What does it mean?
Multiculturalism means the accepting of differences and operating from a position of genuinely appreciating one's own cultural identity and that of others. Multiculturalism is a key factor in the creation of equity. VISIONS defines multiculturalism as a process of change by which we learn to recognize, understand and appreciate our own cultural identities, as well as the similarities and differences of people from other cultural groups. These cultural groups can be based upon several characteristics and can include race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities, class, job status, religion, immigrant status, language and nationality.
"Demographics is destiny. … It is not just an age split we have to look forward to, but the rise of a true multi-ethnic and international culture. … By the middle of this century, the US will move to a society with no ethnic majority." These are quotes from Andrew Zolli, who describes himself as a "foresight strategist." The interconnectedness of the world we live in makes multiculturalism an imperative. In order to stay ahead of the curve and function effectively in this new world, being sensitive to different cultures and embracing diversity are crucial.
What's in it for me and my organization?
VISIONS helps individuals gain tools and confidence to communicate and build relationships across cultural differences.
VISIONS helps organizations that want to:
- develop a contextual perspective about the economic and social implications of changing demographics in the United States, and, the interconnected world at large
- understand and document the impact of diversity and cultural issues on the "bottom line"
- learn how to recognize, understand and appreciate cultural differences and to incorporate people of different cultural backgrounds into all aspects of an organization
- rethink how organizations develop and function so as to best utilize all human resources
- understand and value the need for both a process-oriented and results-oriented approach to diversity and equality issues at personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels.
Multicultural training provides a positive opportunity to explore the impact of culture, race, gender, and other social conditions on ourselves, our coworkers and our work environments. Many of us have been taught to "not notice" differences and not to confront discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. Unfortunately, avoiding conflict and acting as if discrimination does not really happen only buries the negative impact of such behavior while exacting exorbitant hidden costs in terms of operational effectiveness and organizational resources.
Why all this attention to differences?
Without a doubt, discovering and building upon our similarities builds effective interpersonal relationships. At the same time, being able to acknowledge and understand our differences helps make them less threatening and transforms them into positive assets that enhance team work. Ignoring differences can reinforce a subtle ( and sometimes not so subtle ) message that can have a consequence beyond what is intended, particularly as we consider the impact of the historical legacy of oppression and discrimination. For people who are different, or perceived to be different, this pressure is often counterproductive to optimal performance and productivity.
Focusing only on our similarities, or ability to assimilate to the majority cultural norms, is defined as monoculturalism. This often has translated into a stance that one way, or one group, is superior to others. Multiculturalism helps to break through the barriers created by this way of thinking.
Do we run the risk of opening up a proverbial "can of worms"?
VISIONS understands the apprehensions about addressing issues of racial, gender and cultural diversity in a direct, forthright manner. Many of us have a history of negative experiences in terms of talking about the dynamics of power imbalance and oppression. However, like any unattended sore or "dis-ease," direct attention to the wounds and the root causes of the problems is the key to healing and to future prevention.
The same is certainly true for dealing with discrimination and social injustice for both target and non-target groups of people.
How can I get my organization
or company to support this kind of work?
Increasingly, both research and "bottom line" information indicate that attending to diversity and multicultural issues is an extremely cost-effective investment in terms of human and financial resources for achieving organizational goals. When people feel valued and are at ease in their personal and work space, higher productivity and creativity ensues. This translates into higher customer satisfaction and customer retention.
Clients look to VISIONS when they are ready to effect change in their organizations on the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels. VISIONS tailors its unique multiculturalism model to meet the needs of each organization or group. We begin the process of meeting people where they are and moving them to a more pluralistic view.
When it comes to personnel recruitment, our experience and the results of numerous research studies indicate that recruitment strategies alone, even when successful, do not have a corresponding impact on retention and consistent career advancement for people of color, women, and other minorities.
Many organizations have found it most successful to convene a working task force or "diversity committee" to help plan a strategy for ongoing multicultural work. Other successful strategies for establishing a multicultural / diversity initiative include:
- organizing a public forum focusing on the positive aspects of diversity work;
- collecting and distributing articles and other forms of documentation that
clearly illustrate the benefits of multiculturalism; and
- conducting focus groups for people to express their concerns and vision for
creating an effective multicultural environment.
Regardless of what you ultimately decide, most people find it very helpful to develop an overview of the forces and factors that are influencing organizations to engage in diversity work and to investigate the tangible benefits of multiculturalism.
The VISIONS approach to educating people about the impact of multiculturalism versus monoculturalism involves a combination of cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling) and behavioral (doing) techniques. When designed to address particular client needs and situations, most people respond enthusiastically to the utilization of experiential activities. Ultimately, a combination of techniques is required in order to create an environment that maximizes the investment made in such training initiatives. VISIONS believes this is a journey best undertaken with long-term commitment.