Managing Multiculturalism: Valuing Diversity in the Workplace

Article excerpt

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, businesses nationwide have begun to talk seriously about diversity.

Just a day after the September 11 attacks, a General Motors official sent employees the following message: "We sometimes forget that the GM family consists of 388,000 very diverse employees representing many different countries, religions, ethnicities, as well as points of view. Let us pull together.. to value both our differences and similarities...to create an environment where all people feel safe and free to contribute their best."

Indeed, in order for "e pluribus unum," or "out of many, one", the most fundamental of American beliefs to survive, businesses must meet head on the multicultural challenge of today.

But just where does diversity fit into today's United States? Most of us know that diversity means inclusion of people of different backgrounds and cultures into all sectors of the workplace. Is this something that all companies can realistically strive to achieve? If so, why? Is it conscience? Profits? Government or societal pressure?

Shifting Demographics

One fact is certain. Today's America is a far browner place as people of color including African-Americans, HispanicAmericans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans comprise increasingly larger percentages of the country's population.

Corporate America's decision to emphasize diversity is therefore a practical choice, based on rapidly evolving U.S. demographics. Recognizing the economic opportunity, corporate leaders are spearheading mandates for multicultural workforces and emerging markets strategies.

Census information shows Latinos have increased their presence in the U.S. population by 58 percent over the last 10 years, and now rival African Americans as the dominant ethnic minority.

African Americans are now the second largest ethnic group in the nation, with a total population of 36.4 million people. They are increasingly tech-savvy, own more businesses than ever and live in affluent enclaves unknown to most marketers.

The recent downturn has put more multiethnic talent on the market and represents a critical opportunity for companies to recruit these workers and use them to gain market share, industry experts say. It is estimated that women and people of color will represent about 70 percent of net new entrants to the workforce by 2008.

40 Acres and a Mule

Ever since Abraham Lincoln decided that freeing the slaves would weaken the South in the Civil War, the United States has struggled with how to assist people of color unjustly persecuted by American society. Originally, every freed slave was promised 40 acres and a mule, but this promise never saw fruition. Despite the fact that Whites received land during the great "land rush", freed slaves, with no money, jobs, education, or place to live were left to "achieve" the American dream on their own.

In time, the United States began to realize that it did owe help and assistance to Blacks who had been enslaved. In the twentieth century this assistance was in the form of education and housing policy reform. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act made illegal discrimination in the workplace. By the 1970s, it became clear that judicial and legislative remedies alone would not overcome the "long-- entrenched discrimination."1 Thus was born programs to ensure that affirmative action was taken to equalize opportunities in the workplace, housing and other areas of American life.

While affirmative action has become a political hot potato, diversification is more acceptable to today's corporations. The reason for this is that the changing face of America has meant a changing policy in our corporations. As minorities and women have entered and risen in the workforce, diversification has increased. Initially met with resistance, companies began to see an increase in profits and understand the benefit of diversification. …