Many people use the terms diversity and multiculturalism interchangeably, when in fact, there are major differences between the two. DiversityThe real or perceived differences between individuals. is defined as the differences between people. These differences can include race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, background, socioeconomic status, and much more. Diversity, when talking about it from the workplace perspective, tends to focus more on a set of policies to meet government-mandated diversity compliance standards.
MulticulturalismLooks at power and privilege differences in society. goes deeper than diversity by focusing on inclusiveness, understanding, and respect, and also by looking at unequal power in society. In a report called the “2007 State of Workplace Diversity Management Report,”Society for Human Resource Management, The 2007 State of Workplace Diversity Management Report, March 2008, accessed August 3, 2011, http://www.shrm.org/Publications/HRNews/Pages/DiversityBusinessImperative.aspx. most human resources (HR) managers said that diversity in the workplace is
This chapter focuses on the advantages of a diverse workplace and discusses how to work in a multicultural workplace.
As defined in this chapter, diversity focuses on the “otherness” or differences between individuals and has a goal of making sure, through policies, that everyone is treated the same. While this is the legal and the right thing to do, multiculturalism looks at a system of advantages based on race, gender, and sexual orientation called power and privilegeA system of advantages based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other components of diversity.. In this system, the advantages are based on a system in which one race, gender, and sexual orientation is predominant in setting societal rules and norms.
The interesting thing about power and privilege is that if you have it, you may not initially recognize it, which is why we can call it invisible privilege. Recognizing power and privilege can help you begin to understand how you relate to others. This is an important emotional intelligence skill of relationship management. Here are some examples of invisible privilege:
Oftentimes the privilege we have is considered invisible, because it can be hard to recognize one’s own privilege based on race, gender, or social class. Many people utilize the color-blind approach, which says, “I treat everyone the same,” or “I don’t see people’s skin color.” In this case, the person is showing invisible privilege and thus ignoring the privileges he or she receives because of race, gender, or social class. While it appears this approach would value all people equally, it doesn’t, because people’s different needs, assets, and perspectives are disregarded by not acknowledging differences.Victoria C. Plaut, Kecia M. Thomas, and Matt J. Goren, “Is Multiculturalism or Color Blindness Better for Minorities?” Psychological Science 20, no. 4 (2009): 444–46.
Another important aspect of power and privilege is the fact that we may have privilege in one area and not another. For example, I am a Caucasian female, which certainly gives me race privilege but not gender privilege. Important to note here is that the idea of power and privilege is not about “white male bashing” but understanding our own stereotypes and systems of advantage so we can be more inclusive with our coworkers, employees, and managers.
So what does this all mean in relation to the workplace? It means we can combine the understanding of certain systems that allow for power and privilege, and by understanding we may be able to eliminate or at least minimize these issues. Besides this, one of the best things we can do for our organizations is to have a diverse workforce, with people from a variety of perspectives. This diversity leads to profitability and the ability to better serve customers for the company and better human relations skills for us. We discuss the advantages of diversity in Section 1.
This video discusses some racial stereotypes and white privilege through “on the street” interviews.
When many people look at diversity and multiculturalism, they think that someone’s gender, skin color, or social class shouldn’t matter. So diversity can help us with policies to prevent discrimination, while multiculturalism can help us gain a deeper understanding of the differences between people. Hopefully, over time, rather than look at diversity as attaining numerical goals or complying with the law, we can combine the concepts to create better workplaces. Although many books discuss laws relating to diversity, not many actually describe why diversity is necessary in the workplace. Here are a few main reasons:
Promoting a multicultural work environment isn’t just the law. Through a diverse work environment and multicultural understanding, organizations can attain greater profitability. A study by Cedric Herring called Does Diversity Pay?Cedric Herring, “Does Diversity Pay? Racial Composition of Firms and the Business Case for Diversity” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal, Canada, August 11, 2006), accessed May 5, 2009, http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p101792_index.html. reveals that diversity does, in fact, pay. The study found those businesses with greater racial diversity reporter higher sales revenues, more customers, larger market shares, and greater relative profits than those with more homogeneous workforces. Other research on the topic by Scott Page, the author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and SocietiesScott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). ended up with similar results. Page found that people from varied backgrounds are more effective at working together than those who are from similar backgrounds, because they offer different approaches and perspectives in the development of solutions. Often people believe that diversity is about checking a box or only providing window dressing to gain more customers, but this isn’t the case. As put by Eric Foss, chairperson and CEO of Pepsi Beverages Company, “It’s not a fad. It’s not an idea of the month. It’s central and it’s linked very directly to business strategy.”William J. Holstein, “Diversity Is Even More Important in Hard Times,” New York Times, February 13, 2009, accessed August 25, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/14/business/14interview.html. A study by the late Roy Adler of Pepperdine University shows similar results. His nineteen-year study of 215 Fortune 500 companies shows a strong correlation between female executives and high profitability.Roy Adler, “Women in the Executive Suite Correlate to High Profits,” Glass Ceiling Research Center. Another study, conducted by Project Equality, found that companies that rated low on equal opportunity issues earned 7.9 percent profit, while those who rated highest with more equal opportunities resulted in 18.3 percent profit.Melissa Lauber, “Studies Show That Diversity in Workplace Is Profitable,” Project Equality, n.d., accessed July 11, 2011, http://www.villagelife.org/news/archives/diversity.html. These numbers show that diversity and multiculturalism certainly is not a fad but a way of doing business that better serves customers and results in higher profits for companies, while allowing us to get better at human relations skills. As employees, we need to recognize this so we may begin to understand our own power and privilege, which allows for better communication at work.
Perhaps one of the best diversity statements by a Fortune 500 company was made by Jose Manuel Souto, the CFO for Visa in Latin America. He says, “A diverse workforce is critical to providing the best service to our global clients, supporting our business initiatives, and creating a workplace environment that promotes respect and fairness.”National Latina Business Women Association, “Women and Minorities on Corporate Boards Still Lags Far Behind National Population,” accessed August 24, 2011, http://www.voxxi.com/minority-women-lagging/.
The first step to being effective at working in a diverse environment is understanding that everyone comes from a different place of power and privilege, and as a result, everyone has a different perspective. Once we understand this, our understanding can translate into better verbal and nonverbal communication. These different perspectives are what makes companies successful, as we have discussed in this section.
Now that you have an understanding of the meaning of diversity, power, and privilege, as well as the importance of diversity, we will discuss multiculturalism and the law.
Most of us will work in diverse environments, meaning diversity not only in terms of gender or race but also in terms of people of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and socio-economic status. Appreciating and understand this diversity is what helps us be successful in our career path. The ability to communicate effectively with a variety of people shows our relationship management and social awareness skills.
The success in working in diverse environments can come through use of emotional intelligence skills such as relationship management and social awareness. These skills allow us to understand how another person feels or why they do something, even if we do not agree. These skills also allow us to be accepting of others and appreciate differences even though we may not like it.
Developing the skills to work in a multicultural environment can help us work with people from any variety of backgrounds and also helps us to communicate better with everyone we may come across, both professionally and personally. These abilities, acceptance and understanding, are cornerstones to developing positive relationships that lead to positive human relations and work success.