| In my book - Addressing
Culture in Organizations, I discuss how over the last three
decades organizational psychologists and other social scientists
have begun to give more recognition to the influence of race
and culture in organizational systems. More importantly, over
the course of the last 30 years organizations in the United
States have voluntarily or through force of law attempted to
increase the participation of visible racial/ethnic group people
(i.e., a term used instead of minority that refers to Indian,
Hispanic, Asian, and African-Americans). Recent reports predict
changes in the racial/ethnic make-up of the country in 21st
century. The presumed increase in the numbers of visible racial/ethnic
people in the work force has given new energy to efforts aimed
at increasing the racial-cultural composition of the work force
in American organizations.
Confusion exists about the meaning attached to culture in
diversity training that is evident in training methods and
approaches. The assumptions and perspectives about culture
are important because they circumscribe the types of knowledge
and methods used in a particular approach. It seems to me
that when people refer to diversity training, a number of
unstated assumptions about the meaning of difference or culture
exist. What is missing is a way to understand the various
perspectives that underlie approaches to understanding racial
and cultural difference. The perspectives are designed to
capture organizational life and diversity practices in North
America organizations. It is essential that any attempt to
understand culture and difference in the United States consider
the socio-political environment in which Americans have typically
While each assumptive approach has its strengths and weaknesses.
I think a race, as culture perspective is a more viable because
it is historically and socio-politically grounded. Nevertheless,
each perspective will be discussed in terms of its advantages
The five training perspectives are: Universal, Ubiquitous,
Traditional, Race-based and Pan-national. I have adapted these
approaches to diversity training in organizations. I want
to point out the difference between basic assumptions and
strategies used to teach about cultural difference. I believe
that regardless of the strategies (i.e., approaches, content,
and so forth) used by a trainer or consultant he or she works
from basic and fundamental assumption about the nature of
The Universal approach to culture places emphasis on human
similarities while group differences are de-emphasized. The
essential assumption is that we are first and foremost individual
human beings and only secondarily does our experience and
identity derive from other group memberships (e.g., ethnicity,
race, gender, etc.). Much of traditional psychological theory
and practice is characterized by the Universal approach. As
is our dominant cultural belief, wWhat matters most are individual
differences. The Universal perspective closely resembles the
color-blind vision of all people living in harmony, wherein
group differences are of little or no relevance.
Cultural sensitivity is required when one's approach to culture
is general as opposed to culture or group specific. Diversity
training based on the Universal approach to culture would
teach trainees about “special populations” in
an attempt to bring everyone together into the melting pot
or salad bowl. The idea here is that by having similar goals
and tasks in the work unit, the contact with one another will
help break down racial-cultural barriers. If racially and
culturally different people work together they can see that
they're not that different, and they will then get along with
The advantage of the Universal approach is that it reminds
us that humans have many characteristics and attributes in
common and that all people are unique as individuals. The
disadvantage of this type of approach is that it downplays
socio-political history and intergroup power relationships
by assuming group memberships have meaning only for each individual.
The Ubiquitous approach is one that holds all difference
associated with group membership as salient. All forms of
social or group identity or shared circumstances are considered
cultural. Culture can be a function of, geography, income,
gender, age, religion, sexual preference, and so forth. It
equates social group affiliations or domains of differences
within a super-ordinate culture as representing distinct cultures.
In this way, if a person develops a particular socially based
identity based on class or age, then this, according to the
Ubiquitous perspective, is culture. The view of difference
as common experience or identity presumes that one's commonness
cuts across super-ordinate cultural patterns. Thus, all disabled
people, or gay people, or women or men share a culture that
results from their reference group affiliation irrespective
of his or her culture of origin.
Diversity training that uses this approach insists that differences
be acknowledged and celebrated and that everyone's social
identity be 'accepted.' By defining the various social group
affiliations or what I call ‘domains of difference’
as “cultural," the domains of difference are legitimated.
This results in a focus on multiple group differences, which
is supported by the concept of culture.
The advantage of this perspective is that reference or social
group differences of any sort will not be seen as dysfunctional.
At the same time, the Ubiquitous approach can lead to avoidance
and denial of groups' socio-political histories, intergroup
power dynamics, and the relative salience of various reference
group memberships. Also, ignored or minimized is the role
and influence of dominant American cultural patterns.
An organization, which operates from a Ubiquitous approach,
would seek to heighten the awareness of its employees to multiple
sources of difference and would equate diversity as encompassing
many group identities.
The Traditional approach defines culture as country, which
means a common language, values, beliefs, rituals, symbols,
and so forth. One is a member of a cultural group by birth.
Central to this definition of culture is common experience
as a function of socialization and environment. Ideally, variability
within cultures is acknowledged; at least in regard to non-White
populations, less variation within groups is recognized. Regarding
diversity training, it is suggested that some "experience"
of another culture is essential, the purpose of which is to
give the person exposure to the new culture; the idea is that
one person or family is representative of the entire group.
Proponents of the Traditional cultural approach assume that
exposure to the culture or cultural knowledge is the primary
key to effective cross-cultural learning.
In terms of diversity training, then, little regard will
be given to within country racial or cultural differences.
Emphasis is placed on differences that emerge as a result
of one's country of origin. The advantage of this type of
approach is that it reminds us that society's institutions
reinforce the meanings of behavior, thought, and feelings
learned through family. However, the disadvantage of this
approach is that it de-emphasizes similar processes that occur
within a particular country or that evolve as a consequence
of racism. The traditional perspective does not specifically
address intergroup power dynamics.
This perspective holds that race is the primary form of culture
in the United States, in that cultural groups are identified
on the basis of race. People are classified into races by
skin color, language, and physical features. Race-based theorists
hold that the definitive aspects of culture, for example,
cultural values, vary ultimately according to psychologically
(i.e., racial identity) and socially based racial categories.
The Race-based view assumes that the experience of belonging
to a racial group transcends/supersedes all other experiences
in the United States. Because race is the most visible of
all "cultural differences” and because of the history
of racial segregation and racism that exists in the United
States, race has been and continues to be the ultimate measure
of social exclusion and inclusion. The Race-based approach
assumes that intergroup power dynamics are important
The Race-based approach makes explicit how untenable is the
idea that it is possible to become sensitive to another's
culture without first dealing with the overlay of race. White
racism and dominance is seen to be perhaps the most important
barrier to effective cross-racial organizational interaction,
and that effective diversity training requires trainees to
proceed through the process of race awareness and racial identity
development. The Race-based approach holds that racism and
racial identity should be the focus of diversity training.
It would also suggest that the type of diversity desired by
the organization would be primarily racial.
The advantage of this perspective is that it considers the
importance of socio-political and historical dynamics on current
events. It also introduces psychological variability to racial
groups such that membership alone does not determine cultural
affliction. The disadvantage of this approach is that it requires
a deeply personal and potentially painful journey and soul-searching
for each person to become comfortable with his or her racial
socialization. It is difficult to address race as a social
and personal issue since it tends to be treated as invisible
in the social structure particularly in organizations.
This perspective views race in the global context as definitive
of culture. The Pan-national perspective has been proposed
by non-Europeans, and, with few exceptions deems European
and American culture as antithetical to Non-European culture.
According to this approach colonialism, slavery, and their
legacies, were used to oppress non-European people and also
alienated them from their cultures. In addition, Whites developed
a culture and social structures that are based on violence
A Pan-national organizational training approach would focus
on the rejecting European forms of oppression. It would attempt
to enable trainees to understand and emancipate themselves
from Eurocentric organizational approaches as a requisite
first step. Thus, scholars who teach and train from the Pan-national
perspective advocate knowledge of ancient history and racially-
and culturally-based characteristics and experiences.
The Pan-national assumptions has the advantage of allowing
for a broad and global understanding of race as it relates
to oppression throughout the world and demonstrates how groups
are connected by color and common experience. Its disadvantage
is that when viewing racial oppression as the primary construct
for cultural difference one may overlook the role of other
important reference groups such as religion and social class
I have shared with you a system of approaches to diversity
training in organizations that was adapted from a model that
I developed for racial-cultural training in mental health.
I grouped approaches to training from five different perspectives
that I contend will result in distinctly different recruitment
efforts and outcomes and at the same time will determine the
content and emphasis of efforts to manage diversity. I think
this system of perspectives is important because it seems
that people mean vary different things when they use the term
I have sought to make explicit the underlying assumptions
of each perspective and what they mean and imply, in an attempt
to provide a definitive picture of each view and its impact
on diversity training. It is my hope that the perspectives
will serve as a basis from which to gain a clearer understanding
of what some people mean by their use of diversity as applied
to organizational interventions.