How to Manage Diversity in the Workplace?

June 1, 2011 8:23 pm

In my freshman year as an international student, our volleyball coach assigned two leaders to build their teams to play a short basketball game as a warm up. The only two players left at the end were the two international players of the team, whom by the way, happened to have the highest vertical and leading statistics as athletes. Naturally, basketball was an American heritage, distant from the realm of international students. I remember running back and forth with my team desperately demanding and not receiving a single pass. I should have realized then this experience was a reminiscent of what I was about to face in my professional career as well.

US census bureau states that as of 2009, out of 154.1 million employees in the United States, there are 28.5 million minorities in the workforce. Minority employment is projected to increase to 34.4 million by 2018. As confirmed by the projections, the workforce in the United States is increasingly diverse. As stated by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, American Psychological Association, and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, mismanagement of diverse employee population results in dissatisfaction, low productivity, problematic team dynamics, and retention problems. This is certainly a hot topic for Washington, DC. There are more than 300,000 large company headquarters within proximity. Concurrently, the economical and political foundation of Washington, DC is immensely diverse.

The definition of diversity refers to individually varied developmental differences, including race, culture, and religion. A multi-cultural work environment can be an asset for global businesses. Alternative practices and varied perspectives may increase creativity and nourish group dynamics. Unique backgrounds and experiences might become indispensible for negotiations and management of international companies. The new hybrid platform on the other hand is subject to discriminative attitudes that are incrementally damaging, if ameliorations are not carefully implemented.

We might believe attention to diversity is overrated. Focus can be kept on majority way of thinking and doing things. Minorities can be trained and lead the way to join preponderance. But will it be effective and possible to achieve?

Discriminative behavior ranges from obvious personal assault to benign microaggressions. We are not too worried about the direct assertiveness, because they are protected mainly under enforced laws, company policies, and simple virtue of humanism. On the other hand, it is those benevolent, unconscious communication patterns that are the most hurtful. Microaggressions is a term initially defined by Chester M. Pierce in the 1970s and is currently used by Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues on their eminent studies on minority and discrimination. Microaggressions are found in the choice of vocabulary, body language, a sigh, or even a peculiar look. Despite the benignant intentions, microaggressions are even more precarious compared to obvious outbursts, because they poignantly justify perceived discrimination. Through these small reminders of misfit, minorities lose hope of finding equal grounds and confidence in their living environment. Even their egos are somewhat attacked, because despite their consummate qualifications, having a linguistic accent or the slightest representation of their ethnic background degrades their value in the eye of perpetuator.

Diversity management programs do not only help eliminate prejudice but also improves employee relationships, team productivity, public relations, and company branding. 80% of the Fortune 500 Companies either currently have or are in the process of adopting a diversity training program. Diversity management used to be applied in terms of training and uniting everyone regardless of their differences under one concrete, mainstream identity. This monolithic approach did not allow for differences to surface, however was not very effective either. Currently, the shift is towards pluralistic management where each and every difference is promoted, inspired, and actively utilized. The point is to broaden alternative approaches and again create a solid identity; a multi-cultural identity.

One bitter and ever-present fact about human beings is that our brains work well with stereotyping. It helps them survive by remembering through personal experiences and use present clues to utilize and reapply new information based on schemas. If our aim is to stop stereotypical behavior, our task is a one hard apple to bite. However, we can use stereotypical proneness to our advantage by promoting ethnically diverse or welcoming role models in organizations.  Building pleasant and inspiring memories would help re-shape our schemas in more positive, liberal ways.

Individual differences of physical appearance, private lives, religious choices, and cultural background on the other hand can be turned into benign variations through interaction. Novel practices are intimidating. High proximity keeps differences strong. Organizations are bound to provide friendly settings and interaction-inviting atmosphere in the workplace. When diverse groups spend time as teammates, friends, colleagues, and group members, they get acquainted. Acquaintance refers to relating to each other better, which in turn makes minorities look less as strangers and more like team members. Inextricably, in any attempt to create a multi-cultural identity, we must recurrently assess our own objectivity and values towards differences. Do we, despite our most naïve intentions, really pass the ball and give a chance to our teammate to see how she/he can contribute to mainstream?

References & Suggested Reading

American Psychological Association [APA]. (2011). www.apa.org

Bodenhausen, G. F. (1993), Emotion, arousal, and stereotypic judgment: A heuristic model of affect and stereotyping. In D. Mackie & D. Hamilton (Eds.), Affect, cognition, and stereotyping: Intergroup processes in intergroup perception (pp. 13-37). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Calloway, J. A., & Awadzi, W. (2010). An examination of affirmative action, diversity and justice. The Consortium Journal of Hospitality & Tourism, 14(2), 65-73.

De Meuse, K. P., Hosteger, T. J., & O`Neill, K. S. (2007). A longitudinal evaluation of senior managers` perceptions and attitudes of a workplace diversity training program. HumanResource Planning, 30(2), 38-46.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2011). Race and color discrimination. Retrieved on April 27, 2011 from Jones, D., Pringle, J., & Shepherd, D. (2000). Managing diversity meets Aotearoa/New Zealand. Personnel Review, 29(3), 364-380.

Katrinli, A., Atabay, G., & Gunay, G. (2008). A historical view of diversity management: The Ottoman Empire case. International Journal of Business Research, 8(2), 137-145.

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Marsella, A. J. (1998). Toward a global community psychology: Meeting the needs of a changing world. American Psychologist, 53, 1282-1291.

Miller, F., & Katz, J. (2002). The inclusion breakthrough: Unleashing the real power of diversity. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

US Census Bureau. (2011). Table 585. Civilian Labor Force and Participation Rates With Projections: 1980 to 2018. Retrieved on April 27, 2011 from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s0585.pdf

Oakes, P. J., Haslam, S. A., & Turner, J. C. (1994). Stereotyping and social reality. Oxford:Blackwell.

Prilleltensky, I. (1997). Values, assumptions, and practices: Assessing the moral implications of psychological discourse and action. American Psychologist, 52, 517-535.

Schwartz, R. H., & Post, F. R. (2002). The unexplored potential of hope to level the playing field: A multilevel perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 37(2), 135-143.

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology [SIOP]. (2011). www.siop.org

Sue, D. W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A. I., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2009). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Asian American Journal of Psychology, S(1), 88- 101.

Thomas, R. (1991). Beyond race and gender: Unleashing the power of total workforce bymanaging diversity. New York: AMACOM.

Triandis, H. C. (1999). Cross-cultural psychology. Asian Journal of Social Psychology(2)1, 127-143.

Van Den Bergh, N. (2003). Getting a piece of the pie: Cultural competence for GLBT employees at the workplace. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 8(2-3), 55-73.

Wiltz, F., Ventemerica, P., & Porter, V. (2005). A workplace diversity training and management model. International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities & Nations, 5(3), 171-179.

Post By Funda Sinani (3 Posts)

Funda inaniFunda Sinani lives in Vienna with her three children: Alina (7), Ona (5) and Soren (4). For more information about her, please visit Modern Women page at iammodern.com

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