It seems a daunting, potentially wrenching task: sending every one of 29,000 employees through a perception-altering "learning experience" to get them to think about how they view race, gender and culture.
But that's exactly what Texaco Inc., which last year settled a race discrimination lawsuit after being embarrassed by remarks made about black employees by company executives, is doing. And to conduct the huge program in the next year-and-a-half, the oil giant has hired dozens of independent consultants to travel from coast to coast to lead groups of 20 in role-playing exercises and discussions. Nearly a fourth of those consultants come from Maryland.
From offices in Baltimore, Columbia, Middletown and Silver Spring, they're running the oil company's tailor-made diversity workshops in New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and other locations.
All employees -- from top executives to refinery workers -- must attend.
At the two-day workshops -- part of sweeping changes Texaco announced in December in conjunction with a $176.1 million settlement of a race discrimination lawsuit -- employees get no lectures on inappropriate behavior or language in the workplace.
Instead, says Edward N. Gadsden Jr., Texaco's director of employment and diversity, employees get a chance to examine the assumptions that drive their actions.
"People think they will come in and be told they're bad people and have to be fixed, that they're going to be preached to," Gadsden said. "There is no way we can talk about all of the things that would offend.
"It's not something you can get trained in in one or two sessions," he added. "It's a long-term learning process, a way you look at the world."
Steven Rivelis, a Texaco consultant who runs Campaign Consultations with his wife, Linda, from their home office in Charles Village, agrees.
"It isn't my job to heal or change a person," Rivelis said. "We have a lifetime of messages we have to look at and examine."
Texaco chose independent consultants -- as opposed to one large consulting firm -- because their backgrounds fit with Texaco's approach, Gadsden said. The White Plains, N.Y.-based company began workshops for managers in May 1995, then expanded the program to all employees after settling the lawsuit.
The settlement came two weeks after the release of a tape recording in which Texaco executives were heard belittling blacks. Launching a 21-step program that won praise from some civil rights leaders, the company said it would build upon existing initiatives to ensure workplace tolerance.
"The behavior and tone contained in the tapes of the 1994 conversations, revealed last fall, offended all of us -- within and outside our company," Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter I. Bijur said during the company's annual meeting in May. "Our experience in the heat of controversy gave a steely reinforcement to our commitment to tolerance and equal opportunity for advancement."
Today, diversity and management experts say, a number of factors are driving the growing trend toward companies' incorporating diversity awareness into their corporate cultures.
Demographics play a big role, with population projections showing the nation and its work force increasingly made up of non-whites and women.
"The work force in the U.S. is probably the most diverse work force in the world," said Mollie H. Bowers, professor of management at the University of Baltimore. "The issues of blacks and whites and men and women getting along in the work force has never been solved. And so many different groups TC have come in legally and illegally that the complexity of the problem is just magnified immensely."
Many companies -- especially larger ones -- have managers and staff devoted to diversity management, "planning how to get people to get along, how to understand different work ethics and make those work together so you still get productivity. It's not an easy task."
For Texaco, broadening training meant tripling the number of workshops each month and hiring an additional 27 consultants, bringing the number to 47, Gadsden said.
One of them, Norman Jones of Silver Spring, began last week, running workshops in New Orleans. He has lead similar sessions for government agencies, schools and churches.
"There's a flow to it," he said. "We just sort of create a safe, comfortable environment for people to begin to talk about individual differences, then group differences, then we start talking about perceptions and assumptions based on differences.
"A lot of these people come into these workshops expecting that diversity is about somebody else," he added. "If you're white, it's about blacks. If you're a man, it's about women or it's about Hispanics or immigrants. A huge part of the workshop is helping people understand that diversity impacts everyone in significant ways and how an organization functions."