Corporate Culture vs. Ethnic Culture

Article excerpt

It's a fact of human nature that we usually resist anything that's different. With those differences come conflict, and the workplace is no exception. Because of the growing diversity among workers, clashes between the employees' need to express ethnic identity and the unwritten rules of an organization's culture are becoming increasingly common.

Before managers deal with the problems associated with corporate versus ethnic culture, they must understand certain assumptions about diversity, including: Part of what makes each individual unique is how our values, attitudes and perceptions are shaped by our social, ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds or identity groups.

According to Marshall Singer, author of Intercultural Communication: A Perceptual Approach, our current, personal attitudes and behaviors are the result of an evolving development based in our ethnic roots. Therefore, ignoring these backgrounds is tantamount to discounting our uniqueness as individual. We feel appreciated and respected only when the full range of our background is recognized and appreciated.

We become more aware of our identity groups when we're faced with people who are different. When surrounded by the so-called majority, people who belong to an ethnic or other minority group usually are unable to forget their minority identities. Internal as well as external conflicts may arise. Singer also notes that one part of them argues for assimilation; the other side may resist, perhaps by expressing even stronger links to the minority identity group. In such a situation, ethnic identity can become more, not less pronounced.

One such pull for assimilation comes from corporations and other workplace organizations.

According to T.E. Deal and A.A. Kennedy in Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, employees attain yet another sense of who they are, what they should be doing and how they should behave through identification with their organization's culture. The company benefits from this cultural cohesiveness, which is essential for smooth work flow, productivity and a common sense of affiliation that, in turn, contributes to the organization's values and goals.

Mike Fenton, manager of affirmative action and HR planning for AT&Ts Bell Laboratories, says that people must be comfortable with each other to work well together.

The following guidelines help managers feel more comfortable in addressing the potential clash between corporate and ethnic cultures. Although there aren't any surefire solutions to this dilemma, these guidelines help managers get beyond the fuzziness that Francois Basili, director of employee communications at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, identified as the problem with most recommendations on how to handle diversity in the workplace.

Because dealing with cultural diversity touches on sensitive issues, cautions also are included with each guideline. These yellow lights alert managers so that special awareness and care is given when implementing these suggestions.

Guideline 1. Don't avoid the issue of diversity. Bring it out in the open and talk about it.

In many organizations, there's an unwritten rule: Don't openly discuss issues related to ethnic, racial or cultural, or gender differences. This usually is the result of EEO regulations that (rightly) alert managers to possible discriminatory consequences of policies and practices.

The emergence of diversity in the workplace now suggests, however, that being treated fairly means to be treated the same as everyone else and recognizing how each employee is different (i.e., how ethnic, racial and gender differences help define the person's identity). EEO didn't do away with difference, it just mandated that difference shouldn't be used for the purpose of discrimination. Difference, however, is a growing fact and needs to be recognized. Therefore, the no-talk rule must be rewritten. …