You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for March, 2010.

Culture Dies Hard

By Thomas Kochman - 03.30.2010

The NY Times editorial “President Obama in Kabul” expresses the frustration of the U.S. and the President in trying to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai to “clean up his act” which constitutes among other things of a “commitment to eradicating corruption (including among his own family members), improving governance and institutionalizing the rule of law.”

While these goals may serve U.S. goals and interests, we question from a cultural standpoint, whether they are realistically obtainable.

For one “rule by law” or “rule by rule” works only to the extent that people trust that institutional policies and practices will be rationally and impartially administered and applied.

This is a tall order in those places where the social, economic and political structure is built around authoritarian leadership, class membership, tribal affiliation and across-the-board political and personal favoritism.

So what has to happen for that cultural change to happen?

We often ask in our diversity training “If you had to borrow $10,000, would you first go to a bank, or to your family.”

The mainstream U.S. response is, “Go to the bank.”

The more traditional ethnic response is, “Go to your family or friends.”

These answers are rooted in different cultural values and the different social experiences these groups have with public institutions.

Principally it revolves around what or whom you can trust.

Mainstream people’s experience with public institutions is generally positive. So they trust and rely on them, in part, because they can, and, because they value individualism, independence and self-reliance, also so as not to have to rely upon family and friends.

The experience of traditional ethnics with public institutions is often negative (“dollar short, day late”), and, consistent with tribal values of interdependence and reciprocity, they rely upon family and friends, also because they can, and so as not to have to rely upon public institutions.

These differences show up in the ways members of different groups approach and deal with institutions, especially official bureaucracy. Read more »

The New Creolism

By Thomas Kochman - 03.27.2010

The 2010 census that allows people of mixed racial ancestry to write in their own racial/ethnic identity gives them a unique opportunity to define themselves in ways that don’t subscribe to any of the previously recognized official categories –themselves the result of racial and ethnic mixing historically — like “African American” or “Hispanic”.

What’s different today is that first generation individuals whose parents are of different racial backgrounds choose to characterize themselves as “mixed”, resisting the mindset of earlier generations that compelled individuals to choose one (but not both) of the officially recognized racial/ethnic classifications. Apart from what it says about personal loyalty issues –as our tribally mixed American Indian colleague says today when people ask him to declare which tribe he belongs to: answers, “Which grandparent would you have me deny” – it also says something about “the new rules of the game” in our ever-changing society. Read more »

The Party\’s Over

By Thomas Kochman - 03.16.2010

David Brook’s recent NY Times column “The Spirit of Sympathy” speaks to the decline of civility and personal relations in the Senate and increasing polarization along strictly party lines following the pattern of the House.

But who is responsible for this fissure? Presumably bipartisanship in the past was at one time driven by pragmatism and common cause and a triumph of persuasion and personal relationships over partisan politics .

What we have now is Republican resistance and obstinacy rooted in ideology, an “all or nothing” mentality, and the self delusion that, despite losing the election, they still “speak for the American people”.

For persuasion and personal relations to prevail across party lines disagreements have to be rationally based, remediable, constructive and ultimately humanistic –a sensibility and sympathy for how laws, policies, practices and social neglect impact people –not just my people but all people. Read more »

Spin Doctors

By Thomas Kochman - 03.15.2010

Almost every piece of news that gets reported these days seems to have one kind of spin on it or another from people bent on promoting one or another social or political agenda. We expect that behavior from politicians, cults and other thought squads, caught up in what David Brooks characterized as “information cocoons” in his excellent article, “Getting Obama Right!”

However, the media is no less guilty of spin when it chooses “sexy” or controversial topics for airing or publication to draw in viewers or readers.

And even researchers fall prey to spin in selecting criteria whose single greatest virtue is that it is measurable giving the research and themselves, a sense of relevance or importance that –upon looking deeper—is unwarranted.

As a case in point, Drake Bennett’s article “Who’s still biased” cites researchers who, using prejudice reduction as a basis for evaluating the effectiveness of corporate diversity training, imply that there is somehow a causal connection between prejudice reduction and behavioral change—presumably with prejudice reduction needing to occur in order to achieve the latter. Read more »

The Value of Diversity Training

By Thomas Kochman - 03.07.2010

Drake Bennett’s article “Who’s still biased” cites researchers who, using prejudice reduction as a basis for evaluating the effectiveness of corporate diversity training, “found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior.”

Another criterion researchers used was the extent to which companies have become more diverse as a result of having gone through diversity training.

As Bennett notes, “Research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management.”

Both statements raise more questions about the research than they do about the effectiveness of diversity training.

For example, the first research criterion presumes both a link between prejudice reduction and behavioral change –doesn’t this itself have to be proven– and that prejudice reduction is the best criterion for judging whether diversity training “works.”

The second criterion reduces diversity training to a numbers game: how many diverse people are in management or get hired or promoted, as if other factors aren’t more critical or telling.

My view is that too much reliance is placed on diversity training as the instrument of organizational change. Read more »