How can companies benefit from the multiculturalism debate and vice versa? Essay

How can companies benefit from the multiculturalism debate and vice versa? Essay

In the shade of the current events all around Europe, scholars are seeing the end of the multiculturalism and it has been heavily criticised. The assassination of the Dutch director Theo Van Gogh, the London bombings, the French riots, the Danish cartoon row and the passing of new anti-immigration laws the past few months have shaken the tolerance that Europe showed towards other cultures. On the other hand, more and more multinational companies engage in diversity management in order to teach their employees to work and cope effectively with members of different cultural backgrounds.

The Melting Pot
Every effort should be bent toward an Americanization which will mean that there will be no German-Americans, no Italian quarters, no East Side Jews … but that we are one people in ideals, rights and privileges (Frances Kellor, 1915)

The Melting Pot or cultural assimilation is deeply connected with the American culture. The theory suggested that, when immigrants from another cultural background came to the US, they would eventually change their customs and assimilate to the American culture. Similarly, society would incorporate some of the immigrants cultural characteristics into its own culture. This way a homogenous culture could be created and people would loose their distinct identities. The adherents of the melting pot theory also claimed that any separation of citizens by culture would end up hurting the group they were initially trying to protect. They also supported tight control over immigration in order to fight unemployment.

The main reason why the melting pot theory failed to bring results is the aggressive stand it takes in order to change peoples culture. It has also been described as oppressive and has been criticised for using education to wash away the distinctive features of different cultures.

Multiculturalism has been proposed as the alternative of the cultural assimilation, and promotes a multiethnic society that can live and prosper by mutual respect towards different cultures and tolerance of certain cultural behaviours. Multiculturalists also support the positive discrimination of minorities, they promote bilingual education and they fight for loose immigration control. Until recently the most successful multicultural model was supposed to be that of the UK, but in the shadow of the current events of home-grown terrorism, this remains to be seen.

The basic idea behind multiculturalism is that the state should be defending the rights of minorities and in this way help them to integrate with the culture of the host country. It is also assumed that people under these circumstances want to integrate and the host culture celebrates the diversity and protects their right to practise certain aspects of their culture and religion. According to a survey carried out by the European Minority Centre of Racism and Xenophobia, two out of three Europeans believe that there should be cultural diversity in their society (Thulhammer et al. 2001).

The Critics of Multiculturalism
Although some excellent work has appeared, there is a need for better documentation of multiculturalism and for detailed, grounded comparative studies. Such studies should not be uncritical celebrations; multiculturalism needs critical friends. (Grillo, 2005) Actually Multiculturalism is seldom rationally defended. Instead it is assumed that its merits are so obvious that it needs no defence. Usually it is presented like an unquestionable truth such as health or prosperity. The rationale of moving in a multicultural direction is seldom rendered. Does it conform to national tradition, provide greater unity and stability, encourage systematic law and order, and ensure economic prosperity? We are never told. Instead the talisman of multiculturalism is waved to cover a variety of issues (O’Neil, 2002).

The adherents of the melting pot theory have often criticised multiculturalism for destroying the fabric of society by creating ethnic divisions. They have also been opposed to the idea of loose immigration control and bilingual education because of the economic burden the rest of the society would have to suffer.

One great concern about multiculturalism is that culture can become the excuse for undermining other human rights. The concern is mainly for rights that have been acquired with fights and over centuries, for example the right of women to vote. Although Muslim women who live in western countries have that right, it is feared that the cultural community might prevent them from doing so under the excuse of practising their culture.

Furthermore, there have been some opinions expressed that the positive discrimination of cultural minorities will end up drawing attention towards these minorities and away from others and other problems. It is also believed that discriminating people according to their culture leads to stereotyping and not all people are able to manage sophisticated stereotyping. The result can lead to generalisations, assumptions and even racist tensions within society.

This leads to another problem reported mainly by officials, law enforcers and public-sector workers. There have been reports of officials being afraid to act against people that belong to certain cultural minorities out of fear of being described as racists. This inability to act might lead to a society where cultural minorities act beyond the boundaries of the law.

By definition, multiculturalism promotes tolerance of other cultures. An effort is made in the education system to teach young people to be tolerant of other cultures. But tolerance does not imply only different cultures. The rest of Europe, for example is asking Germany to show tolerance against the neo-Nazi movement and children could make a link between tolerance and the wrong type of behaviour. There is a need for education to shift towards promoting acceptance of the different cultures and practices and not tolerance so that people cannot make the wrong assumptions.

Recent censuses have shown that many cultural minorities across Europe have achieved a low socio-economic standing and perform poorly in the host country. Many critics of multiculturalism based on these findings suggest that there is a difference in performance between different cultural groups and hence there might be cultures that simply cannot integrate. On the other hand these commentators do not take into consideration other factors that might be responsible for the underachievement of certain groups such us discrimination against that group.

In many European countries such as the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands there have been recent public disturbances, criminal activity and even riots linked to the so-called second-generation immigrants. There has been an attempt from critics of multiculturalism to link these events to certain cultures (mainly Islam) and support the need for greater assimilation of these cultures.

Furthermore, the recent terrorist attacks have shifted public opinion against certain cultures and excesses have been reported around the world. There is greater discrimination and prejudice against certain cultures and even the law enforcement seldom uses cultural profiling. These events call for greater promotion of diversity within society and not assimilation as some suggest. The example of Italians, Irish and Jews that were once considered unassimilable in the US shows that there is a chance of cultures living together peacefully and cultures are not to blame for the doings of their members.

Finally, a number of multiculturalism critics have suggested that it will only lead to the balkanisation of western societies (Sartori, 2002, Goodhart,2004). They support these opinions on the grounds that some cultures seem incapable of living together in the same country and will result in similar outcomes as Yugoslavia where the different cultures eventually clashed.

A question that should be debated is Multiculturalism for whom? It can be practised in favour of the minorities so that they can reproduce their values and practices. It can also be practised for the majority so that everyone is educated in the different lifestyles and learns to accept and cherish the differences. Finally, multiculturalism can be practised for the society as a whole in order to fashion new ways of belonging, participating and living together (Vertovec and Wessendorf, 2005).

The Business Perspective
The link between the debate for multiculturalism and businesses is that businesses, especially multinational companies, are forced by the circumstances to employ a diverse workforce and they need to implement a style of management that can take advantage of the diversity within them without destroying the organisational structure. Both multiculturalism and the management of diversity share common principles. These are the promotion of diversity; the common goal to make diverse people work and prosper together; the importance of education as part of the integration process and, finally, the goal to integrate a person into the group without stripping away its distinctive cultural features.

According to Taylor Coxs model there are three types of organisations: the monolithic, the plural and the multicultural. The monolithic organisation resembles closed societies where uniformity is common and there are seldom different cultures and those who are different are expected to assimilate into the culture of the host country (when in Rome, do as the Romans do). The plural organisation resembles the model of the melting pot. There is no discrimination among the workforce but the employees are expected to have assimilated into the host culture country. There is also a lack of different cultural backgrounds in the decision-making process and managerial positions. The fact that many American companies have this structure is supported by the fact that the US has been an adherent of the melting pot model for years. Finally, the multicultural organisation has common characteristics with society where multiculturalism prevails. There is plurality instead of assimilation of different cultures, there is diversity not only in the workforce but in the managerial and decision-making positions and there is no prejudice or discrimination.

But businesses do not work like the political environment. In the business world the need for effective diversity management is much more imperative. Firstly, the business environment nowadays is constantly changing and changes within a company take place rapidly. Secondly, the driving force behind the companys action is profit and businesses cannot afford to lose money due to the diversity of their employees. Thirdly, all the employees of a company are bicultural because apart from their own culture they have to become part of the organisational culture as well. Finally, the managers are ready to take drastic measures in order to implement change in their organisational culture and they do not have the luxury of time in order to engage in theoretical debates.

The similarities between managing diversity and multiculturalism suggest that companies may face similar problems like those found in multicultural societies and thus must be interested in the debate over multiculturalism. Some of the recent questions raised to test multiculturalism should interest companies as well. Programmes that give preferential treatment to certain groups, like positive discrimination in the case of multiculturalism, might end up pointing the finger towards a group of people and causing problems among colleagues. Moreover, the extensive attention given to certain groups such as minorities or women might divert attention from other issues in the workplace and lead to the malcontent of other people. In multiculturalism there is the issue of officials feeling incapable of acting against cultural minorities. In a company this can take the form of a manager who is not willing to let go of an incompetent employee only because he is afraid of his actions being described as racist.

On the other hand, companies, being a micrograph of society, can offer many answers to questions concerning the right course of action for governments of multicultural societies. According to Francesco and Gold there are eight important factors for a company to make an approach towards better diversity management. 1) The organisational vision must declare the importance of diversity. The same can be implemented at constitutional level in a country. 2) The management must set an example for others to follow. Accordingly a government can set an example by supporting companies that employee a diverse workforce, relaxing immigration controls and supporting the cultural minorities. 3) The organisation collects data to see whether diversity is accepted by its employees. A government can use its statistical service to identify problems with minorities and efficiently intervene when needed. 4) The company sets objectives according to the findings and ties them to the business goals, in the same way a government can use the findings to set objectives. 5) The companies should allow employees to participate in the decision-making and objective-setting process. Accordingly, a government should be very careful not to create second-class citizens of the minorities and rather make them participate in higher degrees and this way have loyal citizens, the way a company has loyal employees. 6) Effective communication must exist within the company and the diversity initiatives must be known to all. In a society, effective communication and dialogue will help the minorities speak their opinion and thus help the authorities understand their needs better. 7) The companies should have a division dedicated to promoting diversity and to collecting info on new initiatives. The same way in society there can be an office that deals with diversity problems and seeks to improve the conditions for minorities. 8) Finally, a company should evaluate the diversity programme periodically and set new goals. Accordingly in a society the evaluation of the efforts made so far will help the officials to understand the achievements and improve them.

Another issue that companies have made a great effort with is the education and training of their employees in a diverse environment by assigning projects to core groups and multicultural teams. The education system of a multicultural country can follow a similar route by supporting and promoting diversity in schools and teaching children how to behave and achieve goals in a diverse environment.

In a society that accepts different cultures and promotes diversity, there is not going to be a need for companies to have their own diversity management programmes because people will be already educated in diversity. The company would simply employ people and they should be ready to work in a diverse environment.

Finally, it should be noted that both multiculturalism and diversity management have no measurable profits to show. Efficiency can be measured but the way people feel in the environment and the way they look on other cultures cannot. Nevertheless many multinational companies have been successful in making their diverse workforce work in harmony and bring results. These companies have set the example for other companies and for the multicultural societies to follow. Now it is their turn to manage their diverse population and teach them to respect each other and prosper together.

References and Bibliography
Amartya S (2000), The other people, The British Academy
Amartya S (2006), The Uses and Abuses of Multiculturalism
Cunningham D (2005), Teaching Multiculturalism in an Age of Terrorism: A Business Perspective, Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Jun 2005, Vol 12, 2, pp. 51, 68
Francesco and Gold (2005), International Organizational Behavior, Prentice-Hall
Grillo R (2005), Backlash Against Diversity? Identity and Cultural Politics In European Cities, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society
Kustaryov A (2005), A Melting Pot or the clash of Cultures?, The New Times (ru)
Laura, L (2000), Melting Pot vs. Ethnic Stew, Encyclopedia of The Worlds Minorities, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers
O’Neil D (2002), Caveats concerning Multiculturalism, International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 238-250
Redman and Wilkinson (2001), Contemporary Human Resource Management, Prentice-Hall
Theil S (2006) The End of Tolerance, Newsweek International
The Chronicle (2005), Europe’s new melting pot cities
The Christian Science Monitor (2005), A European Melting Pot?, Migration and cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in Europe: An overview of issues and trends, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society [COMPAS]
Wheatcroft Geoffrey (2005), Native grounds, Globe Newspaper Company

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