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The Dynamics of Diversity

Diversity at Kaizen Motors – Team Solidarity is Greater and Sometimes Less than Expected. UK Sociology prof and former graduate student examine team intensification.

Corporations pour billions of dollars into diversity training without taking the time to research what diversity actually means to the people on the shop-floor. In a new book released this past October, Tom Janoski of the University of Kentucky Sociology Department, and his former student Darina Lepadatu  reveal the dynamics of gender, race and age as workers experience it for themselves.

Their methodical case study of a lean production system at a Fortune 500 corporation exposes the rhetoric of diversity to the realities and pressures of lean production in a blue collar environment. Diversity at Kaizen Motors brings the Japanese encounter with American diversity into focus by explaining how a major Japanese auto factory has tried to implement and manage diversity. The case study also evaluates how diverse Americans – women and men, white and non-white, older and younger workers – work together in lean production teams in a major automobile assembly plant. This systematic qualitative study contains close to 150 interviews with workers from a wide variety of teams. Diversity at Kaizen Motors reveals invaluable information and yields surprising results which ultimately leads to a greater understanding of teamwork in a lean production environment. Their book is the first sociological study of a large number of workers to be done from the inside of a major auto manufacturer; however, due to the wishes of the company, they must use a pseudonym for its name -- Kaizen Motors.

The chapter entitled “Queens of the Line” show that women do well once they survive the initial rigors of the line that similarly affect men with a high quit rates.  These hard-working women are especially noted for their attention to detail and high attentiveness to quality, which is strongly valued in a lean production environment. Many of them are making more than men in their families, and they are quite proud of their successes. Teams in this environment are quite strong, but the following chapter “Sexual Attraction on the Line” shows that the divorce rate in the plant is higher than expected and team intensification often leads to affairs within the plant environment. After all, if you spend 60 hours a week with people who are working hard to produce a quality product, you are spending much more time with them than you actually spend with your family.

In the chapter called “The Underdogs,” Lepadatu and Janoski show that the most dissatisfied workers in the plant are the temps, who do the same work as the others but receive much less pay and benefits. Further, they don’t know if they are going to keep their jobs or if they will be let go in the next few weeks or months. These temporary workers also had a negative impact on teamwork since they were not well integrated into teams.

Darina Lepadatu received her Ph.D. degree from UK, and is now an assistant professor and director of the International Conflict Management Ph.D. program at Kennesaw University near Atlanta, Georgia. Professors Janoski and Lepadatu are also joining forces to finish an NSF project that will result in another book called Varieties of Lean Production. Going beyond this case study at Kaizen Motors, this new book will describe the differences in team processes and lean production in three American and three Japanese automobile plants.