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Managing Ethnic Diversity In The American Workplace

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People today must confront complex problems of an increasingly global community and must deal effectively with multicultural perspectives of increasingly diverse populations at home and around the world. This research paper focuses on efforts to manage demographic diversity within the American workforce, particularly related to ethnic diversity. The goal of managing ethnic diversity presents challenges because of the variations that people have little or no control over. These challenges include labor laws, racial, ethnic, and cultural dominance, and corporate philosophies. The purpose of this research paper is to identify these challenges in the American workplace, evaluate their effects, discover their causes, frame alternative viewpoints, and evaluate the impacts of these alternative viewpoints. Upon fulfillment of these research-based processes we will design and recommend solutions that, when applied, combat these challenges and enable effective diversity management, enhanced employee performance, and overall corporate development.

It is common place to think of ethnicity as a phenomenon that belongs to the cultural domain. Ethnicity involves ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. By its very nature, it constitutes the essence of culture. The problem, however, is that culture does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it fixed or unchanging. On the contrary, culture is in constant flux and is integrally a part of a larger social process. The mandate for social inquiry, therefore, is that ethnic patterns should not be taken at face value, but must be related to the larger social matrix in which they are embedded. Though this principle itself is anything but controversial, its exact application challenges many cherished ideas concerning ethnic phenomena.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability. Simply stated, Title VII says that an employer may not discriminate against individuals when it comes to hiring, firing, promotions, pay, training, or other workplace conditions. Title VII also includes unlawful employment practices by labor unions and employment agencies. If this is the law, then why do employers still discriminate against their employees? More importantly, why is this discrimination tolerated?

Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy, which needs outsiders as surplus people. As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion. (Lorde, 1984)

One of the most talked about, yet misunderstood civil rights issues of our time is affirmative action. Opponents believe that it is misguided social engineering that uses quotas and preferences to replace qualified white males with unqualified ethnic minorities and women. In reality, affirmative action is a tool to promote diversity and remedy inequities in the workplace, higher education, and government contracting.

Perhaps the most controversial issue about affirmative action is whether it uses quotas. Affirmative action programs are supposed to verify that inequities exist, set goals to eliminate the inequities, set timetables to meet the goals, and disband the program after the goals are met. Opponents of affirmative action argue that setting a goal is the same thing as instituting a quota, meaning that a specific outcome is mandated rather than highly desirable. For example, if an employer knows that it has a large disparity between the proportion of African Americans in its workforce versus the general population, it might use affirmative action to target its recruiting efforts toward the African American population in hopes of increasing African American new hires. It should identify a goal of how many African Americans it wants to hire, at what levels, and in what timeframe. If the employer mandates that a specific job must go to an African American, or that a specific number of African Americans must be hired, that is a quota.

If affirmative action were just about quotas, people would find that a significant percentage of hires and promotions would go to under-qualified ethnic minorities, the goals of all affirmative action programs would be met, and within the set timetables. While there are instances in which a more-qualified non-ethnic minority is passed over for a less-qualified or even under-qualified ethnic minority, these cases are few and far between. The main reason is that the punishment for not meeting the goals and timetables does not justify promoting a lesser-skilled workforce. Employers and agencies can typically comply with affirmative action programs through their efforts more so than their results. That is why although progress continues to be made, most affirmative action programs fail to meet their goals and timetables, and end up continuing rather than being completed.

In spite of affirmative action, there are still barriers that contribute to problems with ethnic diversity. F.R. Lynch, in his 1997 article, Managing Diversity discusses an invisible barrier known as the "glass ceiling". The "glass ceiling" refers to the barriers that often confront ethnic minorities and women in trying to reach the upper echelons of corporate America. According to a 1995 study commissioned by the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, 97% of the senior managers of the Fortune 1000 Industrial and Fortune 500 are white, and 95-97% are male. This occurred while 57% of the workforce were ethnic minorities, woman, or both. The study also found that African, Hispanic, and Asian Americans do not earn the same pay for comparable positions, African Americans earning an astounding 21% less than their white counterparts in the same job.

Individuals may not know the problems with a diverse workplace until they realize how they are being held at a particular position and unable to promote to other positions within a company. What constitute an employee's competency are often times based upon his or her performance as compared to a required standard of procedures. However, this evaluation process can become biased when racial, ethnic and cultural dominance exists in management. Management may make assumptions of competency based upon their experience with a member or members of a particular ethnic group, instead of evaluating a particular employee's performance based upon his or her actual contributions.

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