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Managing your lab in a multicultural environment.

If we do it well, we can contribute to society as well as to the growth of our profession.

EVEN THOUGH OUR SOCIETY is composed of various ethnic groups representing different cultures, the term "multiculturalism" remains a controversial concept. To many minority members, the dominant culture nurtures a system that consistently promotes the interests and advancement of its own social structure through the suppression and denial of the cultures of others.

As we move toward the year 2000, we must acknowledge that our society will become even more multicultural and that if it is to thrive so that all Americans can benefit, other cultures and values must be recognized. Through a process of education, we must reverse the practices of racism, oppression, stereotyping, and discrimination. We in the laboratory arena have a golden opportunity to develop a positive, sensitive, supportive, and inclusive work environment. We can directly contribute to a less hostile climate that is dedicated to removing barriers.

The mix of people in our work force has produced a cultural melting pot--or rainbow, to use a more modern metaphor--that presents both challenges and opportunities. As president of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association (CLMA), I have been to many localities here and abroad. In some places in the United States, Spanish is the primary language, while in other places, French, and in others, Chinese. I had never thought that being bilingual might be necessary in the workplace, but it's already a reality in some areas.

In my travels I have been constantly reminded that all human beings share certain universal dimensions easily understood by all ethnic groups--love, understanding, a need for acceptance, and a need to work and be valued in the workplace. While each person has his or her own personality, all are alike in many ways. I read somewhere that cultures are like rivers, crossing many artificial boundaries, yet nourishing fields as they flow. Likewise, we will all grow by reaching out to understand different cultures and learn why diversity can be helpful to us all. We no longer can afford the luxury of ignoring people whose cultures are different, nor can the fear of failure and embarrassment be stumbling blocks to their growth and initiative.

* Keeping the competitive edge. Laboratory managers must use their skills to transform the fears of those who are "different" into self-awareness, integrity, and strength of character. This, after all, is what management and motivation are all about. If a manager needs help, there are conferences and courses on diversity awareness, as well as books and videotapes.

R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., in "Beyond Race and Gender," writes about the need for cultural change: "Most corporate cultures were established when the vast majority of workers were white and male. Today's employees are more and more diverse. It's managerially prudent to ask if the culture that served you well in the past can serve you equally well in the present and the future?"|1~ Likewise, he points out the importance of the process of managing diversity. The process, he says, begins with identifying the fundamental elements of the corporate culture, in particular those elements that influence or determine the company's philosophy about diversity. Even though we may be sorely tempted to try immediately to change how people act, we should first try to find out why they act as they do.

Thomas goes on to write about the organizational tree. "Behavior that you see is a branch; the roots, the part you don't see, make the branch what it is. Managers who drive behavioral change on the assumption that the roots will follow are doomed to repeat the cycle." Determining your company roots requires what Thomas calls a "culture audit." After this is done, we should seek to build a new culture reflecting the strong points of our internal organizational root system. This, he stresses, will be a long-term process requiring both vision and considerable leadership skills.

America's future work force will become increasingly multicultural as it becomes more difficult to fill certain jobs. Facilities that are most knowledgeable about intercultural communication will have the competitive edge. Selma Myers, a communication consultant from Solana Beach, Calif., has developed three management steps for creating a successful multicultural environment:

* Recognize the impact of different cultures in the workplace.

* Take organizational responsibility.

* Train people to develop interpersonal skills.

Every manager should demonstrate interest, patience, empathy, trust, tolerance for ambiguity, and respect. The philosophy of managing diversity suggests that we all make whatever changes are necessary in our systems, structures, and management practices to eliminate any barriers, however subtle, that might keep people from reaching their full potential. The goal is to treat people as individuals, recognizing that each employee has different needs and will probably require different kinds of help to succeed. Managing diversity is no longer enough; we must also value diversity.

Bettina G. Martin, a member of MLO's Editorial Advisory Board and Management Q & A panel, is pathology management associate and professor of medical technology, State University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse, Syracuse, N.Y. She is also president of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association.


1. Thomas RR Jr. Beyond Race and Gender. New York, NY: Amacom, American Management Association; 1991.
Figure 1
The Changing work force
 Labor force, Net new workers,
 1985 1985-2000
TOTAL 115,461,000 25,000,000
Native white men 47% 15%
Native white women 36 42
Native non-white men 5 7
Native non-white women 5 13
Immigrant men 4 13
Immigrant women 3 9
Non-whites, women, and immigrants will make up more than
five-sixths of the net additions to the work force by the year
Second column equals less than 100% due to rounding.
Source: Hudson Institute.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Martin, Bettina G.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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