on Diversity in the Workplace
Since last May, Adelphi's employees have been participating in a
cultural diversity workplace program consisting of a 2 hour workshop
presented by myself, Prof. Jeffrey Goldstein, Ph.D. of the School
of Business. The purpose of the program is to re-educate and re-sensitize
the members of the community as well as employees of organizations
throughout the NYC area regarding issues arising from working in
a diverse workplace plus legal work authorization facts.
is directed by the Metropolitan Jewish Council, and the Jewish Community
Center of Coney Island (JCCCI), in collaboration with Brooklyn's
Business Outreach Center Network (BOCNET) for micro-enterprise development,
funded by a special "9/11 Disaster Recovery" grant from
NYS Bureau of Refugee and Immigration Affairs(BRIA), "World
Trade Center Emergency Services Fund Award."
became involved in this program because of my work since 1989 in
the area of diversity in the workplace. Myself and colleagues have
visited many different types of work organizations in order to interview
all levels of workers as to the kinds of issues they were confronting
that had to do with working in an environment of diversity, including
different genders, ages, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and so
forth. I have worked with colleagues in developing interventions
that would aid employers in dealing with these issues.
The main focus
of Adelphi's workshop is on sensitivity to difference. Specifically,
the emphasis is on how cultural and other types of differences shape
our perceptions, thinking processes, and job-related attitudes.
For example, perception is an area where research has shown how
cultural differences influence how we see the world around us. Consider
the following optical illusions:
first illusion, research has demonstrated that people from a European
background tend to see the upper horizontal line as longer than
the one below it, whereas people from Melanasia, Micronesia, and
Polynesia tend to see them as the same length, which is their actual
length. In reference to the second illusion, people from a European
background in South Africa tend to see the second diagonal line
indicated by the arrow as either the same or shorter than the diagonal
line on the left, yet people from an African background in South
African tend to see the diagonal line on the right as longer than
the one of the left, that is, they see it correctly since the one
on the right is actually longer than the one on the left.
The program also covers tendencies toward a squelching of diversity,
for example, the idea of America as "The Melting Pot"
has an implicit ideology that one's diverse background should be
curtailed in favor of joining the mainstream. Also, civil rights
legislation, although a great protection for all employees, puts
the onus on employers treating everyone the same before the law,
which is great from a legal protection point of view but at the
same time tends towards avoiding the issue of diversity at work
altogether. Another example of how diversity is squelched consists
of the typical categories by which people are grouped on governmental
forms: Caucasian; African-American; Hispanic; Asian; Native American;
and so on. Why are so-called "Caucasians" not included
under "Asian" since the Caucasus Mountains are actually
in the western part of Asia? And, why are people from countries
where Spanish is the main tongue linked together as "Hispanic,"
referring to their language, whereas no other category is based
on language? Indeed, why are Brazilians supposed to check "Hispanic"
when they don't even speak Spanish, but Portuguese! And, what exactly
is common among people from Asia that they are all grouped together?
Indeed, the same can be said about the label "African-American"
since Africa is a huge continent with a huge amount of diversity.
covered in the program concerns the diverse attitudes of people
to work related situations. In this regard, the Dutch researcher
Gert Hofstede interviewed and psychologically tested over 117,000
employees in countries all over the world. Hofstede found a great
difference among countries concerning such job-related categories
as attitudes to authority such as supervisors, openness to new ideas,
inclination to be assertive in social relationships, and individualistic
or collectivist inclinations.
are the differences in how we perceive and think about people in
regard to whether they are members of our in-groups or not. For
example, we perceive much greater detail and differentiation among
people in our in-groups than we do about persons who are not. This
is the origin of believing that people of some group other than
our own "all look alike." Also, people tend to reach different
conclusions about the behavior of members of their own cultural
in-groups in contrast to members of their cultural out-groups. For
example, research has shown that if a member of one's in-group does
something wrong, there is a tendency to conclude it was caused by
something external such as an accident but if a member of an out-group
does something wrong, there is a different tendency of concluding
it was caused internally.
is shared concerning legal status of immigrants to work in the United
States. In general there are a variety of immigration statuses and
all an employer needs to know if a prospective employee is allowed
to work legally is to see the right stamped documents. This means
that, in addition to a green card, there is other documentation
given to immigrants allowing them to work before they receive the
actual green card.
have found the program informative and it appears to have stimulated
awareness of the issues since I have received many emails from attendees
alerting me to this or that news items involving diversity. There
has also been a call for more of these types of employee workshops.
As I said in the workshop, becoming re-sensitized to diversity in
the classroom is only one piece of an ongoing conversation on diversity
in which we all need to participate.