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When Diversity Is Acknowledged and Appreciated, It Contributes to Morale

May 29, 1988

Robert A. Haskell's letter published May 15 (commenting on your April 17 special report on "Managing Diversity") showed that he apparently missed the point. He misconstrued the issue of conformity versus nonconformity, stating that a company that recognizes, understands and even celebrates cultural diversity must end up with "each employee pulling in a different direction, each at his own rate."

On the contrary, the thrust of Jim Schachter's excellent stories emphasized that the goal of valuing cultural differences is to help minority and non-native born employees contribute to the company's efforts and success. Nowhere in the articles was it suggested that companies accept nonconformity in the technical aspects of the job. But enlightened management understands that there is an entire spectrum of non-technical ingredients in a job, including communication, socialization, group dynamics, etc., all of which contribute to performance.

It is in these areas that we must recognize that "nonconformity" (better yet, differences or diversity) need not be destructive. When acknowledged and appreciated by the company, it can contribute to improved morale and a more satisfied and secure work force.

Certainly it is true that various ethnic groups exhibit behavioral patterns unfamiliar to mainstream Americans, such as avoidance of direct eye contact, formality in addressing superiors or a deep reluctance to stand out from fellow workers. These types of behavior are based on deep-seated cultural values, and rather than being labeled nonconformity, should be recognized for what they are.

Furthermore, if people who aren't Irish go out of their way to wear green on St. Patrick's Day and people who aren't Hispanic go out of their way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, then why shouldn't all of us share in the richness of other cultures?

Those of us in the intercultural training field work hard to raise supervisors' and managers' awareness of cultural diversity. Then, when we get feedback indicating that we have changed perceptions (and even better than that, behavior), we know we're on the right track.


Solana Beach

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