Managing Cultural Diversity: The Challenge of the '90S

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Managing Cultural Diversity: The Challenge of the '90s

America's workforce is becoming more diverse as proportionately more women, minorities, immigrants, and older people enter the job market. Increasing diversity will force organizations to recognize the unique needs and cultural backgrounds of their workers. Those organizations which can adapt to "culturally different" workers will have the opportunity to attract and retain the most qualified people in these groups and to elicit the best performance from them.

The metamorphosis in America's workforce will create challenges for many business organizations in the future. Several converging demographic trends and a shortage of human resources will result in massive restructuring of the labor force. Demographers project a dramatic reduction in the number of white males entering the labor force and a surge in the number of women, minorities, immigrants, and older employees seeking work. The nation's workforce will be reshaped by the next century with respect to age, sex, and race composition. At the same time, the industrial and occupational composition of employment will change drastically. The managerial implications of these changes are profound.

The expected diversity of the work place will force organizations to recognize the unique needs and cultural backgrounds of their future participants. Managers must learn to be tolerant of language and cultural differences. They must accommodate the needs of all workers--men and women, white and minority, American born and foreign nationals, and young and old--if they are to have a stable workforce retain their competitiveness in the cutthroat world of global markets, and meet the requirements of their role in the community. Education, training, and retraining will be emphasized to an unprecedented degree to help narrow the "skills gap" that developed in the 1980's and is expected to intensify in the future. In short, businesses will be forced to take a different approach to running things. The shape of the workforce will dictate adaptation to the needs of "culturally different" workers in the context of the company's needs, circumstances, and philosophy.

Changes in corporate culture will inevitably occur as a result of the various backgrounds, sets of work ethics, and values which the new participants will bring with them. For example, there will be no place for the monolithic, Anglo-made, networking "old-boy" system characterized by a single organizational "culture" intended to make employees conform to idealized behavior and commit to long-term organizational goals. In its place there will be a more open and entrepreneurial system, less constraining to the individual, in which the culturally different worker cannot only survive but develop, flourish, and advance. These changes will radically affect the nature of work and redefine the role of human resources management. Companies which jump out in front of the area of managing this diversity--and which are able to couple awareness with action--will have a significant competitive edge.[1]

CHANGING COMPOSITION OF THE WORKFORCE

The work place of tomorrow will be vastly different from the ones which Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie knew. Managers will be forced to cope with a new and more complex set of circumstances which will drastically impact their profitability and competitiveness. Projections by the Department of Labor and the Hudson Institute (Table 1) reveal startling changes in workforce composition. U.S. born white males are expected to comprise only 15 percent of the new entrants into the workforce from now to 2000. They will make up only 39 percent of the workforce in 2000, down from 46 percent today. U.S. born white males are fast losing their traditional position as the dominant component of the workforce.[2]

Groups outside the traditional economic mainstream will make up the remaining 85 percent of the new entrants into the workforce from now to 2000. …