Academic journal article Education

Cultural Diversity in Higher Education: Implications for Hospitality Programs

Academic journal article Education

Cultural Diversity in Higher Education: Implications for Hospitality Programs

Article excerpt

Introduction

The mission of higher education hospitality programs is to serve the needs of the industry; consequently, learner-centered practices in the classroom should be aimed at preparing students in anticipation of the situations they will face when hired by lodging, restaurant or tourism-related companies and organizations. One of these situations is the necessity of having to deal with a diverse workforce, a topic of paramount importance because of the continuing changes taking place in the United States' ethnic profile and because of the effects of globalization on business practices.

At the turn of the century, particularly during the decade of the 1990's, minority groups were projected to become a majority of the US population by or about 2050 and, as a result, all businesses were urged to be prepared for the challenges created by a diverse workforce (see Wishna, 2000). The Hispanic population had already reached the 40 million mark, with California's minorities up from 22 million in 1990 to more than one half of the state's population. The fact was that new immigration patterns, together with birth trends in the US, were changing the composition of American society, particularly in large urban centers. In the case of Phoenix and Dallas, for instance, the number of Hispanics had already more than doubled in the last ten years (United States Bureau of Census, 2000). These shifts in demographics, together with new patterns of international immigration were changing the composition of employment in the work place, making it substantially more heterogeneous.

These new demographic figures were particularly relevant to the hospitality industry where a large number of back-of-the-house employees were then, and are today, minorities. As a result, hospitality companies actively searched for ethnically-diverse graduates to fill supervisory positions in departments traditionally manned by minority workers, such as housekeeping, because those graduates were more likely to understand minority culture and idiosyncrasies. Globally, workforce demographics for many organizations of the world also indicated that managing diversity would be on the agendas of organizational leaders in the years to come. Reports on the workforces of 21 nations showed that nearly all growth in the labor force was occurring in nations with predominantly non-Caucasian populations (see Cox & Blake, 1991). Sociologically, by the early 1990's the melting pot and assimilation ideas of earlier decades had given way to the realities that not all people were "meltable" and that the number of "unmeltables" was increasing (Harvey & Allard, 2002).

At the same time that organizations considered that managing people's differences in ways that would make workers more productive and more compatible team members was of critical importance, hospitality students were being taught that if companies managed their diverse workforce effectively, they would have a competitive edge over organizations that fail to do so. For example Avon, on the list of Fortune's 'most admired companies' and honored as one of the '50 best companies' for minorities and one of the best places to work for working mothers and executive women, enforced diversity in the workplace, while emphasizing opportunities for development and advancement for all employees. Avon had a history of being recognized as a leader in corporate diversity, with more than 80% of women serving in management positions and as half the members of its Board of Directors (http://www.avoncompany.com). Likewise, hospitality companies were also aware that they would have a better opportunity to optimize their efforts in areas such as marketing their products or services, in cost containment, and in human resources management if they instituted sound diversity management policies. It was clear, though, that maintaining and effectively directing a diverse workforce presented a series of challenges that had to be explained to future supervisors and managers while they were still in college. …

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