Welcome to the 11th installment in the ongoing Local Diversity and Inclusion Spotlight series. In these blog posts, we’ll explore how various countries around the world address diversity and inclusion in their culture and workplace.
Our newest spotlight country? The United States, a country that celebrates its Independence Day on July 4.
Here are some things to know about diversity and inclusion in The United States.
Note: Information is excerpted from GlobeSmart Culture Guides.
Ethnic and racial labels and their use is a sensitive issue in the U.S. today.
Labels. Discrimination and prejudicial stereotypes are issues between and within every ethnic and racial group. “People of color” refers to non-white populations and assumes a degree of shared experience between these groups. Some lighter-skinned minorities, however, do not identify with this label. The labeling of groups in the U.S. is a source of much debate. Discussion revolves around not only how groups are to be labeled but whether or not they should be labeled at all.
Differences within groups. Members of each group do not necessarily have a shared life experience. Within ethnic and racial groups are different levels of economic achievement, a diverse set of cultural backgrounds, job types, religions, and, for immigrants, different reasons they have come to the U.S.
Asian-Americans from different cultural backgrounds — e.g., Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Japanese — may have little shared sense of community between them. Although many African Americans see themselves as members of a community that shares an experience of oppression, many still disagree over who should be their legitimate spokesperson in the political arena.
The U.S. is still seen as a nation divided along racial lines. People of different races experience day-to-day life differently, and many face systemic forms of discrimination that have a deep impact on their lives.
There continues to be a sense of the U.S. as a nation divided upon racial and ethnic lines. Race and ethnicity were the starting point for diversity awareness in U.S. institutions, and their relevance has only increased over time.
Daily life is experienced differently by persons of different races. This is true in many corporate settings as well, with ongoing cases of workplace discrimination, smaller numbers of minorities moving up the ranks into management roles, and the commonly heard statement that “I can’t bring my full self to work.” Although many organizations have made a public commitment to workplace inclusion and diversity, creating a truly inclusive work setting still presents many challenges.
Foreign employees should be aware of the difficulties they may face in understanding diversity and inclusion in the U.S.
Foreign managers and employees. International assignees or recent immigrants may find themselves in an ambiguous category of race and ethnicity in the U.S. Different generations of people from similar backgrounds have different experiences, and people who are new to the US may be unfamiliar with local issues related to diversity and inclusion and the wide range of reactions to race and ethnicity from their U.S. colleagues. It is highly advisable for those working with diverse teams or organizations to learn more about local issues, actively explore different work styles, and seek input from a wide range of sources.
Double standard. There are often different rules governing the expectations of behavior for women in the workplace.
There are often different rules governing the expectations of behavior for women in the workplace. What is labeled as assertive behavior in a man may be seen as overly aggressive and unacceptable behavior in a woman. Since there is a lack of models for diverse leadership styles, women may be penalized for not being sufficiently assertive.
For example, women’s performance appraisals frequently differ substantially from those of men. Comments such as “does not speak up in meetings” and “does not stand up for her ideas” appear more frequently in women’s evaluations, reflecting differing behaviors related to participation in meetings. Women tend to share airtime and practice more turn-taking than men.
Another simple yet significant difference is in word choice. In application essays and sales pitches, women tend to use phrases like “I will try” or “I hope to,” whereas men use more confident-sounding phrases like “I will.”
Women continue to lack adequate role models for success at the highest levels of corporations.
Women continue to lack adequate role models for success at the highest levels of corporations even though their numbers are growing. Even in areas where females tend to dominate in numbers, leadership positions are often held by men. In fields dominated by men, women often struggle for credibility and experience the anxieties and loneliness that can come from being in the minority.
Since major legal damages accompany workplace discrimination and/or sexual harassment, companies are becoming more sensitive to these issues.
Although progress has been made, there is much work left to do. Some foreign employers may be surprised by social climates and corporate norms that are less generous than they would expect in terms of maternity leave or childcare; on the other hand, they might find a heightened sensitivity toward issues such as workplace discrimination and sexual harassment that can result in major legal damages for companies.
Flexible work schedules and growing acceptance of new leadership and communication styles will enable U.S. women to achieve more responsible positions.
These solutions and other similar approaches will enable U.S. women to achieve more responsible positions and contribute more fully to the organization’s success as a whole.
Conscious attention must be exerted to ensure that corporate networks, performance evaluations, meeting styles, and written or unwritten expectations for behavior take gender differences into account and reinforce fairness on the job.
A perceived lack of tolerance toward persons of non-Christian faiths, atheists, and LGBT individuals may create tension in the workplace.
Employers in the United States must carefully consider issues of religion in the workplace and stay abreast of changing social circumstances that may impact their workers.
Faith-at-work and tolerance. Many of the concerns expressed in response to the growing faith-at-work movement are related to a perceived lack of tolerance toward various groups: persons of non-Christian faiths, atheists, and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) employees. Receptivity to different groups varies from region to region.
Some fundamentalist employees admit to limiting interactions with people they believe to be gay or lesbian because of their lifestyle. The fear of being negatively judged for one’s life situation, politics, and values is a fundamental issue in the workplace.
Non-heterosexual individuals continue to be subjected to jokes/judgments, which would be unacceptable if directed at other minority groups.
This schism exists even in the U.S. diversity field, where diversity facilitators or trainers with strong religious beliefs may find it hard to discuss sexual orientation from a non-judgmental perspective or condemn discrimination against LGBT employees. Many cultures and religious traditions, including Christianity and Islam, have strong issues with sexual orientation.
Those with a non-heterosexual orientation continue to be the object of jokes and judgments, which would be unacceptable if directed at other groups. This can lead to a climate where LGBT employees feel unsafe being open about their sexuality and relationships with significant others.
Foreign companies are advised to follow a two-part strategy in each of the previously described situations:
First, they must ensure that they are in legal compliance with provisions against overt religious activity or preaching in the workplace and with provisions for accommodating reasonable forms of religious expression such as prayer, special holidays, or forms of dress.
Second, they need to create a company culture that welcomes various perspectives while requiring that employees remain primarily focused on their job objectives and the organization’s goals as a whole.
Homosexuality is increasingly socially accepted and is not to be considered an issue at most workplaces.
Attitudes towards the LGBT community are becoming more and more accepting. U.S. Americans have been familiarized with the LGBT community as the general public is regularly being exposed to homosexuality through television and the media. LGBT storylines of popular TV shows, influential media personalities, and talk show hosts forthcoming in revealing their sexual orientations have had an impact on increasing the level of tolerance in the U.S. Some conservative politicians known for their anti-gay rhetoric have changed their stands and publicly stepped forward in support of LGBT initiatives. Over half of all Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. provide health benefits for their employees’ same-sex partners.
Consider exercising more discretion in states where LGBT legal rights are fewer, and there is strong opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The change in attitude is reflected in the social and legal advancements the LGBT community has seen throughout the country. Particularly in urban centers, there are generally no taboos in discussing one’s sexual orientation in any given setting. Maintaining a degree of discretion in the more conservative areas of the country may be desirable.
LGBT life thrives in big cities throughout the U.S. with LGBT-friendly hotels, restaurants, bars, neighborhoods, travel agencies, social organizations, and much more that cater to the community’s specific needs.
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