If you initially react with some dis-
comfort, that’s perfectly normal, it’s quite
natural, it’s to be expected . . . and it’s
The reality is, the composition of our
workforce is rapidly changing. Recent
research indicates in the near future
people from many different cultures will
make up the majority of those entering
the American workforce.
It has been widely recognized that the
overall performance level in an organization increases with more diversity.
Groups of workers from a variety of cultures tended to cope better with a wide
range of problems and functions, while
more uni-cultural teams showed greater
conformity and less innovation.
Because of these trends, diversity management needs to become a high priority
in animal laboratories. The increased
presence of women at the workplace and
the globalization of organizations, with
immigrants from very different cultures
coming to work in our labs, have forced
us to take a hard look at our organizational cultures—and become aware of
how it welcomes, or thwarts, cultural
Differences in culture may be clear
and obvious, or they may be subtle and
hard to discern. As one wag put it, culture is like water to a fish—it doesn’t
know it exists until it is forced out of
it. Yet, an organization’s culture will
have profound effects on how a new
employee fits into an organization and
how he performs. An organizational
culture could be defined as the shared
practices, ideas about how things are
done, and values, how things should be
By including people from different
cultures, creativity and productivity is
enhanced. Yet, the awareness of the effects of being a member of a subculture is
too often overlooked. In actual practice,
subculture employees are often effectively excluded from organizations and from
chances for career advancement. The
management of diversity is a must.
Martin Seidenfeld, Ph.D.
Managing Diversity in
circumstances. Each person must be
approached as a unique individual.
• Like some others: Our cultures lead
us to share some things with some
people but not with others, such as
basic American values.
• Like everybody else: We are all
human beings, born with two arms,
two legs, etc. and with survival needs
for food, shelter, and affection.
Some of the common forces mitigat-
ing against welcoming “others”, include:
• Negative perceptions and unrealistic
thinking about the disabled.
• An atmosphere in which sexual
innuendos and comments about a
female—or male—employee’s physical
appearance are seen as “normal” and
• Stereotypical views of older people.
• Humor and hostility in a predominantly heterosexual workplace, causing less opportunity for gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender employees.
• Negative ethnic and racial stereotypes—which create obstacles to getting hired and getting promoted.
While there are some formal government laws and policies concerning “equal
opportunity” and “sexual harassment,”
organizational policies and procedures
still need to be put in place to help managers meet the diverse needs of all their
employees. It’s not just a matter of organizational compliance and recognition of
the value of diversity: it’s also a matter of
common decency. It is just basically unfair
to not treat all humans equally.
Proactive organizations wanting to
take advantage of cultural diversity and
make equal justice work in their organizations, need to:
• Develop a recruitment strategy that
stresses the need for, and benefits of,
• Create policies and guidelines for staff
conduct, including specific procedures
• Implement fair and transparent rules
and requirements that apply to personnel at all levels.
• Train recruitment personnel to ensure
that candidates are chosen solely
because of their job qualifications.
• Enforce cultural sensitivity training
for all supervisors and managers,
including having managers examine
their own diverse backgrounds and
• Encourage cross-cultural team problem solving with incentives and
• Institute social events to break down
Increasing cultural diversity is coming
to your organization—and it’s a good
thing. Consider the points made above,
take a hard, objective look at yourself
and your organization and recognize how
it welcomes, or discourages, people from
“other” cultures, and make the needed
changes. Your organization, and you,
yourself, will be better off for it.
Besides his clinical work and university
teaching, Martin Seidenfeld, Ph.D.,
provides consulting to organizations on
management issues and on managing organizational stress.
Diversity management focuses on
recruiting, retaining, rewarding, and promoting a heterogeneous mix of employees. This means accepting the fact that
there are differences among people and
that those differences represent a potential for better organizational functioning.
Successful organizations will institute
proactive programs to deal with cultural
diversity. They will strive to eliminate
prejudice (pre-judging and disliking
someone simply because that person is a
member of a different group) and ethnocentrism (the widely held idea that one’s
own ethnic culture is better or more
‘correct’ than others).
Welcoming and integrating people
from different cultures doesn’t happen in
some organizations because they demand
conformity and assimilation, virtually
excluding those thought of as ‘others.’
Typically, ‘others’ are women, members
of various ethnic groups, lesbians and gay
men, older workers, people with disabili-ties, and people with minority or “alien”
religious identities. In such organizations, these groups remain disproportionally under-represented.
Some of the common sources of
discomfort for including “others” may
involve different feelings about time,
relationships, values and norms, learning
styles, work habits and practices, concepts
of management, ideas about conflicts,
feedback expectations, attitudes toward
hierarchy, and even simple physical
Personal behavioral characteristics of
people from different cultures or subcultures
can also create discomfort. These include
such factors as “appropriate” personal space,
use of gestures and body language, beliefs
about “proper” behavior for males and for
females, and degrees of formality considered
appropriate for people of different status.
Even ideas about what seems funny varies
across cultures and discomfort and Diversity
managers should help all employees realize
that, as individuals, we are:
• Like no one else: We are each unique,
with our own personalities, developed
through our personal histories and
How do you react when . . . Your newly hired coworker first shows up and you discover he is in a wheelchair? You are intro- duced to your new manager, who you see is an attractive young woman? Your new teammate, Robert, causally mentions his
partner, Albert? You see a new hire, and he’s wearing a yarmulke?