Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

The Perceived Influence of Culture and Ethnicity on the Communicative Dynamics of the United Nations Secretariat

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

The Perceived Influence of Culture and Ethnicity on the Communicative Dynamics of the United Nations Secretariat

Article excerpt

MY EXPLORATORY STUDY, conducted while I was a Ph.D. student at Howard University, examines the perceived influence of culture and ethnicity on the communicative dynamics of the United Nations Secretariat. My intention is to fill two major voids in organizational communication literature by explicitly connecting culture and ethnicity to communication and investigating managerial perceptions with regard to communicative dynamics in an organization founded on the precepts of cultural and ethnic diversity. It is hoped that the study's findings may provide communicative insights for managers in corporate America currently grappling with increasingly diverse organizational members.

Despite the current multicultural and multi-ethnic composition of the United States population as well as projections of one-half of the population being from non-dominant co-cultural and coethnic groups by 2050 (Fernandez, 1991), corporate America, especially at the managerial level, remains predominantly male and European American--but change is imminent. Predictions indicate that eighty-five percent of those entering the workforce of the 21st century will be women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, or new immigrants (Blank & Slipp, 1994; Johnston & Packer, 1987). Furthermore, as the 20th century closed, a transformation began to occur at the managerial level. For instance, in 1998, Fannie Mae named an African American, Franklin Raines, as the company's Chief Executive Officer (Thomas & Gabarro, 1999). Before Raines, no member of a co-cultural group, outside of European Americans, had ever been CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation (Thomas & Gabarro, 1999). The appointment occurred in the fa ce of the 33 to 1 odds that non-European co-cultural members face in their climb to the upper corporate echelons.

Whether at the lower echelons of corporate America or the managerial levels, organizational diversity, particularly as it relates to culture and ethnicity, is no longer a prediction but a reality. Thomas and Woodruff (1999) sum up this corporate evolution: "Do business organizations really need to attend to diversity issues? Only if they intend to stay in business. Any company that believes it can ignore diversity concerns and still thrive in the modem global environment--which is diverse by definition--is set on a disastrous course" (p. 225).

En route to uncovering means of thriving in a multicultural and multi-ethnic corporate environment, I studied the U.N. Secretariat because it serves as the corporate arm of that multi-cultural and multi-ethnic organization. Additionally, the New York City-based Secretariat provides corporate America with an example that has organizational similarities as well as proximity.

Literature Review

In order to comprehend perceptions of diversity as they pertain to corporate America, I reviewed literature in five areas: equal employment opportunity to diversity, diversity as power, diversity-culture and ethnicity, diversity and leadership, and diversity and communication.

In the first area, equal employment opportunity to diversity, the notion that the US is uniquely positioned to capture the gains of its existing but often troubled diversity is stressed (Norton & Fox, 1997). Cox and Beal (1997) and Thomas (1990) encourage managers in corporate America to not only embrace employee diversity but tap into the unique employee abilities that accompany this diversity. This should be done concurrently in the quest for increased productivity. In fact, Whitherspoon and Wohlert (1996) articulate diversity as a long-term reality likely to affect both performance and productivity in current and future organizations. Ultimately, it is about listening to the voices of co-cultural members that have often been stifled, co-opted, or ignored.

Under diversity and power, the focus moves to diversity being an issue of equality and justice as well as representation and influence (Linnehan, 1999):

Some of the most difficult problems arising among diverse workforces occur because groups are unequal in power. …

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