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1.6: Diversity and Multiculturalism

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    Learning Objectives

    • Define, explain, and identify your own power and privilege.
    • Provide reasoning as to why diversity is important to maintain good human relations skills.

    Many people use the terms diversity and multiculturalism interchangeably, when in fact, there are major differences between the two. Diversity is defined as the differences between people. These differences can include race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, background, socioeconomic status, and much more. Diversity, when talking about it from the workplace perspective, tends to focus more on a set of policies to meet government-mandated diversity compliance standards.

    Multiculturalism goes deeper than diversity by focusing on inclusiveness, understanding, and respect, and also by looking at unequal power in society. In a report called the “2007 State of Workplace Diversity Management Report,” [1]most human resources (HR) managers said that diversity in the workplace is

    1. not well defined or understood at work,
    2. focuses too much on compliance, and
    3. places too much emphasis on gender and ethnicity.

    This chapter focuses on the advantages of a diverse workplace and discusses how to work in a multicultural workplace.

    Power and Privilege

    As defined in this chapter, diversity focuses on the “otherness” or differences between individuals and has a goal of making sure, through policies, that everyone is treated the same. While this is the legal and the right thing to do, multiculturalism looks at a system of advantages based on race, gender, and sexual orientation called power and privilege. In this system, the advantages are based on a system in which one race, gender, and sexual orientation are predominant in setting societal rules and norms.

    The interesting thing about power and privilege is that if you have it, you may not initially recognize it, which is why we call it an invisible privilege. Recognizing power and privilege can help you begin to understand how you relate to others. This is an important emotional intelligence skill of relationship management. Here are some examples of invisible privilege:

    1. Race privilege. Let’s say you (a Caucasian) and your friend (an African American) are having dinner together, and when the bill comes, the server gives the check to you. While this may not seem like a big issue, it assumes you (being Caucasian) are the person paying for the meal. This type of invisible privilege may not seem to matter if you have that privilege, but if you don’t, it can be infuriating.
    2. Social class privilege. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, many people from outside the storm area wondered why so many people stayed in the city, not even thinking about the fact that some people couldn’t afford the gas to put in their car to leave the city.
    3. Gender privilege. This refers to privileges one gender has over another—for example, the assumption that a female will change her name to her husband’s when they get married.
    4. Sexual orientation privilege. If I am heterosexual, I can put a picture of my partner on my desk without worrying about what others think. I can talk about our vacations together or our experiences we’ve had without worrying about what someone might think about my relationship. This is not the case for many gay, lesbian, and transgendered people and their partners.

    Oftentimes the privilege we have is considered invisible, because it can be hard to recognize one’s own privilege based on race, gender, or social class. Many people utilize the color-blind approach, which says, “I treat everyone the same,” or “I don’t see people’s skin color.” In this case, the person is showing invisible privilege and thus ignoring the privileges he or she receives because of race, gender, or social class. While it appears this approach would value all people equally, it doesn’t, because people’s different needs, assets, and perspectives are disregarded by not acknowledging differences.[2]

    Another important aspect of power and privilege is the fact that we may have a privilege in one area and not another. For example, I am a Caucasian female, which certainly gives me race privilege but not gender privilege. Important to note here is that the idea of power and privilege is not about “white male bashing” but understanding our own stereotypes and systems of advantage so we can be more inclusive with our coworkers, employees, and managers.

    So what does this all mean in relation to the workplace? It means we can combine the understanding of certain systems that allow for power and privilege, and by understanding, we may be able to eliminate or at least minimize these issues. Besides this, one of the best things we can do for our organizations is to have a diverse workforce, with people from a variety of perspectives. This diversity leads to profitability and the ability to better serve customers for the company and better human relations skills for us. We discuss the advantages of diversity in Section 1.

    Stereotypes and the effect on privilege

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\):

    This video discusses some racial stereotypes and white privilege through “on the street” interviews.

    Why Diversity and Multiculturalism?

    When many people look at diversity and multiculturalism, they think that someone’s gender, skin color, or social class shouldn’t matter. So diversity can help us with policies to prevent discrimination, while multiculturalism can help us gain a deeper understanding of the differences between people. Hopefully, over time, rather than look at diversity as attaining numerical goals or complying with the law, we can combine the concepts to create better workplaces. Although many books discuss laws relating to diversity, not many actually describe why diversity is necessary in the workplace. Here are a few main reasons:

    1. It is the law.
    2. We can better serve customers by offering a broader range of services, such as being able to speak a variety of languages and understanding other cultures.
    3. We can better communicate with one another (saving time and money) and customers.
    4. With a multicultural perspective, we can create better ideas and solutions.

    Promoting a multicultural work environment isn’t just the law. Through a diverse work environment and multicultural understanding, organizations can attain greater profitability. A study by Cedric Herring called Does Diversity Pay?[3] reveals that diversity does, in fact, pay. The study found those businesses with greater racial diversity reporter higher sales revenues, more customers, larger market shares, and greater relative profits than those with more homogeneous workforces. Other research on the topic by Scott Page, the author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies[4] ended up with similar results. Page found that people from varied backgrounds are more effective at working together than those who are from similar backgrounds, because they offer different approaches and perspectives in the development of solutions. Often people believe that diversity is about checking a box or only providing window dressing to gain more customers, but this isn’t the case. As put by Eric Foss, chairperson and CEO of Pepsi Beverages Company, “It’s not a fad. It’s not an idea of the month. It’s central and it’s linked very directly to business strategy.”[5] A study by the late Roy Adler of Pepperdine University shows similar results. His nineteen-year study of 215 Fortune 500 companies shows a strong correlation between female executives and high profitability.[6] Another study, conducted by Project Equality, found that companies that rated low on equal opportunity issues earned 7.9 percent profit, while those who rated highest with more equal opportunities resulted in 18.3 percent profit.[7] These numbers show that diversity and multiculturalism certainly is not a fad but a way of doing business that better serves customers and results in higher profits for companies, while allowing us to get better at human relations skills. As employees, we need to recognize this so we may begin to understand our own power and privilege, which allows for better communication at work.

    Perhaps one of the best diversity statements by a Fortune 500 company was made by Jose Manuel Souto, the CFO for Visa in Latin America. He says, “A diverse workforce is critical to providing the best service to our global clients, supporting our business initiatives, and creating a workplace environment that promotes respect and fairness.”[8]

    The first step to being effective at working in a diverse environment is understanding that everyone comes from a different place of power and privilege, and as a result, everyone has a different perspective. Once we understand this, our understanding can translate into better verbal and nonverbal communication. These different perspectives are what makes companies successful, as we have discussed in this section.

    Now that you have an understanding of the meaning of diversity, power, and privilege, as well as the importance of diversity, we will discuss multiculturalism and the law.

    Why Human Relations?

    Most of us will work in diverse environments, meaning diversity not only in terms of gender or race but also in terms of people of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and socio-economic status. Appreciating and understand this diversity is what helps us be successful in our career path. The ability to communicate effectively with a variety of people shows our relationship management and social awareness skills.

    The success in working in diverse environments can come through the use of emotional intelligence skills such as relationship management and social awareness. These skills allow us to understand how another person feels or why they do something, even if we do not agree. These skills also allow us to be accepting of others and appreciate differences even though we may not like it.

    Developing the skills to work in a multicultural environment can help us work with people from any variety of backgrounds and also helps us to communicate better with everyone we may come across, both professionally and personally. These abilities, acceptance and understanding, are cornerstones to developing positive relationships that lead to positive human relations and work success.

    Key Takeaways

    • Diversity is the real or perceived differences between individuals. This can include race, gender, sexual orientation, size, cultural background, and much more.
    • Multiculturalism is a term that is similar to diversity, but it focuses on the development of a greater understanding of how power in society can be unequal due to race, gender, sexual orientation, power, and privilege.
    • Power and privilege is a system of advantages based on one’s race, gender, and sexual orientation. This system can often be invisible (to those who have it), which results in one race or gender having unequal power in the workplace. Of course, this unequal power results in unfairness, which may be of legal concern.
    • Diversity is important to the success of organizations. Many studies have shown a direct link between the amount of diversity in the workplace and the company’s success.

    Exercises \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    1. Perform an Internet search to find a specific diversity policy for an organization. What is the policy? From what you know of the organization, do you believe they follow this policy in reality?
    2. Visit the website and find their latest “top fifty list.” What criteria are used to appear on this list? What are the top five companies for the current year?
    1. Society for Human Resource Management, The 2007 State of Workplace Diversity Management Report, March 2008, accessed August 3, 2011,
    2. Victoria C. Plaut, Kecia M. Thomas, and Matt J. Goren, “Is Multiculturalism or Color Blindness Better for Minorities?” Psychological Science 20, no. 4 (2009): 444–46.
    3. Cedric Herring, “Does Diversity Pay? Racial Composition of Firms and the Business Case for Diversity” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal, Canada, August 11, 2006), accessed May 5, 2009,
    4. Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).
    5. William J. Holstein, “Diversity Is Even More Important in Hard Times,” New York Times, February 13, 2009, accessed August 25, 2011,
    6. Roy Adler, “Women in the Executive Suite Correlate to High Profits,” Glass Ceiling Research Center.
    7. Melissa Lauber, “Studies Show That Diversity in Workplace Is Profitable,” Project Equality, n.d., accessed July 11, 2011,
    8. National Latina Business Women Association, “Women and Minorities on Corporate Boards Still Lags Far Behind National Population,” accessed August 24, 2011,