U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Program Managers Conference
August 26, 2004
TYRONE D. TABORN
Chief Executive Officer
Career Communications Group
Good morning. It is so good to be here with you today.
When I was invited to address you today, the memo said that this would be a very informal panel consisting mostly of questions and answers. Specifically, I was told there would be no formal remarks or presentations, and absolutely no "death by PowerPoint." What the memo omitted was that we could wear Hawaiian shirts. I'm actually upset by that omission. I have plenty of Hawaiian shirts. And they are ironed.
This does not seem like a good time to be a man. We all feel we are on the firing line. And, if you are a white male, it seems that all the world's problems are a result of you. These diversity seminars are like listening to your wife. Like listening to my wife, anyway. She is always telling me what I should and need to do. I know better than to argue, now. I just use the Ali "rope a dope" routine. I keep quiet and take the hits, hoping she will just get tired and stop. Often, that's how we treat these seminars. Keep quiet, nod at the right moment, and hope it ends quickly.
But I'm here today to tell you that this issue of diversity is very serious business.
I admire the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the work that you all do for our nation and the world. I have had the honor and the privilege over the past two decades to work with every single chief of engineers, starting with Lt. Gen. Hatch and ending with Lt. Gen. Flowers. I know that relationship will continue with the new chief. I want you to know that they all get it on this issue of diversity.
I think the chiefs get it because, from their vantage point, they are able to see all issues and challenges, near and far. They see things from 30,000 feet. And when the chiefs look down the road, they see acquiring technological manpower as one of the greatest challenges facing the Army Corps. And when they drill down deep into this manpower issue, it becomes very clear that unless the Corps reaches into minority and women populations, the available technical talent won't be there.
They also understand that not embracing diversity carries a cost. Not having access to all of the best and brightest is just one factor. But the loss of employee productivity because of personnel issues is even larger.
I believe that the chiefs' willingness to embrace diversity is what makes them good Americans, like Thomas Jefferson, who established the USACE in 1802. They all realize that the sustainability of the USACE is a critical factor in maintaining America's infrastructure and engineering capacity.
So why is diversity so important? Diversity is an issue of national security. And addressing this issue is what makes us good Americans as well. I want to touch upon several key points about diversity and why it is more than just a good thing to do.
Diversity is no longer just a good thing to do. It is quickly becoming a business imperative. If we, as Americans, are to retain our unique position as a global superpower, we are going to need all of our citizens playing an active role.
Diversity is a manpower issue. Let's take a look at your organization. Within the next 10 to 15 years, over 40 percent of you will retire from the federal payroll. With that, much of the Corps' institutional memory and core competencies will also go. A key factor driving this reality is that you will not have a pool of talent to replace those leaving the work force.
At the same time that we are dealing with the retirement challenge, we are fighting over a shrinking pool of engineers, scientists, and technologists. Today, because of the growth of technology's influence on industry, more and more employers are competing for a technology work force. Companies that were not rivals 10 years ago now need the same people you want. Companies like Wal-Mart now hire engineers and other technology professionals. Airlines, fast food chains, banks, and hotels also need technology professionals to fuel their growth. Because of Web-based and emerging technologies, every company will soon be a competitor for your talent.
So, while we have a situation in which a large part of our technology work force is retiring and there is a growing need for more professionals, our nation is failing to educate enough young people in these critical fields. Right now, fewer students are choosing classes that lead to science, engineering, and technology professions.
Immigration won't help us. Since 9/11, it has been very difficult to import skilled workers to help fill the gaps. And that is not likely to change anytime in the near future.
So what is the answer? Part of it rests in engaging women and minorities right here in the United States. In a few short years, seven out of 10 new entrants to the work force will be either people of color or women. If our organizations are to survive, we must ensure that a significant percentage of them are technology professionals and are recruited into our organizations.
I am very comfortable in making this prediction. Without women and people of color fully engaged, America is at risk of losing her place as a global superpower. Think about it. Who would have thought that Airbus would take on Boeing and win?
I believe that the chiefs of the Army Corps of Engineers have looked down the road and realized that without diversity, it will be increasingly difficult to fulfill the Corps' missions. As leaders and good Americans, they have attempted to address these issues because it is important to our country's national security that they do so.
We cannot move slowly on this issue. The world is not the same as the one we were born into. Take this room: We are not representative of the world. The majority of the world does not look like the individuals in this room.
The world also moves rapidly. We have gone through three technology revolutions in our lifetime. What once took centuries now happens in decades.
More nations are developing technology infrastructure and are challenging our role as the global leader. Take India and China for example. India has a middle class that outnumbers our entire population. China produces four times the number of engineers that we do. The quality of life for professionals in those countries is improving so much that we cannot rely on their technology coming here.
Why should you be concerned about the immigration issue when, because of security clearances, you can't hire noncitizens anyway? The reason is that they are not available to other industries; thus, increased competition for Americans, which reduces your pool of talent.
9/11 has also changed the world. The Corps' mission is changing, and you will have to show your value to the customers and taxpayers. That means that you must also look like America and have all segments of our society as stakeholders.
I've talked about the business case for technology. Now I would like to spend a few minutes addressing the costs of not embracing diversity. Our first speaker already touched on the "microinequalities," when she mentioned that she heard someone in this room comment that she must have slept herself to the top. Most people without her strength would they simply quit the company but continue to show up for work. In other words, they would cease to be productive members of the team. They would become negative and lose their trust in the organization's management.
The bottom line for you, the managers, is that you get 100 percent from your team, and incidents like the one our first speaker recounted makes accomplishing your mission that much more difficult.
The other impact on your organization of lack of diversity is that you lose good people. In today's environment, the cost of losing a valuable employee costs you both productivity and opportunity. Plus, the perception of failed leadership remains with the team.
And this does not need to happen. Most issues of racial and gender discrimination happen with level 1, 2, and 3 managers. They just missed the memo. They are not trained on these issues and often disregard senior management's diversity initiatives.
I don't know how many of you have sat in on a deposition. But I'll tell you, having your teeth pulled is more enjoyable. The costs associated with dealing with these issues outweigh creating an environment that is fair.
Retention is another cost of failing to embrace diversity. Employees simply pack up and leave, taking your training with them.
From my perceptive, I just don't get it. What is the downside to diversity? The benefits are obvious and the costs of not embracing it are great.
That is why our recognition programs, such as Black Engineer of the Year and Women of Color, are so important. While there is value, without question, in having young people see successful role models, the value to employers is equally valuable. I guarantee you that if you were to ask most of your minority or women employees their top three issues, not feeling appreciated or valued would be right at the top.
Our events give you the opportunity to demonstrate to key employees their value and your appreciation. Whether they win, lose, or draw in the awards competition, the fact that you made the effort to nominate them signals that they are valuable team members. That small effort pays large dividends in employee attitude and retention.
Embracing diversity is not just a good thing to do. It is an issue of our national security. If we are to remain the world's economic leader, the center of technology innovation, and a global superpower, we will need all of our society to be involved. We will need all hands on deck.
If not, I ask, who will build and design our planes? Who will discover lifesaving new drugs? Who will build and maintain our infrastructure?
If we care about our children, our grandchildren, and future generations, embracing diversity is not just the right thing, it's the American thing.