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Valuing cultural diversity; industry woos a new work force.

From the shop floor to the executive suite, the once all-White, all-male corporate culture of industry is transforming into a mosaic of cultural diversity. Rapidly changing demographics and economic necessity are encouraging corporations to open more career doors to women and minorities.

The US Department of Labor projects that by the year 2000, 85 percent of the new entrants into the US work force will be minorities, women and immigrants.

In response, industry is struggling to discard age-old prejudices and ways of doing things to attract and retain this new work force. Executives accustomed to hiring, training and managing a homogeneous group of workers are hiring consultants and attending training courses to learn new skills that enable them to manage and motivate a work force made up of diverse groups of people with widely varying cultural backgrounds.

To woo, win and retain the new work force, industry is going well beyond the policies adopted following the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and '70s - policies that attempted to treat everyone the same. Corporations are discovering that, despite their best efforts, everyone is not alike and that personnel policies and management techniques must change to deal with a diverse work force. In most instances, this requires no less than a major change in corporate culture. Melting Pot Myth

When Coming Inc., the nearly US $3 billion glass and ceramics giant whose products include Coming Ware, Pyrex and Steuben, became dissatisfied with the results of its "melting pot" approach to personnel administration, it had to overcome a culture that for years had insisted that only White males could run the business. While the company had a good track record in hiring women and Black managers, it was having difficulty retaining them. Their rate of attrition was triple the rate for White men. In exit interviews, women and Blacks complained that their progress up the ranks was restricted.

In 1986, CEO James R. Houghton became concerned and made this issue a major corporate initiative. Teams of employees studied the matter as a quality problem and held workshops and seminars to help people overcome sexist and racist attitudes. Corrective actions, including better avenues of communication and new career planning programs, were put in place. Houghton championed diversity in his communication to employees, promoting a better mix of women and Blacks in the company's management and professional ranks and making a virtue of the mix.

Coming provided day care for employees' children, and coaches and mentors to help new women and Black employees adjust to the Coming environment. And Houghton went one step further. He told his executives that their own bonuses, raises and promotions would depend in part on how well they helped women and minorities reach their fullest potential.

Coming acknowledges that progress has not always been smooth and the necessary behavioral changes do not occur overnight, yet the company's record today is much improved. The attrition rate for women and Black employees has been cut nearly in half. Avoiding Stereotypes Dealing with a changing corporate culture can go beyond the obvious differences between people. An influx of new managers in 1988 prompted administrators at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward, Calif., to look for ways to help supervisory staff develop skills to effectively manage the institution's changing work force. After asking their managers to identify cultural diversity issues that they felt were important, the administrative task force, with the help of a consultant, developed a training program for managers.

The eight-hour series focused on creating awareness of cultural differences. "But we stayed away from stereotypes," says Sharon Wamble, senior public affairs representative. "We moved past the recipes about ethnicity, race, gender and lifestyle to look at what culture is and how it defines and manifests itself in the work place. As a result, our managers got the point that values define behavior, whereas recipes get at the surface of what behavior is about. Good managers have to get beneath that."

The Kaiser Permanente task force defined culture very broadly, as a group of people with shared values, meanings and behaviors. By this definition, cultural groupings broadened to include, among others, work groups such as doctors, nurses, housekeepers, and clerks. "Each group has its own set of assumptions about the other," explains Wamble, assumptions that she says must be dealt with: "Doctors and nurses, for example, make assumptions about each other that are never brought into the open, and that is where the conflict is. It's like two icebergs colliding in the ocean. You see the peaks above the water clear of each other but the collision is taking place beneath the waves."

The Kaiser training sessions helped managers to first identify and come to terms with their own cultural backgrounds, and secondly to understand and appreciate other peoples' cultures and values. "They learned to look at a combination of things-race, nationality, education, profession, marital status-that affect a person's values," says Wamble. "As a result, when they communicate with someone, they are much more aware of how to interpret the communication."

According to Wamble, the training series got "tremendously positive feedback" and "overwhelming" support for a follow-up series. However, the task force discovered that training by itself is not enough. A cultural shift within the institution had to occur before training would be effective over the long term - a proposal to the effect that cultural shift is in the works. What will it attempt to do? Wamble: "We will know that the cultural shift has been accomplished when people are able to say that we value diversity and what it brings to the organization, and say it by modeling the behavior." Outside Help As the people at Coming and Kaiser Permanente discovered, moving a monocultural organization to a multicultural one is not easy. It takes time and, especially, commitment from the very top. And, more often than not, expert advice from a consultant.

A growing number of advisors with expertise in managing and valuing cultural diversity are weighing in to help corporations attract and retain multicultural work forces. Most tailor their programs to suit a client's special needs. Some, however, offer packaged programs.

Copeland Griggs Productions in San Francisco produces a popular series of seven training films on "Valuing Diversity." The series shows how to evaluate, develop and motivate diverse employees. It shows how stereotypes and actual differences affect each employee's ability to succeed and how misunderstandings result from different styles of communication. There are also segments for entry-level and supervisory employees, a documentary with senior executives sharing why they are champions of diversity, and a documentary that explores how organizations are changing in response to diversity.

Lewis Griggs, who studied American attitudes toward cultural differences in the course of producing the film series believes, "To have ignored cultural differences as we always have in this country as a way of pretending that we are equal is another form of discrimination caused by and leading to ethnocentrism. What we really need is more knowledge about cultural differences in order to understand different people, manage different people and value their differences." Executive Program Anne Duran, Ph.D., a member of the faculty at the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, N.Y., conducts an executive program on managing cultural diversity. The program has attracted more than 800 inquiries in recent months from US corporations interested in participating. "They recognize that they have problems now or soon will," says Duran. "However, we take the approach that managing diversity isn't just dealing with problems but is also coming up with more creative solutions that address the marketplace."

Columbia's five-day executive program, given twice a year, concentrates on developing awareness of cultural differences and hidden patterns of prejudice and discrimination. Participants look at assumptions held by people from different cultures about their relationship to the world in terms of time, the meaning of activity, other people and nature, and the role that policies and institutions play in organizing work. Executives then focus on incorporating diversity into the work place, developing action plans for cultural reciprocity and incorporating different views into problem-solving and decision-making.

The sessions on cultural differences and different world views are eye-openers, says Duran: "Some cultures are much more family-oriented than others. In one example we use, a Hispanic invited to his boss' home for a dinner party for group managers takes his wife and child along, which is the custom in his home culture. He is surprised and chagrined to learn that this is inappropriate in the US. The message he receives from this experience is, "If you don't know how to read signals in this culture, you can't read them in business. Therefore, you are not executive material." Understanding Personal Values Harbridge House, Inc. in Northbrook, Ill., was founded in 1950 by members of the faculty of the Harvard Business School. Nathaniel "Toby" Thompkins, who specializes in managing diversity and affirmative action, says, "The first step in making changes is to communicate the fact that there is change-that it's reality, and we have to do some things to accommodate it." After communicating that the company has made the commitment, he works one-on-one with individuals or in classroom settings to help employees understand their own cultural perceptions. "By the age of 1 0, your value system is shaped," he said. "You have to understand how you learned the messages that shape your perceptions, beliefs and values around such issues as race, gender, age, alternate lifestyle, etc., before you can appreciate others."

Thompkins then works with clients on their current practices in giving feedback. "One of the biggest barriers in multicultural situations is the inability to communicate effectively," he observes. "If a person is uncomfortable in the situation, it is easier to not say anything." He coaches clients to ask themselves, "Do my practices build barriers?" If their current practices are not effective or in line with organizational goals, Thompkins helps them develop new sets of communication skills.

A common mistake is the assumption that everyone defines success the same way. Thompkins: "We assume that everyone wants what the White male wants: money, title, large office, power. People from other cultures may prefer being a role model in their community with their organization supporting them in their activities." Or an older worker no longer interested in climbing the corporate ladder wants more time off for family or other interests, a younger worker-man or woman-wants time to be a parent, and gay or lesbian employees want a supportive environment and spousal benefits.

Thompkins says that 80 percent of US companies are aware of the trend in the work force, but only 30 percent have adopted programs. What is interesting about this, he says, is that "Many companies are making a thrust toward quality and productivity to become more competitive in a global market. This means more and better products from each employee. But you can't do that unless you understand the difference each employee brings to the table. You can't have a successful quality or productivity program unless you value, recognize and appreciate the differences that individuals bring to your program. Make Business Sense Getting to that point poses a major challenge. As Sharon Wamble of Kaiser Permanente observes, "Business is trying to do something that society has been unable to do. We take people for eight hours a day and try to make them behave in ways that they don't behave outside of those confines." gut Robert Mezoff, Ph.D., president of ODT Associates, a management consulting firm in Amherst, Mass., is optimistic. He has found in teaching how to manage cultural diversity that people from all walks of life are receptive to cross-cultural communication and that they can modify their behavior with comparative ease. Coming's Houghton is also confident that cross, cultural training will stick and carry over to employees' private lives, because, as he says, "It is the right and morally responsible thing to do-and it makes good business sense." Gray Allen, ABC, is a communication consultant in Roseville, Calif.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
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Title Annotation:includes related article on major work force trends
Author:Allen, Gray
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Survey reveals insights into attitudes and perceptions of public relations practitioners.
Next Article:When your national language is just another language.

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