Multicultural Development in Human Services Agencies: Challenges and Solutions

Article excerpt

In recent years it has become increasingly evident that human services agencies must become more multicultural to appropriately serve diverse and disenfranchised people. This need is apparent given the increases in populations of color, people who are elderly, and people with disabilities; the widening income gap; and the dismantling of the public welfare sector (Bocage, Homonoff, & Riley, 1995; Ferguson, 1996; Gutierrez & Nagda, 1996; Hasenfeld, 1996). Human services managers also must contend with greater gender, race, and age diversity in the service workforce (Asamoah, 1995; Brody, 1993; Iglehart, 2000; Shin & McClomb, 1998). Under the auspices of multicultural development, activities have been undertaken in response to these trends--awareness training, hiring and retention plans, and improved outreach and service delivery systems (Ferguson; Fong & Gibbs, 1995; Hyde, 1998; Iglehart; Iglehart & Becerra, 1995). Yet, comprehensive multicultural development often remains elusive.

The purpose of this study was to examine multicultural organizational development in human services agencies to understand some of the barriers to successful change. Through interviews with practitioners and consultants, and against the backdrop of the daily realities of agency life, challenges to multicultural development are identified and solutions are proposed.

Multicultural Organizational Development and Agency Transformation

Multicultural organizational development (MCOD) is a long-term, complex organizational change process that "does not simply accept or celebrate differences, but aims at a reduction in the patterns of racism and sexism [and other oppressions] that prevail in most U.S. institutions and organizations" through a fundamental transformation of an organization's culture (Chesler, 1994, p. 14; Gutierrez & Nagda, 1996; Jackson & Holvino, 1988). MCOD is rooted in the field of organizational development (OD); it differs from OD by focusing explicitly on the dynamics of power and oppression in an organization (Chesler; Katz & Miller, 1997).

In the ideal, MCOD results in an organization that embraces full social and cultural representation on all levels; the elimination of sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression; full inclusion and valuing of differences; and the redistribution of power and influence among all stakeholders (Jackson & Holvino, 1988). Change strategies flow from an assessment ofthe organization's level of multicultural development (from monocultural to multicultural) (Jackson & Holvino). MCOD is broad in scope and encompasses a range of intervention models: legal compliance (for example, affirmative action), prejudice reduction, intercultural awareness, managing diversity, valuing differences, and anti-racism (Chesler, 1994; Iglehart, 2000; Jackson & Holvino). These models vary in the degree of organizational change achieved; yet each is appropriate for an organization depending on its stage of multicultural development.

A multicultural human services organization exhibits an emphasis on social change and empowerment; interventions that build on client strengths and resources; workplace practices that reflect a multicultural ideology; connections to client communities and networks; links to relevant policy making, professional and resource associations or arenas; ties to local, national, and international networks; and development of an intraorganizational learning environment (Gutierrez & Nagda, 1996). A multicultural agency is not achieved merely with the addition of ethnic-based programs or staff representing specific groups, although these efforts could be the foundation for continued change. Nor is a multicultural human services organization the same as an ethno-conscious agency, which is organized by a particular racial or ethnic group to serve its needs (for example, a Latino health agency or Southeast Asian refugee center) (Nagda, Harding, & Holley, 1999). …