Living and Working in an Increasingly Complex Society

By Ruane, Joseph W | Sociological Viewpoints, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Living and Working in an Increasingly Complex Society


Ruane, Joseph W, Sociological Viewpoints


Abstract

A challenging study of diverse opportunities in the inclusive modern day workplace, identifying positive features of diversity programs in business, and the reactions indicating the possible problems to be overcome as the cultural world comes into the business world from both a researched and experienced perspective presents itself with a look at the present and future. To attain the liberty, freedom and democracy seemingly promised in early U.S. cannot be mandated by ignoring differences, but those differences must be called out to recognize the deep seated roots of cultures now part of the new members of the workforce in order to improve hiring practices, productivity and profits through innovative creativity and recognition of new cultural experiences for all.

What's in a name: Smith, Parikh, McGuinness, Adams, Rosinski, Petitfrere, Schultz, Olajuwon, Martinez, DiNuncio, Aifuwa, Nguyen, Javid, Ahmed...? Where does it end? Why should it? Last names are not the only change. From Mary and Joseph, Jack and Jill we have gone to Nidhi, Jamal, Furhi, Ahmad, Abdul, Gyuzel, Oluwaseun, Giancarlo, Aiisha, Mei-ling and so many more.

One could dissect the origin of all the names of people we work with and still workers with other names will come to be added to any list we develop. Such is the complex society we work in today. Employees from various cultures and ethnic groups, of different religions and politics, speaking multiple languages from many nations join the workforce daily. Furthermore we work with colleagues of diverse sexual orientations and family groupings of differing races, abilities and disabilities. Respect for all becomes the mantra as we learn to live and work in an increasing inclusive world that demands an effort by all to gain a better sense of people's inherent worth.

Not only names are different, but so are dress and customs. Just when some became accustomed to yarmulkes, others come with a burqa, khimar or scarf and hijab robe and kufi or skull cap. The covering of some very observant Muslim women wearing an abaya, a long robe, and a niqab, the head covering showing only the eyes may raise questions, but to the women wearing these clothes it is an expression of their faith. Likewise Sikhs come wearing turbans every day unlike the wearing of ashes only on Ash Wednesday that indicate a Christian one day a year. Also too are the mostly younger set exhibiting their tattoos along with their talents. Saris and the bindhi on the forehead of Hindu women add to the mix. And this is just in the United States. Questions about the clothing are opportunities to learn more about the co-worker, and to begin friendships. After all, as Toni Morrison (1998) says, "What do you know about a person when you know their race (or nationality)...Nothing, only stereotypes."

However, new cultural practices from abroad may be an affront to those who grew up with the beliefs and behaviors of the United States. Being asked a question such as "What is your salary?" or "How much did you pay for your house?" or "Who are you voting for?" may reflect an ordinary question common to one culture, but one seen as intrusive and needing an evasive answer in another culture. Of course one may simply say that the question is one we don.t care to answer, or that such questions are customary only among close friends. Companies also face the problem that employees rightly put obligations on the newcomers to learn local customs and to become acculturated to their new surroundings. Timing is important in such critiques. All of us must accommodate to the requirements of our workplace at times. Circumstances like this point out the variety of ways misunderstanding may arise in complex populations.

Gradually most people begin to reflect on why those from different cultures, ourselves included, behave the way they do. Eventually we may become nonjudgmental and more accepting. We begin to grow as we recognize our own prejudices.

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