Understanding and Managing Diversity

Many factors influence an individual’s behavior. In both personal and business settings understanding these factors improve an individuals or groups ability to function. Managers using this understanding of individual behavior have better results at influencing workplace behavior.

Ethnicity

Ethnicity refers to selected cultural and sometimes physical characteristics used to classify people into groups or categories considered to be significantly different from others (O’Neil, 2007). Individuals must understand how to differentiate between ethnicity and race. Race, (in the human context), is an artificial definition based on physical characteristics.

In the Spanish speaking Caribbean, a mix of black, white and oriental races exist. These physical characteristics are combined into a resulting mulatto culture. Individuals would most likely categorize themselves as Latino, regardless of skin color or facial features.

An individual’s ethnicity plays a major role in their world view. Black skinned Cubans or Dominicans have more in common with Mexicans or white Cubans than they do with African-Americans. Hindus from India and Muslims from Pakistan also share many of the same ethnic traits, minus of course, the religious influences.

Age

When an individual ages his or her behavior is bound to change. Physically, the body slows down after the age of 25. Mentally, older people learn new tasks more slowly and may be slower thinkers. Older workers tend to use experience and expertise when working and may find it hard to work with complex or confusing stimuli, (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 1997-2006).

Younger workers can work at a much faster pace and filter out distractions, but lack the experience to exploit already existing solutions. In other words, they look at all problems as new problems and don’t have the wealth of problem solving experience of older workers. Younger workers may often “reinvent the wheel”; this can be good or bad depending on the problem being solved. Other studies have shown “that younger individuals are more likely to start a new firm than older ones” (Levesque & Minniti, 2006, 177).

Gender

The battle of the sexes has probably been going on since time began. While many jokes have been made about the differences between men and women, true gender differences are recognizable. History and evolution have favored certain traits differentiating men and women.

Many of the behavioral differences exhibited by men and women result from our history as hunter-gatherer societies. A good amount of evidence points to men having better spatial problem solving skills and new research shows women being better at sense of direction. A study by Joshua New concludes, “women’s minds are specialised (sic) for their ancestral task of gathering the sort of food that cannot run away” (The Economist, 2007).

In the case of fight or flight, women also react differently from men. Women, “react to danger by quieting and soothing their offspring and by affiliating with a group for protection” (Callahan, 2000). Males in the same situation have hormonal changes which prepare them to fight or flee.

Not all researchers are convinced women and men are from different planets. Deborah Cameron cites research in her book regarding four common myths, (1) women talk more than men, (2) men and women communicate differently, (3) men’s and women’s brains are hardwired differently when it comes to language, and (4) men interrupt more than women (Caeser, 2007).

Religion

Religion or lack thereof, plays a fundamental part in a person’s individual behavior. A Christian grows up believing in certain values such as heaven and judgment day. Followers of Santeria and Yoruba based religions believe in multiple orishas or saints from which the follower’s personality derives. Hindus believe in reincarnation and Buddhists believe in self reflection and improvement.

Religion is likely to be a major form of diversity in most organizations. Religion also goes hand in hand with ethnicity. Many times ethnicity determines religion. Understanding the broad social and behavioral differences presented by each religion is important. Managers can not only understand and motivate appropriately, but can take advantage of the behaviors each religion promotes.

Conclusion

Almost all organizations are made up of a diverse set of individuals. This diversity is not limited to race or gender, but also encompasses other factors such as religion, ethnicity and age. Individuals come into the workplace with different values and perceived acceptable behavior.

An organization needs to create a system to manage the diversity present in its workplace. Understanding how different aspects of diversity make up individual and organizational behavior will make creation and implementation of these standards clear. Understanding diversity also helps an organization understand and promote its own ethical guidelines.

References

Caeser, E. (2007, October 23). Talking tosh on Mars and Venus. Retrieved October 22, 2007, from http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/pqdweb?index=6&did=1359300721&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1193165176&clientId=13118

Callahan, S. (2000, Sept 22). GENDER DIFFERENCES : Chemistry or culture?. Commonweal, 127.16, 9.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (1997-2006). Aging Workers. Retrieved October 22, 2007, from http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/aging_workers.html

Levesque, M., & Minniti, M. (2006, March). The effect of aging on entrepreneurial behavior. Journal of Business Venturing , 21(2), 177-194.

O’Neil, D. (2007, July 25). Ethnicity and Race: An Introduction to the Nature of Social Group Differentiation and Inequality. Retrieved October 21, 2007, from http://anthro.palomar.edu/ethnicity/Default.htm

The Economist (2007, August). Science and Technology: Sex, shopping and thinking pink; Evolutionary psychology. . Retrieved October 22, 2007, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1325019261)

2 thoughts on “Understanding and Managing Diversity

  1. I think a good company has a mix of all these above types each group has their own unique things to bring to work that will benefit the company. I know that in this economy as a female and a college student I had a hard time finding a job because many of the positions went to adults or some of the night positions went to males because of perceived safety. A good company will be willing to work towards the benefit of all.

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