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Managing Different Racial/Ethnic Groups

 
by Mareisha Winters
Let’s talk about work.

There is a lot of attention being paid to our increasingly diverse workplace. There are all types of differences including race, gender, generations and thinking styles, just to name a few. LTAW’s focus this month is on some of the key diversity dimensions and how to navigate them for greater productivity and engagement.LTAW blog082712

The increasingly diverse global workforce has made cultural competence an imperative to sustain and enhance workplace performance and engagement.  What is culture and what is cultural competence?  Culture is the behavioral interpretation of how a group lives out its values in order to survive and thrive; the set of shared attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.  Cultural competence is the capability to shift cultural perspective and adapt behavior to cultural commonalities and differences.  Ongoing, continued learning is required for cultural competence.

The three largest minority groups in the US workforce today are: Hispanic/Latino (14.7%), Black/African-American (11.6%), and Asian American (4.6%).  The more different cultures work together, the more cultural competence is essential to avoid problems ranging from miscommunication to actual conflict.  These problems can compromise effective worker productivity and performance.

Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.  The purpose of this post is to understand the different barriers and hurdles that minority groups tend to face in the workplace.  Managers must understand that their style cannot necessarily be “one size fits all” if they have a multi-cultural team.  Below are some characteristics of the three main minority groups in the workplace.

Hispanics/Latinos

Hispanic culture tends to be risk adverse and more of a “we” vs. “I” culture.  This can negatively impact them in the workplace if it is not understood.  Their risk avoiding nature may not afford them the same chances to show their abilities and skills.  By not self-promoting as much as others, Hispanics may not be rewarded for their contributions.

Cultural competence can help Hispanics reach their full potential in the workplace.  Many employees make sweeping stereotypes about Hispanics.  Some are criticized for their accents, leading to assumptions on their abilities, level of education, and intelligence.  Hispanics tend to speak Spanish with each other because of comfort, but this can be confusing or seen to be exclusionary by others.

Mentoring can make the difference in retaining Hispanics.  Hispanic mentors serve as role models and better understand some of the cultural nuances of being Latino in the workplace.  Hispanic employees need formal and informal ways to connect with each other in order to maintain the relationship bonds they value.

Blacks/African Americans

Studies tell us that there is greater corporate flight amongst minorities, especially among African Americans.  Research conducted by the WP Carey School of Business showed that the predicted quit rate for whites was 3.73%, compared to 4.79% for African Americans.   Discriminatory environments and micro-behaviors are often cited as reasons African Americans leave an organization.  So what can a company do to make these employees feel more engaged? Based on findings from focus groups conducted by the Future Work Institute, the top five characteristics of an organization that retains African American employees include:

    A climate of inclusion
    Supportive interactions with leaders
    Offer of profit and loss responsibilities
    Opportunities for development and advancement at all levels
    Community involvement and social responsibility

As with Hispanics, mentoring is a key factor in the career development and retention of Blacks/African Americans.  Studies have shown that mentoring of African Americans leads to: increased performance, faster promotion rate, early career rate of advancement, greater upward mobility, higher income, job satisfaction and perceptions of great success and influence in an organization.

African Americans place a high value on interpersonal relationships with supervisors and co-workers, which impacts both job satisfaction and employee commitment.  Supportive work environments for African Americans include: collectivist (focus on group rather than individual outcomes) approaches to work, agreeableness and teamwork.

Asian Americans

The same Future Work Institute focus group study revealed the major hurdles for Asian Americans in the workplace.  The primary reasons that Asian Americans feel excluded in the workplace include:

    Lack of mentors with Asian perspective.  Because of the small number of Asian Americans in the US workforce, mentors with Asian perspective are limited.  Similar to Hispanics and African Americans, Asian Americans would benefit greatly from having mentors in the workplace.
    Glass ceiling.  Asian Americans who wish to move up the career ladder feel limited because they do not see Asian representation at the top.
    Lack of transparency.  The need for constructive feedback is essential for career development.
    Life is out of balance.   Often caught between the demands of kids, parents and work, Asian Americans feel their work and life is out of balance.  According to AARP, 73%of Asian Americans believe that children in their families should care for elderly parents, compared with 49%of the general population.
    Cultural differences.  The sentiment from many Asian Americans is that, “Our culture is very different from the _______ culture.”  There is a lack of cultural understanding which is a barrier for them in the workplace.

It is important to note that the data presented above does not apply to every person within that subgroup and that any generalizations should not be viewed as stereotypes.  We offer this information to provide guidance to leaders on how the differences in values and culture might influence workplace behaviors and needs and why cultural competence is such a vital skill for leaders to effectively manage the increasingly diverse workforce.

Value differences! Live inclusively!

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