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Doctoral student asks: How do minority managers manage diversity?

STANFORD -- When corporate America speaks of managing diversity, it's usually white male managers doing the talking. But how do minority managers cope with diversity - especially the diversity that is inherent in their own lives?

How do they function in a traditional white corporate structure during the day and then go home at night to a separate culture with different values? How do they make sense of the world they live in?

Yolanda Gallegos, in her first year as a doctoral student in organizational behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, posed these and other questions recently to a group of Hispanic managers at a large West Coast public utility.

Their answers appear in her paper "Biculturalism and Career Strategy Selection: Personal Experiences of Hispanic Corporate Managers," a pilot study that won honorable mention for the 1991 Galarza Prize awarded by the Stanford Center for Chicano Research.

In extensive interviews with seven managers, Gallegos learned that they had taught themselves to cope in four distinctly different ways. Two of them assimilated with the dominant non- Hispanic culture. Three compartmentalized their lives, establishing rigid boundaries between office and home. One managed to integrate the values of both traditions within the work setting, while the other tried - unsuccessfully - to change the corporate culture before finally rejecting the firm to look for work elsewhere.

The managers were male and female and ranged in age from the mid-20s to the mid-50s. Still, they had several things in common.

All faced the "glass ceiling." While the number of Hispanics in the firm was proportionate to the population, Gallegos notes that the number of Hispanics who reached middle management dropped to "token levels." At the top, she found no Hispanics among roughly 20 officers, nor any blacks. Each of the managers Gallegos interviewed believed that, for them, top performance did not necessarily lead to upward mobility.

All cited instances in which the traditional Hispanic values they found successful in a personal setting were at odds with the expectations of the corporation.

The women faced special problems in this regard. As one of them explained, the Hispanic woman "is supposed to be quiet, docile, shouldn't be assertive, shouldn't take risks, shouldn't be innovative" - hardly a strategy for success in corporate America.

Gallegos concludes with suggestions for both Hispanics and non-Hispanics, implying that there's room for each to learn from the other.

Gallegos, one of few Hispanic scholars studying management, intends to pursue research on the multi-ethnic organization and in the separate and interactive effects of ethnicity and gender. She will not restrict herself to it, however. Like the managers she interviewed, she said, she must consider how typecasting might affect her career.



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