assessment was established using the test-retest procedure (r = .78). The instrument had an overall reliability (Cronbach alpha) co-efficient of .62.

The questionnaires were administered during two administrative meetings. The overall response rate was 85%. Data were analyzed utilizing the SPSS computer program. Descriptive statistics were used. Three focus group interviews were held with participants in the study to add a qualitative dimension and assist researchers in understanding the quantitative descriptive data gathered.


Results indicated there was not general agreement among administrators about how OSU Extension was responding to diversity issues. Sixteen percent of the administrators indicated that Extension had reached the point where people were actively acknowledging diversity as an issue. Sixteen percent indicated changes had to be made to deal with diversity and 15% indicated that the organization had created an open forum for discussion. However, 13% indicated the issues of diversity were not being discussed publicly, but only in private and informal groups, and 4% indicated that there was denial, anger, frustration, and conflict in dealing with diversity within the organization. None of the respondents indicated Extension had reached the level where there was an evaluation process in place to assess the progress being made toward diversity.

Administrators rated 22 issues related to diversity on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being "non-existent" and 5 being "urgent") based on their assessment of how critical the issue was to the organization. The issues identified as most critical were: (a) confusion about how to communicate and serve clientele from other backgrounds, (b) understanding how to use the different strengths of individuals, (c) lack of a clear vision of what a multi-cultural organization could achieve, and (d) recruitment programs that fail to attract diverse applicants.

The knowledge level of administrators toward diversity issues was measured utilizing a 23 item multiple-choice test. The results yielded a mean score of 15.05 (SD 3.67) which equates to a 65% correct response rate. When asked to indicate their level of optimism or pessimism regarding the organization's process in providing equal opportunity to all employees, responses varied from very pessimistic (2%) to very optimistic (10%). Fifty-eight percent of the administrators indicated they were optimistic about the organization providing equal opportunity, 20% were pessimistic.

Focus group interviews supported the general findings of the descriptive research. Focus group participants indicated both administration and local clientele expectations contributed to unwritten rules or "traditions" of the organization. All those interviewed agreed that for diversity to become a part of the organizational culture, everyone must make a commitment to diversity. It was noted that "diversity leadership must start at the top." Focus group discussions tended to center on gender and race issues. Positive feelings were expressed about the balance of males and females in faculty positions. Focus group participants were not as positive about the hiring of minorities, particularly for administrative positions. A county chair remarked, "I'll be more optimistic when we see some movement... at least we are not going backward."

Results and initial conclusions drawn by Ludwig and Cano (1992) were reported to the Extension Administrative Cabinet and used as a starting point for discussion and action. Ohio State University Extension administrators perceived Extension had not yet reached its goal of becoming a multi-cultural organization. The leaders of the organization saw that it was at a stage where changes needed to occur. The lack of an overall plan or concentrated effort to deal with diversity issues was identified. Confusion about how to communicate with and serve clientele from other backgrounds was apparent. In achieving diversity, training programs for all staff were recommended. It was suggested that administrators target themselves for experiential staff development aimed at managing diversity, communicating across cultures, and incorporating diversity into the work place.


The results of Ohio's study may prove helpful to professionals in other Extension organizations as they begin to take a critical look at how they will work with increasingly diverse staff and clientele. For many Extension systems, achieving diversity will represent a significant organizational change. Studies in organization change (Dalziel & Schoonover, 1988; Beckhard & Pritchard, 1992) have identified the crucial role played by administrators in implementing change.

As noted in the introduction, a key to establishing a multi- cultural work force appears to be competent leaders at all levels of the organization. In a way, good management of a diverse work force sounds a great deal like situational leadership. Active listening, coaching, and giving feedback are critical. In addition, an organizational structure that provides leadership, supports staff development, and rewards accomplishments must be developed by state Extension systems. Communication of administrators' support will be evident not only by what is said, but more importantly through the policies and procedures implemented in support of diversity.

Faculty and agent recognition of the value of a multi- cultural organization is also an important step. For recognition to occur, internal motivation of all employees must be nurtured. Thoughtfully conceived opportunities must be developed to generate enthusiasm and facilitate the change process.

In Ohio, in-services as a part of Extension state conferences and district in-service educational programs have been developed and offered to increase understanding of communication needs and sensitivity to those from other cultures. The Extension Affirmative Action Committee has been reconfigured and recharged as a Diversity Committee to provide leadership for diversity efforts. An individual was employed to foster recruitment efforts and another was identified to provide leadership to the development of a diversity plan to guide the organization in the future.

In the Fall of 1994, the Administrative Cabinet scheduled a two-day fall retreat to further develop their own skills and understanding of diversity issues using facilitators from the National Diversity Center. They examined preliminary drafts of a Diversity Plan for the organization.

The Diversity Plan has gone through multiple refinement stages and will be presented to all staff in the fall of 1995 at district workshops. The plan outlines four goals for the organization and an action plan to accomplish each goal. Goals relate to: (a) A commitment to pluralism, (b) Development of an environment for diversity and pluralism, (c) Work force diversity, and (d) Audience and program diversity.

As Griggs and Louw (1995) indicate, the journey has begun. Implementing an integrated diversity strategy will continue to be a significant organizational challenge and opportunity. Committed support of organizational leaders and employees is necessary to maximize the potential of the total work force, there are many barriers yet to be faced. The journey to valuing diversity is a long one and there are no easy fixes.


Beckhard, R., & Pritchard, W. (1992). Changing the essence. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Boye H. J., & Conn, H. (1992). Work force 2000: Work and workers for the 21st century. New York: Plume.

Cox, T. (1991). The multicultural organization. Academy of Management Executive, 5(2).

Dalziel, M. M, & Schoonover, S. C. (1988). A practical tool for implementing change within organizations. New York: American Management Association.

Geber, B. (1990, July). Managing diversity. Training, pp. 23-30.

Griggs, L., & Louw, L. (1995). Valuing diversity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ludwig, B., & Cano J. (1993). Perceptions, responses & knowledge about diversity by extension administrators. In R. J. Birkenholz & L. G. Schumacher (Eds.), Proceedings of Central States Research Conference in Agricultural Education (p. S-7). St. Louis: University of Missouri.

Tiedt, P. L., & Tiedt, I. M. (1990). Multicultural Teaching. Boston, MA: Simon & Schuster.