Proversity is a business novel that documents the many biases that are still present in today’s workforce. The book takes us through the experiences of Percy McGee, Vice President of Domestic Marketing for National Flashlight Company.
As the story begins, Percy is reflecting on “the way things used to be” and the corporate culture and environment of NFC when he first began working there. He thought about specific people and events that used to occur in the past such as the annual Christmas party and Sammy, the elderly black man who used to shine the shoes of the executives. Percy was stuck in the mindset that things should stay the way they have always been. But as time progressed Percy had begun to notice changes in the company practices and culture, and he found these changes disturbing. In addition to Percy, a close friend of his Austin Butler also often voiced his dissatisfaction at the changes taking place. Percy and Austin were both very ignorant to the idea of accepting people who were different from them, and this was so apparent that they even had a game called “NTO”, which meant “Now There’s One.” The idea of the game was to pick out people in the organization who were different in terms of physical differences such as race, gender, disability, and sex. These “different” people were referred to as “DKO” or different kind of people. They also would look for people who were “like them” and they referred to them as “RKO” or right kind of people. Percy and Austin found themselves playing this game whenever they had free time.
Percy did not see a problem with his views and he definitely did not see himself as biased. But when an event occurs with his friend Austin, the CEO of the company soon puts Percy in touch with reality. The CEO makes it apparent to Percy that he does have a passive bias, but initially Percy seems to be in denial of this fact. Percy continues to meet with the CEO and he soon starts to see his biases and also the biases that exist with certain other employees, such as Austin. The CEO reinforces the idea to Percy that he must become a Progressive manager in order to continue to be successful with the company, and he provides Percy with four steps to attaining this goal. Percy faces many obstacles, and must recognize the changes that need to take place before he can ultimately become a progressive manager. But in the end, Percy took the final step to becoming a progressive manager and overlooked his previous biases to attain true proversity in his organization.
The purpose of this book is to introduce the idea of proversity into the workplace. The story depicted in the book takes us through an example of a common person, who is ignorant of his biases and is adamant about accepting the true integration of different cultures in the workplace. But as the story continues, Percy begins to consider the idea of proversity and the effectiveness that it has in the workplace. This book exemplifies the fact that by accepting people for their true selves and not just their face value then the workplace can be a much more efficient and enjoyable place to be. But this idea is not only applicable to the workplace, it can be implemented virtually anywhere. Proversity teaches us to see the things that we have in common with people, rather than accepting their differences.
Proversity is the combination of the words progressive diversity. The book provides four definitions for proversity, “1. Progressive diversity: the product of bringing together individuals whom appear different, but who have many common characteristics. 2. A more advanced and progressive form of diversity planning. 3. A description of individuals who look different on the exterior, but are actually quite similar. 4. The condition of having similar characteristics on a deep level in spite of existing surface characteristics that look different” (p. Xi). Proversity is essentially the idea of looking beyond someone’s appearance and exterior traits and finding the similarities that you share with that person. Percy and his friend Austin often stereotyped the individuals in the organization labeling them by their appearance, religion, national origin, sex or gender. But they never bothered to get to know them for who they really were. As the CEO taught Percy about the idea of proversity and the steps to becoming a progressive manager, Percy began to see who his colleagues really were and what their common interests were. This was exemplified when Percy had decided to implement a game where all of the members of the 100th Anniversary Committee had to sit with their backs facing each other. They were then instructed to respond to statements or questions. The idea of this game was to allow the staff members to get to know each other without seeing their faces, it allowed them to learn about the similarities that they shared even though they thought that they had a totally different lifestyle from the other person just because they looked different than the other person.
Proversity is different from diversity in the fact that diversity looks at the characteristics that make each of us different. But proversity is the idea of accepting the similarities that people have rather than setting someone apart because they are different; proversity brings different people together because they share many similar characteristics.
Graham suggests using a four-step process to becoming a progressive manager. The first step is to recognize and eliminate your passive bias. Passive bias is the idea that people have no idea that they hold biases until it is pointed out to them. It is also the idea of only wanting to be around people that make them feel comfortable, which essentially equates to people of their own stature. In order to begin to accept proversity and become a progressive manager, one must overcome these biases and begin to look at people on a personal level beyond their external characteristics.
The second step is to discover and use the power of proversity. Once a person has overcome their biases, they are now ready to begin to look at people by looking at their internal self and the similar characteristics that they share. Percy was able to implement this idea both with the 100th Anniversary staff members and the lunch time lottery table assignments. The lunchroom idea was a very progressive project, at first the employees were skeptical about being put at different tables with people that they didn’t know. And following the first two sessions, most of the employees went back to their normal tables with the people that they routinely sat with. But as the program continued, some of the employees began to sit with different people that they met during the lunch lottery. The fact that the employees began to accept each other and the similarities and common bonds that they shared was a very good move to proversity.
The third step is to apply the progressive manager’s 12 commandments. The 12 commandments lay the moral foundation for establishing and advancing proversity in the workplace and establishing general rules for the company. Examples of the commandments include “I will show equal respect to coworkers regardless of their position or tenure in my organization; and I will stand up to those coworkers who seek to divide or discriminate against customers, clients, and others in my organization” (p.151). The general idea of the 12 commandments is to foster respect for others, both inside and outside the organization. They also help to build a sense of group pride for the greater good of the organization.
The final step is to expand your universe of organizational contacts. The contacts include both those who are inside of the organization such as coworkers, board members, vendors, and close personal relationships; and those who are in the external audience. The external members include consumers, governmental bodies, the community, special interest groups, and the media. Through reaching out to the various groups, both the organizations and the individuals are presenting an image that they readily look to find the similarities with others and are willing to build a positive relationship with a group or individual regardless of their physical differences. Percy found that before he was able to achieve the final step he had to face the reality and eliminate the one person who held him back from achieving proversity and becoming a progressive manager and that was Austin Butler. It was not possible for Percy to continue in a bias free environment if Austin was still present with his active biases.
Proversity offers some general lessons to be learned by managers. The first idea is that fostering diversity in the workplace is actually a way of setting each other apart from the others because they are different. The idea of proversity helps to foster a close knit, unified environment where workers find similarities they share with the others rather than looking at their differences. If someone has biases against others in the organization it often leads to a less productive environment because workers go out of their way to avoid others who are different even if it causes an inconvenience. With biases, workers also look for the negative characteristics of the employees because this will give them a reason to reject them. Biases may lead to harassment charges and expensive legal fees; and in general it fosters an undesirable-working environment. This was exemplified in the book, when Austin repeatedly made comments about Ann, Percy’s secretary. Ann felt that no one would take her seriously in her position and that she could no longer work for Percy because he did not try and prevent Austin from making these comments, which insulted her and led her to request a transfer.
When a company promotes the idea of proversity it helps to foster goodwill with both the internal organization and its employees, managers, and upper management; and the external organizations such as the community, government bodies, and the media. Goodwill helps to create a positive image of the company, and this can have a tremendous impact on the profitability of the organization. It is important for a manager to set an example in executing the idea of proversity, this creates respect for the manager from the employees and it also sets the standards for the rules and moral values of the office.
A manager can become a “Progressive Manager” by first ridding himself of his passive biases; but until he does that he can not begin to become a progressive manager. As Graham offered in the book, there are four steps that one must achieve to becoming a progressive manager. The second step is to discover and use the power of proversity. Through adopting the idea of proversity and implementing it into the corporate culture and establishing it in the ground rules of the organization employees will learn to accept the ideas and use them in the future. The third step is to apply the progressive manager’s 12 commandments. These ideas help to lay the ground work for the corporate culture and establish company policies. The final step in the process to becoming a progressive manager is to expand your Universe of Organizational Contacts. It is important that the manager and the organization separate themselves from factors which may hold them back, such as employees who hold biases and are unwilling to change. The process of becoming a “Progressive Manager” is a constantly evolving process that never stops. It is important that the organization and its culture stays current and does not let itself slip into the mindset of “this is how it was, and this is how it should be.”
Percy McGee learned many lessons on his way to Proversity. One of his initial lessons he learned was that keeping things the same and “the way they were” is not always the best choice. He learned that it is important to continue to be a progressive company and continue to evolve and adjust to the times. Percy was always jealous of his friends at White Light, who had a very discriminatory and biased company. But as Percy learned more about proversity he began to see these biases that existed with his friends, and in the end they ultimately were the losers. They faced bankruptcy and discrimination lawsuits because they were unwilling to change their views.
Percy also learned that being a bigot is not always obvious. In his case, he was considered to have passive biases, which only become known when the CEO pointed it out to him. Percy did not understand the extent of his bias, or the harm his comments and actions may cause. Ann’s situation was a prime example. Percy and Austin often joked around about Ann, which often insulted her. But Percy did not ever stop to realize that Ann may hear their conversations, or not know that he was joking. And this was ultimately the case in the story, Ann felt that they had taken it too far and she was then faced with an undesirable-working environment.
The idea of proversity and the fact that it helps people to accept the similar characteristics that they share with each other was an important lesson. Percy had no idea that he could possibly have something in common with another man, who he had labeled as an urban black man. But in the end they found that they both had many common interests, such as Boy Scout. And finding these common interests is an important step in creating a sense of unity in the working environment. Proverstiy helps to establish a general positive image of the company and it fosters respect for each other and also the managers of the company. I believe that Percy ultimately learned that proversity is a dynamic way to stay with the current culture and create a positive work environment, where everyone seeks to find the similarities in each other.