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Cultural Diversity in the Work Place

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Cultural Diversity in the Work Place

In today's work environment, it has become more evident and vital than ever to foster cultural diversity. Business organizations that want to stay in business are integrating their global and local business efforts along with cultural diversification. However, the path that leads to cultural diversity is not an easy one. Issues and conflicts may slow down, and even restrain, efforts to integrate cultural diversity in the workforce, but the need to embrace and make cultural diversity work is a sensible and attainable prospect.

Diversity refers to all those differences that can mark human beings such as age, nationality, language; color of skin and the way people behave due to different cultural background. Prejudice is an unreasonable attitude or bias regarding those differences.

Awareness of workforce diversity has been growing since the late 1980's, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Hudson Institute published "Workforce 2000." The report predicted major shortages of labor due to a drop in the nation's birth rate during the 1960's and 70's. Because the drop in birth rate was most profound among native-born Caucasian Americans, the report predicts a major shift in the demographics of the U.S. work force. White females, minorities and immigrants will comprise 85% of those entering the work force in the year 2000. This shift will change not just employment, but also benefits, advancement and other aspects of working in America.

As the workplace and marketplace continue to change, more and more companies are educating their employees on cultural diversity awareness. An understanding of the issues that arise due to the differences between gender, age, religion, lifestyles, beliefs, physical capabilities and cultures is needed to bring out the best in all of us. The creativity, flexibility and commitment gained from our interactions with other cultures and peoples will empower us all. Barbara Stern who is vice president of Boston-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (HPHC) argues that what has traditionally been a "soft" issue is now becoming a business necessity in terms of better serving customers, understanding markets, and obtaining full benefit from staff talents (Schmerhorn, pp.77).

The issues and conflicts that affect the effectiveness of cultural diversity need to be overcome. Attitudes affect the success of cultural diversity. A "current thrust at overcoming discriminatory practices" makes efforts at shifting those underlying attitudes. Business organizations need to value cultural diversity and have "differences" recognized, "acknowledged, appreciated, and used to collective advantage" (Newstrom, pp48-49). To make cultural diversity work, "all participants need to explore their cultural differences, learn from others around them, and use that information to build a stronger organization" (Newstrom, pp50).

All individuals in the organization must make the effort to recognize the differences found in their work place and understand by patiently listening and adapting to individual's qualities. As mentioned, attitudes greatly affect cultural diversity. Prejudice is an attitude that is common in the work force and makes cultural diversity difficult. Although prejudice is common, it is a form of discrimination. And discrimination is prohibited in the work force. "EEO laws prohibit discrimination on factors other than job performance." Unfortunately, "the law focuses on an employer's actions, not feelings" (Newstrom, pp49). Being prejudice is an attitude, whereas being discriminatory is an action. For this reason, cultural diversity is not always completely successful. But several organizations have had the success of minimizing, if not totally eliminating, the negative attitudes similar to prejudice.

Vendors, partners, customers, ethnicity, diversity is growing in companies and the workforces around them. Companies that choose to diversify their workforces will probably be increasingly effective in their internal and external interactions and communications. Sempra Energy, based in San Diego, is one example of a corporation that has prospered and capitalized with their abilities to encompass diversity in the workforce as well as in the community. Everybody is a winner.

Fortune magazines annual list of "America's 50 Best Companies for Minorities", placed Sempra Energy fourth this year, making it the third consecutive year that the company has been in the top five ranking position. "The results were tallied from surveys sent to all of the companies in the FORTUNE 1,000, plus the 200 largest privately held firms in the country; 148 responded" (Chen and Hickman, 2000). The survey was based on minorities in the workforce and the company's ability to successfully integrate diversity into their program. Fifteen different categories were analyzed, ranging from, the amount of minority positions held at all levels of the company, to the turnover and retention ratio opposed to that of whites. Forty seven percent of minorities made-up Sempra's employee base, while 28 percent hold top positions. They "also purchase much of their goods and services from minority suppliers", whereupon, those funds are circulated within the community, enhancing the quality of life and economy throughout (Chen and



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