A Kitsap Sun letter to the editor last month about
multiculturalism caught my attention and challenged some of my
thoughts on the topic. Multiculturalism is also a term that I
am hearing used more frequently. So I decided to do a little
research. First I looked for a definition and found many;
each different, but with some similarities. One particularly
resonates with what I think of when I hear the term:
“A philosophy that recognizes ethnic diversity within a society and that encourages others to be enlightened by worthwhile contributions to society by those of diverse ethnic backgrounds.”
The letter that started me thinking referenced an example of multiculturalism failing in Germany, however I did not find that there is agreement on why there are problems. Is it really multiculturalism, or is it the way it was implemented? Germany does not have the extensive history of multiculturalism that the United States does, so the situation there is different than what we have here. Our Country has many pockets of culture from all over the World and those of us that take the time to learn from each other are all the richer for it. Our breadth of ethnic food restaurants is only a portion of what world cultures share with us on a daily basis.
On a corporate level, companies are finding that multiculturalism benefits their workplace, and this is demonstrated by positive affects on their corporate bottom line. What I mean by multiculturalism here are the employee resource groups, also sometimes called affinity groups, that help companies improve strategic marketing and increase their diversity of recruiting and retention of employees. These groups also help increase employee happiness as well as their sense of being able to contribute in meaningful ways, which in turn increases their productivity.
One definition of an employee resource group, from Diversity Inc (www.diversityinc.com), is “company-sponsored employee groups from traditionally underrepresented groups or those that support these groups.”
The role that these groups play in a workplace has matured over the years from groups that mostly focused on networking and celebrations of cultural events, to groups that play significant roles in a company’s marketing, employee recruiting, and employee development.
While not everyone understands that these groups, and the diversity councils that usually connect them together, benefit a workplace, the evidence is there. More and more companies and Government agencies are figuring that out and supporting the formation of these groups. Local examples that I could find are many of the companies that do government contract work in Kitsap County, such as Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.
I did not see anything during my research that demonstrated to me that our multiculturalism is the cause of any of the problems that we are facing as a nation. There is work that we can all do to improve communication between groups, but the idea that we can all be assimilated into one cultural melting pot is unrealistic – we are more like a chunky stew.