The expanding conflict over cultural diversity in corporate America may present as many opportunities and problems as affirmative action. Today, cultural diversity is an important fact of life and business due to the changing face of society and, therefore, the workplace. It is growing ever more essential for people to interact with others outside of their racial, ethnic, religious, regional, and social boundaries.
To stay on top of their competitors, corporations must change their approach and see diversity not as a necessary evil or a mere threat, but as a source of enrichment and opportunity that may bring a wealth of benefits to the workplace. In examining the U.S. workplace, specifically management positions, it is evident that minorities are underrepresented. The reasons behind this vary depending on the point of view.
Some argue that minorities haven’t been in the labor pool long enough to work their way up. It is ridiculous to believe this because there are plenty of qualified minorities for any of those jobs. Others argue that minority employees don’t know the rules that allow one to ‘win’ in the corporate ‘game’. If this is true, then what is keeping them from learning these ‘rules’ and what can be done to teach them? While these reasons may hold some truth, it is also, as proven time after time in this country’s media, a matter of race and/or gender. There is an inherent distrust on the part of today’s managers (typically white males who grew up with little exposure to people from other cultures) in the abilities of others outside of the white, male workforce.
At the time many of today’s leading CEOs were in school, they were taught that blacks had smaller brains than whites” and that women were not as smart and were overly emotional. The attitudes and beliefs of these men have undoubtedly been influenced by such training. They have a deep-seated belief that women, blacks, and all others than themselves are less competent, and they believe it to be true on a biological level. At least this is true of the older generation, but what of the younger, civil rights generation?
The younger executives coming in now are worse. They’re less tolerant and high on their big MBA education. Their attitude is that the laws will take care of everything.
They have little personal concern with doing what’s right. The training received by most of these managers has usually been based on the assumption that ‘managing’ means managing a homogeneous white, male workforce and not on managing any type of workforce. With this in perspective, is it any wonder why minorities are leaving organizations to open their own businesses? Their corporate managers can’t relate to them – not as employees, co-workers, or people. When promotion time comes around, the managers promote only what they know – other white males. People are comfortable with others who look, act, and think like themselves. So the people in power bring in others like themselves.
This means that as a minority, a person can only go so far in an organization. No minority feels comfortable in such an atmosphere, which is why so many of them are leaving the corporate scene and starting their own businesses. A person can be their own boss and not have to deal with the issue, at least at that level. It is unfortunate to note, however, that 65% of minority-owned businesses fail in their first year of operation.
To combat these problems and help alleviate tensions among different ethnic groups, many organizations are integrating cultural diversity into the workplace. They have many means by which to approach this. Some companies offer management courses dealing with racial and gender-related issues. In others, the focus is placed on coaching women and minorities on how to be successful in the male-dominated business environment. Still, others have developed means of ensuring the upward mobility of women and minorities on an executive level.
Many of these organizations also celebrate different cultural holidays. This serves a dual function in that it not only makes minorities feel welcome, but also exposes white America, specifically white male managers, to parts of other cultures. It introduces them to something they likely would not have discovered on their own and shows them that different doesn’t mean inferior.