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Abstract

Diversity remains one of the most popular topics of public discussion. Much has been written and said about the value of diversity. This paper is a final project that summarizes everything that has been learnt about diversity during this course. The paper includes a brief discussion of diversity benefits and challenges. Predictions regarding the future demographic profile in the U.S. are included. The paper provides recommendations to foster diversity in organizations. The positive and negative effects of media on diversity perceptions are discussed.

Keywords: diversity, population, media, organizations.

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ETH/125 Week 9 Final Project

Perhaps, one of the greatest challenges facing today’s organizations and community groups is the challenge of diversity. Unfortunately, many organizations and community groups take the meaning of diversity for granted. In reality, diversity is a complex multifaceted phenomenon, and the new rhetoric in the field of organizational and community development demands greater attention to the way individuals of diverse racial, gender, and cultural backgrounds interact. As of today, it is no longer possible to limit the meaning of diversity to racial differences. The meaning of the diversity concept has expanded to include “differences in perspectives resulting in potential behavioral differences among cultural groups, as well as identity differences among group members in relation to other groups” (Roberson, 2004, p.5-6). With the help of this course, and due to the comprehensive structure of the course syllabus, I have finally realized the complexity of numerous meanings involved in the phenomenon of diversity. Now I feel equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to (a) respect diversity, and (b) foster diversity within my community. With the help of this course, I have come to perceive diversity as a concept that encompasses respect and acceptance and recognizes that each individual is unique and talented in his (her) own way (Mpofu, 2011). Today, I perceive diversity as an integral component of any positive, safe organizational or community environment, where individuals move beyond tolerance and praise diversity for the recognition and self-development opportunities, which it provides.

I have learned many new things during this course. At times, the course itself and the assignments I had to complete became a true revelation to me. The most important was, probably, the class devoted to the discussion of discrimination in the United States. I always believed that the U.S. was one of the most diverse societies on the planet, but I never realized the historical and structural factors behind sustained discrimination within the country. Now, I see diversity as both the source of considerable benefits and an extremely challenging endeavor. Our long-standing historical beliefs about other races, genders, and cultures continue to impede the progress of our diversity awareness.

The current interest in diversity and diversity issues within the United States is not accidental. My opinions about the future demographic situation in America are echoed in the latest Congressional report regarding the country’s changing demographic profile. Like Shrestha and Heisler (2011), I believe that, by 2025, the American population will become much more diverse, especially in terms of the racial and ethnic composition. The growing diversity of the American population can be attributed to the two major forces. First, the force of immigration and its impacts on the size and demographic structure of the U.S. population can hardly be ignored (Shrestha & Heisler, 2011). Second, the existing racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. display different rates of fertility, mortality, and aging, which further predetermine the growing diversity of demographic patterns within the country (Shrestha & Heisler, 2011). Certainly, diversity presents a number of important benefits, but the challenges of the changing demographic profile should also be considered. At the federal level, the discussed demographic changes will, most likely, increase the financial pressure on the social work and retirement systems and reduce income security across different population groups (Shrestha & Heisler, 2011).

Outdated social policies and the growing financial burden on the federal budget are not the only challenges of diversity. At the heart of the diversity phenomenon (at least, at present) are the anxiety and the feeling of the unknown (Taylor, Doherty & McGraw, 2007). Diversity is about difference, and any difference makes people uncertain about its effects and consequences. For this reason, minority groups may face the lack of acceptance and understanding on the side of the dominant demographic groups. This will also impede the development of productive liaisons among diverse members of the American society. It is no wonder that, in this situation, members of minority groups will experience additional stress, and their social and workplace productivity will suffer. As a result, diversity cannot be limited to formal inclusion but should transform into a full acceptance of all minority and majority groups as equal. Any diversity change taking place in an organization or community should also involve new knowledge and adaptation through experimenting and relationship-building (Maltbia & Power, 2012). “Without learning new ways – changing attitudes, value, and behaviors – people cannot make the leap necessary to thrive in our new knowledge-based economy that is increasingly diverse and global” (Maltbia & Power, 2012, p.12). Unfortunately, learning and acceptance often become the major barriers to diversity and inclusion in organizations and communities.

Diversity benefits organizations and communities, by bringing different perspectives and expanding organizations and communities’ outlook. Increased creativity and innovation have already proved to be essential functions of diversity (Taylor et al., 2007). A diverse community or workplace is characterized by a broader range of ideas and alternatives (Taylor et al., 2007). Diverse individuals have greater potential to challenge established beliefs and standard ways of doing things (Taylor et al., 2007). Diversity may also result in the development of constructive disagreements and even conflicts, which eventually lead to higher-quality decisions (Taylor et al., 2007). Certainly, diversity by itself cannot benefit organizations and communities. Only through cooperation and interdependent work, diverse individuals realize their decision making potentials to the fullest. Moreover, diversity always comes at a cost, since diverse groups need more time to develop collaborative relationships and effective problem solving procedures (Taylor et al., 2007). Nevertheless, diversity is where efficiency gives place to effectiveness, leading communities and organizations to the desired end.

In light of the benefits presented by diversity, organizations and communities develop complex strategies to become more diverse. Fostering diversity has become one of the top organizational and social priorities. However, while some organizations pursue diversity simply as a means to enhance their social responsibility image, others focus on the development of authentic diversity perceptions and attitudes. I believe that fostering diversity is one of the most challenging endeavors any organization or community could initiate. Most diversity management strategies and policies have grown from the need to address the needs of changing workforce and community members (Bergen, Soper & Foster, 2002). Diversity promotion is all about persistence and focus, and the success of diversity management depends upon the way diversity awareness is built into day-to-day practices. As a result, to foster diversity, organizations and communities should not simply treat all demographic groups as equal, but also diversify the pool of employees, welcome members of diverse population groups in communities, adjust policies and procedures to suit the unique needs of diverse citizens, and develop mentoring programs to help people learn about diversity (Bolman & Deal, 2011). Training alone can never suffice to create an ideal atmosphere of diversity, mainly because many training models are inherently biased and contain outdated information (Bergen et al., 2002). Diversity is a complex phenomenon, and diversity approaches should reflect this complexity. Mass media may also play a role in how organizations and communities develop positive diversity attitudes.

Despite the growing public awareness of diversity benefits, stereotypes and prejudices against multicultural communities remain widespread. Mass media greatly contribute to the development of sustained biases against members of multicultural groups. Graves (1999) explored televised content and found that non-White characters on American television were segregated and stereotyped, and media accounts of inter-racial relationships were too superficial to be realistic. The emergence of new programs and shows on American television does not lead to diversity; on the contrary, members of diverse ethnic and racial groups are further segregated from other groups, reinforcing the vision of white superiority (Graves, 1999). The number of programs representing and praising diversity continues to increase, turning diversity into a pure numbers game (Harker, 2009). Unfortunately, few media giants realize the mass media’s vast diversity potential. Paluck (2009) has found that the use of media can benefit multicultural groups and create the basis for the development of better diversity awareness, leading to cooperation, trust and empathy. The media can foster diversity, by giving voice to representatives of more than one cultural, ethnic, religious, or gender community. The media have powerful effects on the way society members behave, so why not use the media as a source of positive diversity beliefs? Unfortunately, there is still no answer to this question.

What seems important is that the future of diversity and diversity awareness is in our hands. We, diverse members of the global society, have everything needed to change the established beliefs about ourselves. We can create working groups with members of different identities and cultural/social/ethnic backgrounds to spread the message of diversity and its importance for the future of this country. Yet, even in the presence of a broader diversity philosophy, all positive changes must start at the individual level. We need to change our beliefs about diversity and other cultural groups, to let them establish themselves in the American land. We should stop seeing diversity as simply a combination of individuals of different backgrounds. We must develop respect and acceptance of all society members, irrespective of their cultural or social status. We should learn to embrace and appreciate diversity, and not simply take it for granted. Finally, we should recognize the existence of sustained patterns of discrimination and act against them. A broad positive change must begin with the realization that the boundaries of diversity are fluid, and all people have the right for self-identification, regardless of the culture or sexual orientation community to which they belong. We must finally realize that no culture can be intrinsically superior to another culture (Mpofu, 2011). This is how we will be able to improve the social and cultural position of diverse members within the society.

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