One World (Spring 2009)

CULTURAL CONVERSATIONS

Kansas Citians talk about important issues and share their stories in ongoing series As we approach the 2009 series of “Cultural Convers ations” at the Plaza Library, we look back on some of the Conversations held at during the 2008 series. The Summer, 2008 issue of O n e Wo rl d contains reports on the discussion of “Unwitting Transgressions in a Multicultural World” with educator David Alexander and “Diversity in the Media” with journalists Lewis W. Diuguid, Sylvia Maria Gross and Eic L. Wesson. A report of “Diversity in Religion” with The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn and members of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council appears in the Autumn, 2008 issue. (As time permits, selected articles from One World will be posted on this blog.)  Other sessions in the 2008 series were “Diversity in the Workplace” (report in this issue) and “Milestone and Passages” (report will appear in future issue).

DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE

In these times of corporate downsizing, the workplace is the focus of even more interest today than when a small but intense group met at the Plaza Library on March 16, 2008, to discuss the issues surrounding diversity in the workplace and how diversity is handled by the various players in the workplace. From the vantage point of today’s economic crisis, the issues presented by diversity are even more important – as companies make decisions to terminate employees, how is that decision perhaps affected by the diversity of that workforce? The group agreed that diversity takes many forms, not all of which are currently protected under antidiscrimination laws. The forms of diversity generally acknowledged include race, gender, national origin, and age. Several of those in attendance also pointed out that diversity issues are not only based on obvious “categories” of people; diversity may also subtly influence how an older person, for example, views technology or how a member of a minority may be deemed to have “an attitude” which is simply a cultural mannerism. Great strides have admittedly been made in counteracting the rampant, overt discrimination in employment of the past. Many of the group had personal stories of blatant, unabashed bigotry and discrimination in hiring or in the workplace itself. Today, due to the protection of law and evolving consciousness, most bias is covert, rather than overt; the very nature of covert discrimination, however, means that it is more difficult to identify such bias and to counter it. Even ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is designed to protect workers against job discrimination due to certain disabilities) has limited guidelines, e.g., mental disease is not covered. Several people also raised the issue of the size or weight of a worker, which is not protected either as a classification or as a disability. Although there was interest in this topic, there was not sufficient time to explore it in the context of this session. It was the consensus of the group that there will be more attention to such “hidden” diversity issues in the future. The group discussion raised various trends that are increasing, rather than decreasing, the pervasiveness of discrimination and lack of understanding in the workplace, even as diversity itself is increasing in the workplace: Today’s more covert nature of discrimination partially arises because many people do not recognize possible internal “latent” bigotry. The modern “ASAP” corporate culture. The theory of Total Quality Management dictates purely outcome-based production levels, with less time to accommodate the individual and less attention paid to individual workers. Because productivity is now measured in minutes and seconds, rather than hours and days, there is a premium on rapid achievement. Technology is often outsourced, resulting in a solidification of the technology “gap” within our society, as well as promoting apprehension regarding the cultures and countries to which those functions are outsourced. Young workers will change as they acquire homes and children, adding to the cultural differences between generations of workers. This “workplace generation gap” is heightened because of the prevailing view that resumes should no longer reflect longevity and stability, but that a worker should change jobs every 3-5 years to reflect growth. Those present drew upon their personal experiences to share advice with the group. One suggestion stressed personal attitude – to hold the desire to work with diversity issues as a benefit in the workplace, not the resolution of a problem. Another suggestion was to “harmonize with the embedded corporate culture” in order to achieve success. Awareness, attitude, concern, attention….these were the words that appeared throughout the discussion. It is encouraging that these words all imply positive thoughts and a view to the future. Certainly, these are the very tools that will prove useful as our workplaces evolve, both in terms of economics and in terms of diversity.

* SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Have things changed in the years since this conversation? How?

 

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