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Multicultural Corner: The Competitive Edge


 

Hello and welcome to Multicultural Corner, hosted by Beth Clark, and Gary Clark, owners of Allegro Training & Consulting. We conduct seminars and keynotes on various diversity topics. We’d like to share a few stories with you! Here you will find a series of Articles and Special Reports, often inspired by activities in our training. First up is a fascinating report from Beth Clark on multi-culturalism in the workplace and the unexpected ways you can transform it into an asset or a liability for your organization. Check back soon for more articles and reports in this exciting series!

 

What is Multiculturalism and How Does It Affect Your Organization?

By Beth Clark, President Allegro Training & Consulting


 

Multicultural refers to groups of individuals that can be characterized by a set of communication similarities that are specific to their culture or subculture. Often the similarities that characterize one group are quite different from the similarities that characterize another group. This would be best explained by distinguishing specific cultural and subcultural groups: culture refers to individuals who are automatically members of a group based on a set of common characteristics passed down from generation to generation -- such as Race, Ethnicity, some Religions, and Gender. Sometimes included in this category would be economic standing as in the wealth of the royal family or the poverty of certain peoples in the Appalachian mountains. History beyond an individual’s lifetime is the link that distinguishes a culture. For instance:

  • Religion: Jewish, Hindu, Roman Catholic, Islam...
  • Ancestry: African, German, Irish, Native American, Greek, Turkish, Vietnamese...
  • Gender: Male, Female, Transgendered...

Subculture refers to individuals who form a group as a result of similarities in their circumstances such as some newly-formed religions, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, education, parental status, work background, income, marital status, military experience, geographic location, and mental abilities. Shared experience in an individuals lifetime is the link that distinguishes a subculture. For instance:

  • Geographic location: South, North, West, City, Country, Suburbs, Projects....
  • Sexual Orientation: Homosexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Queer, Heterosexual...
  • Income: Upper, Middle or Lower income, Working Class...
  • Work Environment: Sales, operate as Team or Individual, information systems...
  • Psychological Factors: Affected by alcoholism, abuse, divorce....
Undervaluing cultural characteristics within a company is the number one reason particular cultures do not get promoted.

All people are comprised of a combination of their culture and subculture, making them highly unique individuals. Organizations would be wise to treat them as such. However, they are also comprised of a set of characteristics and communication patterns and world views that can be identified among most of the people who share their culture or subculture. For instance, there are specific and tangible similarities that women of European descent share in common that European men do not. There are specific and tangible characteristics that African Americans share that European Americans do not. Knowing, understanding, validating and accepting the differences among these groups will determine your organizations success on several levels.

3 Ways Multiculturalism Affects Your Company

1.  Retention. Many organizations are spending money to recruit, train and develop women & minorities only to lose them to the competition. Why? Because they have not been given the opportunity to express themselves fully, to provide their unique talents, and to be respected for their differences. Consequently, they leave, in search of a company that values them. Real Life Example: A female employee left her company claiming that her boss never validated her ideas. Her boss, after attending our seminar and learning about the differences between males and females, finally validated her ideas. He said, “I thought she was countering my authority by constantly offering different ideas when I would tell her how to do something. I now realize what a jerk I must have seemed like to her. I was so stuck in hierarchical, ’I’m the boss’ thinking I could not find value in her way of thinking and processing information.”

All people are comprised of a combination of their culture and subculture, making them highly unique individuals. Organizations would be wise to treat them as such.

2.  Promotion. Undervaluing cultural characteristics within a company is the number one reason particular cultures do not get promoted. For instance, if you find that your entry level positions are full of diversity but your upper level management is not, it is likely that the characteristics of your multicultural employees are undervalued or unrecognized. Real Life Example: An African-American Woman was passed over for two promotions because two different managers undervalued her cultural characteristics. They both said that before attending our training and learning the differences between African Americans and European Americans, personality styles and Males & Females, they had considered her “loud and obnoxious, so I passed her over for promotion” and “Unfit for management because she wares her emotions on her sleeve.” They both admitted that had they known what they know now, she would have been promoted sooner. Despite better-late-than-never promotions, she eventually left the company because their rate of change was not fast enough to give her a sense of value.

3.  Company Growth and Sales Volume. Companies have been known to go under because they did not recognize the need to expand into other markets. Valued multicultural employees can open doors to communities (potential employees and expanded customer base) in ways that homogeneous companies can not. Real Life Example: An insightful and proactive sales branch cornered the Latino and the Hearing Impaired markets by following a fundamental human law: People like people who are like them. They hired a Latino salesperson who spoke Spanish. Soon the word spread, and, literally, they would have lines waiting to rent from their Latino associate. One day, a Hearing Impaired customer wanted to rent from them. One of their employees had a cousin who was hearing impaired and knew a minimal amount of sign language. After successfully renting to her new customer, she brought a book on sign language to the branch. Every time she was informed one of her Hearing Impaired customers was coming in, she learned some new words. They appreciated her attempts so much, that they told their friends. Soon the word spread, and a whole new market was opened to the company!

Get to know the differences that exist within your multicultural employee base. You will discover a whole new world of Added Value to expand and grow your business!