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Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Speak Up, Speak Out, Speak Now!

Cultural Diversity

Cultural Diversity

Religious wear, cultural dress, racial identification, hairstyles, food, tattoos and piercings are examples of cultural diversity. There is a strong possibility that people in your workplace possess at least one of the aforementioned identities. Unfortunately, different expressions of cultural diversity can be unintentionally offensive to some or intolerable by others in your workplace.  According to Power of Culture,Culture is indeed everywhere. It forms our belief systems, frames perceptions, formulates understandings, and guides behaviors.” How do you address an aspect of cultural diversity that becomes a conflict? What are your company’s policies regarding cultural diversity issues? Who do you discuss this concern with in your organization? Was the form of cultural diversity intentionally offensive? These are questions I recommend you ask.

Diversity is a sensitive issue, and plays a key element in conflict. Because cultural diversity is a part of your individuality, it is symbolic of your identity and it is important for your workplace and employees to understand and respect it. Don’t be afraid to access your power! I too encountered a conflict at my job that involved my cultural identity. I was told by my supervisor to remove my headwear. I was not given a reason as to why I had to remove it. When I approached the supervisor privately and asked why it had to be removed, my supervisor replied, “It just couldn’t be worn here”. The reply was neither respectful nor accurate. I decided to access the employee handbook and refer to the dress code section. The dress code guidelines in regard to religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds did not correspond to the directions I received from my supervisor when I was asked to remove my headwear. I discretely brought this to the attention of my supervisor and showed that my headwear did not have to be removed. Although my supervisor did not apologize for being wrong or offensive, I was now aware that referring to the Employee Handbook is a valuable resource.

Education and awareness are the most respectful ways to inform yourself and others about cultural diversity and to be culturally sensitive to these differences. For example, you make a comment about the smell of your co-workers food in the break room. Your intent is not to harm but the smell to you, is foul smelling and now your co-worker’s reaction is defensive, as they perceived your comments as offensive. Although you did not intend to hurt his/her feelings YOU DID! It is best for you to address this and for you understand why it is culturally inappropriate.

Here are tips on how to respond to conflict as it relates to honoring your cultural identity.

  1.  Acknowledge your feelings. Remember it’s okay to feel offended and hurt.
  2.  Respond immediately to the conflict privately and professionally. Don’t let the issue linger.
  3. Have a copy of the Employee Handbook and reference it during your workplace conflict.
  4. Communicate. Start with the person who you felt offended by first. Then, if you believe this warrants going to your supervisor or Human Resources for a violation of your rights. There is also the option of accessing mediation services either from within your organization or outside sources such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 To learn more about cultural diversity and conflict visit Beyond Intractability and The Power of Culture.

 by Tierra Henry, Graduate Student, University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program

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