Cultural Diversity

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"Cultural diversity" is an accordion concept: Depending on what is required of or intended by it, it can be stretched or compressed to specify the inclusion or exclusion of a very wide variety of "cultural" groups as proof or criteria of diversity. On the narrowest of interpretations, "cultural diversity" requires achieving a mix of cultures, understood in an anthropological or racial very general or specific sense, e.g., Balinese, black, Asian, Muslim, Indian or American.

More broadly conceived, cultural diversity may be seen as sociological and requiring a blending of sociologically dominant cultures with subcultures or even "counter-cultures". For example, if, within corporate culture, a particular organization has few, if any, employees over the age of 40, the hiring of older employees may be mandated in order to achieve better "corporate cultural diversity". Likewise, some may see the hiring of a heavily tattooed employ as achievement of a kind of (sub)cultural or even counter-cultural diversity.

Whatever the form of cultural diversity, it is always important to ask, regarding it, two questions: Why? and Why not?

Workplace "cultural diversity" is a vague concept or at least one variously interpreted. It can be taken to mean having a mix of different ethnicities, religions, races, and even of genders, ages or sexual orientation. If subcultures are included as cultural variants, hiring a Hells Angel may, by the standards of some, constitute achievement of workplace cultural diversity.

One of the challenges in attempting to promote cultural diversity is delineating what counts as a culture. Should a flinty Wall Street brokerage hire heavily tattooed applicants with nose rings in order to promote (sub)cultural diversity? Should it be forced to?

In the mainstream sense of ethnic and racial diversity, the bigger the company, the more suspicious the lack of cultural diversity. A small business can afford-from the public relations standpoint, at least-to lack cultural diversity. After all, having all three or four employees with exactly the same cultural background automatically reflects neither an amazing coincidence nor a deliberate policy. But big organizations, e.g., Fortune 500, would have a major PR, and probably a legal problem, if their workforce were 100% culturally homogeneous.

Apart from any legal requirements or PR, PC (political correctness) pressure to have a culturally diverse workforce, what are rationales for it? Is there something inherently superior about a culturally diverse workplace?

On analogy with "hybrid vigor" in the creation of plant and animal varieties, cultural cross-fertilization within an organization can create workplace "synergy", especially when dealing with global and international markets, multiple languages, cross-cultural communication, product localization and multi-cultural clientele.

It can be suggested that what's good about cultural diversity in a culturally diverse society is that it isn't its opposite-cultural homogeneity in a society that is culturally diverse, because the latter suggests and promotes discrimination. Of course, societies that are in fact culturally homogeneous through circumstance rather than policy will not require workplace cultural diversity to prove there is no such discrimination.

Ideally, workplace cultural diversity within a culturally diverse society should be a mere fact rather than an explicit policy, reflecting impartial laws of chance in hiring and promotion, e.g., with in-house representation of cultures being proportional to their members' numbers in the general population. In this instance, cultural diversity isn't so much "a good thing" as a "natural thing".

Ironically, it can be argued that enforcing cultural diversity in one society may reduce it globally. As the number of culturally diverse workplaces and nations increases, the differences among them may decrease (depending on the degree of cultural overlap among organizations and societies). As a result, global and regional cultural diversity may, from a macro perspective decrease as it increases at the micro, organizational or local level.
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