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The workplace and solutions to rebuilding America: 'scapegoats are easy to come by.' (address by Judith Rosener at the National League of Cities' Congress of Cities convention)

Focusing on the concept of difference and diversity as positive forces in our communities and places of employment is the key to creating productive work environments in the 90s and beyond, according to Dr. Judith B. Rosener, a university lecturer and researcher on matters of cultural diversity and women in the workplace.

Dr. Rosener, on the staff of the University of California at Irvine has been focused on the importance of embracing diversity for many years and is a recognized authority on the subject. She addressed delegates at the Closing General Session of the 68th Congress of Cities in Las Vegas.

To start, Rosener pointed out that in difficult times "problems are more plentiful than solutions" and scapegoats are easy to come by. City officials certainly recognized themselves as scapegoats when things go bad at home. But just as often women, people of color and immigrants are magnets for blame and mistrust, Rosener explained.

To learn to value diversity, Rosener focuses on three key points.

Understanding the way people perceive "difference" is the first step. Second is accepting the fact that the assimilation model (expecting newcomers to conform to "accepted" standards) and rewards system force homogeneity on "others." Third, local officials, and all in society for that matter, must learn to shift to valuing diversity.

Valuing diversity will be imperative, Rosener said, because "the labor supply is growing at a slower rate, and women and people of color will be entering the workforce more rapidly than white males."

Explaining that women associate typically male attributes with strong leadership and men associate women only through sexual stereotypes, Rosener pointed out that racial stereotypes are even more difficult to come to grips with and get around. "We're in a kind of gender flux. We have new roles and no new rules," she said.

"If we have this much trouble with gender, look how people respond to differences in ethnicity." Rosener showed delegates how people stereotype people of different ethnicity, usually perceiving them as inferior. Lazy, hypocrites, and stupid were a few of the descriptions applied to people of different enthnicities and religions.

"White males are expected to be competent until they prove otherwise," Rosener said. "Women and people of color are assumed incompetent until key prove otherwise."

By pressuring "others" to conform or assimilate, Rosener said, those in charge force a presumption of guilt onto the person who is different.

Organizations that deal with the issues surrounding diversity will reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and lower their staff turnover rates, according to Rosener. "You cannot say you are color-blind until you are sensitized to the differences between us that make us unique."

Rosener cautioned against confusing affirmative action with diversity.

She explained that diversity sensitivity is voluntary and productivity driven and affirmative action is government initiated and legally driven. Also, affirmative action is concerned with quantity and diversity sensitivity is concerned with quality. Affirmative action is reactive and diversity is proactive.

Rosener told delegates about what some organizations are doing to embrace diversity. Awareness training, skill development training, mentoring, employing networks for support, focus groups, diversity councils, task forces, policy evaluation, and linking rewards to diversity are all valid and important ways to benefit from the diversity in our workplaces.

Rosener closed by citing the Noah Principle, which she believes is a good metaphor for dealing with diversity:

"No more prizes for predicting floods. Only prizes for building arks."

"I urge all of you local officials to become ark builders," she said.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ryder, Julianne Ryan
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 16, 1991
Words:579
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