Harry Triandis (2003) of the University of Illinois describes three factors that inhibit intercultural cooperation: perceived similarity, ethnocentrism, and class structure (pp. 487-489). Studies have shown that during times of conflict individuals tend to congregate into groups of similar individuals. There is no guarantee that these people are the same, only the perception that they are. Naturally, this leads to an “us” versus “them” atmosphere. In this situation, differences are magnified and the conflict is easily blown out of proportion due to misunderstanding and distrust (Triandis, 2003).
Ethnocentrism is the “belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 1994). This is the tendency of all people to assume that the mores of their culture are universally normal. Therefore, the practices of other cultures are naturally unnatural and strange. Triandis (2003) specifically cites the case of Japanese managers not understanding why American managers take so long to resolve strikes. In Japan, most worker strikes last only a day or two. This cultural misunderstanding has led Japan companies to assume that American managers are incompetent (Triandis, 2003).
Finally, class structure plays a role in inhibiting healthy workforce diversity. Although at first blush it seems unlikely that class structure would be evident in most American businesses, that is unfortunately not the case. All business are comprised of groups that perform particular functions and are rewarded differently for their work. This will commonly manifest itself in the division of workers and management. These hierarchies again result in the “us” versus “them” attitudes that naturally lead to conflict (Triandis, 2003).
America’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse. Research shows minorities, both ethnic and racial, now compose nearly one third of the national population. With this evolution, organizations must adapt to accommodate the changing nature of society. In the health care profession, for example, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health has developed a cultural competency curriculum to teach health care providers the behaviors and attitudes appropriate to the needs of the industry’s changing workforce and customer base (“Workforce diversity”, 2007). Naturally, this situation affects more than just the health care industry; it affects all industries.
The American heritage dictionary (3rd ed.). (1994). New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Triandis, H. (2003, July). The Future of Workforce Diversity in International Organisations: A Commentary. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 52(3), 486-495. Retrieved June 4, 2008, doi:10.1111/1464-0597.00146
Workforce diversity and cultural competency in nursing: keeping up with the changing face of America. (2007, August). Maryland Nurse, Retrieved June 4, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.