Stereotypes and prejudice are taught from a early age.

I used to substitute teach years ago while I was starting my company. I remember taking kindergarten classes to the playground for recess.  I would watch the kids playing in the sandbox.  The children would marvel at each others’ skin-tone and hair texture.  They were oblivious to any negative stereotypes about each other.  I could take the same kids out to recess the very next year and they had started to separate each other based on whatever reason.  What I realized is that none of us are born with prejudices or stereotypes about others.  It has to be taught.  So where are we picking these negative stereotypes up from? The answer is we pick them up from all areas in life, parents, television, peers, teachers, etc.  But, how many of us are given multicultural education in elementary school?  I mean specific strategies to help us deal with prejudice or discrimination.  How many courses are given early in school to help improve cross-cultural communication and decrease the effects of negative stereotyping.How Do We Develop Racial Stereotypes?

We develop our racial stereotypes in a variety of ways. On a very simplistic level, it’s human nature to categorize people. It’s our way of making a complex world simpler. From an early age, we learn to place people and objects into categories. However, when we’re very young, we tend to put less of an emphasis on attributing values to these categories. As we grow older and are influenced by parents, peers, and the media, our tendency to label different racial groups as superior/good or inferior/bad increases significantly. Additionally, the less contact we have with a particular racial group, the more likely we will have negative feelings about the group. Also, any negative experiences that we have with a member of a particular group will strengthen our racial stereotypes and create fears about particular races. Based on our fears, we then develop an us-versus-them mentality that tends to be self-protective in nature. As a result, we miss opportunities to learn and thrive from our differences.

Are Our Racial Stereotypes Harmful?

Some people might say, “There’s no harm in having racial stereotypes or making racial/ethnic jokes based on stereotypes. People these days are so politically correct and should just loosen up. Anyway, there’s always a kernel of truth in every stereotype.” In some instances, all of the above might be true. However, in most cases, racial stereotypes are harmful because they ignore the full humanity and uniqueness of all people. When our perceptions of different races are distorted and stereotypical, it’s demeaning, devaluing, limiting, and hurtful to others. In some cases, people who are repeatedly labeled in negative ways will begin to develop feelings of inferiority. Some times, these feelings of inferiority can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that perpetuate the stereotype. Racial stereotypes can also foster feelings of hate and aggression that might lead to a false sense of entitlement and superiority. For those individuals who have power, this can lead to their engaging in discriminatory and racist practices.

How Do We Overcome Our Racial Stereotypes?

Because of their harmful effects, we should make a real commitment to try to overcome our racial stereotypes. This can be achieved by first acknowledging that we’re human and that we do harbor racial stereotypes. Next, we should work to become more aware of our inner thoughts and feelings and how they affect our beliefs and actions. When we have a stereotypical thought about a racial group, we should follow it up with an alternative thought based on factual information that discounts the stereotype. We can obtain this factual information by leaving our comfort zones and exposing ourselves to people of different races. Also, we should be willing to engage in honest dialogue with others about race that at times might be difficult, risky, and uncomfortable. We should also seek out media portrayals of different races that are realistic and positive. Attending churches, plays, concerts, and movies that celebrate diversity will also broaden our worldviews. As we gain more awareness and knowledge about racial groups, not only will our racial stereotypes lessen, but we will also become better equipped to educate and challenge others about their racial stereotypes. As we change ourselves, we can elicit changes in others through our examples and the quality of our conversations. In doing this, we work to create a society in which all races are valued, appreciated, and embraced.

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Learning new languages has its benefits

I had a gentleman stand up during a training years ago and say “If people are going to live in America, they need to be able to speak American.  I think he meant English, but it pointed out to me how ethnocentric we can be sometimes in this country.  When foreigners arrive in our country we expect them to be able to speak English. When Americans travel to other countries guess what language  we expect people to speak, that’s right English.  Now I’m not saying that there are not many Americans who travel to others countries, with their translation books in hand excited to learn a different language, but many others often still expect that foreigners will just simply have to speak English.

I have found that many people who are learning English as a second-language can speak the language pretty darn well. Many times they are afraid that if they make a mistake or mispronounce a word that people will laugh or make fun of them.  Often they will get embarrassed and not want to even try. English is not the easiest language to learn because it follows completely different rules than other languages.  Just a quick point I want to make-When you hear people speaking a language other than English, it does not mean they are saying bad things about you.

We tell young people every day in our country to learn another language because it will make them more successful someday in their career.  This is no different for any of us.  We can all benefit from learning another language.  You can go right now to your computer and look up spanishdictionary.com and take Spanish lessons for free.  If it would decrease your stress in communicating with other cultures and increase your trust with other cultures why not give it a shot.  Do you feel that speaking more than one language would make you more successful in your business?  I am interested to hear your views.

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Strategies for Staying on Track

When discussing strategies for developing, maintaining and understanding multicultural organizations, it is important to remember that the strategies for success begin with you and extends to others. Here are some strategies and steps that I believe may assist you as you navigate through diverse environments.

Speak and act in ways that demonstrate that all people have equal value.
Stay aware of your personal biases and how they may impact your interactions with others.
Listen to and acknowledge others’ feelings and perspectives, even if they differ from your own.
If you wouldn’t do or say something around everyone, you probably shouldn’t do or say it around anyone.
When you realize that you have done or said something that may be considered offensive, make a genuine effort to recover.
Never be afraid to apologize. “I apologize. I didn’t mean that like it may have sounded.
Try to repair strained relationships by establishing or reiterating common goals.

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Business Case for Improving Multicultural Understanding

Those who perceive improved multicultural understanding as exclusively a moral imperative or societal goal are missing the larger point. Workforce diversity needs to be viewed as a competitive advantage and a business opportunity. That’s why MMC makes multicultural consulting and training a business priority and strives to achieve a fully inclusive diverse workforce.
Improving multicultural understanding is about recognizing, respecting and valuing differences based on ethnicity, gender, color, age, race, religion, disability, national origin and sexual orientation. It also includes an infinite range of individual unique characteristics and experiences, such as communication style, career path, life experience, educational background, geographic location, income level, marital status, military experience, parental status and other variables that influence personal perspectives.

These life experiences and personal perspectives make us react and think differently, approach challenges and solve problems differently, make suggestions and decisions differently, and see different opportunities. Diversity, then, is also about diversity of thought. And superior business performance requires tapping into these unique perspectives.
As our U.S. and global customer base becomes steadily more diverse, significant portions of organizations futures growth must come from tapping into these diverse markets. If we are to form lasting business relationships with our customers and become a true global leader in our given industry, we must understand our customers’ diverse cultures and decisional processes, not merely their languages.

To do so, we must begin with a multicultural workplace. It is well-proven that diverse, heterogeneous teams promote creativity, innovation and product development. Only by fully embracing diversity and maximizing the well-being and contributions of our people can we fully maximize the strength and competitiveness of our company. We must encourage individuals to reach their full potential, in pursuit of organizational objectives, without anyone being advantaged or disadvantaged by our differences.

Once a largely homogeneous group, the faces of customers, claimants, producers, employees and suppliers have been transformed into a dynamic mix of people comprised of various races, cultures and backgrounds. In 2008, “minorities” are roughly one-third of the U.S. Population, by 2042 “minorities” will be the majority.

Clearly, the U.S. population — and the world’s — is changing dramatically. Forward-looking companies that recognize and understand the implications of these demographic shifts accordingly alter their customer focus, employee base and business practices to better manage the needs of current and future customers and employees.

If we disregard the data on changing demographics, we also disregard the substantial growth in buying power of diverse markets. Not only are these diverse minority groups increasing as a percentage of the U.S. population, but so too is the buying power they wield.

From 1990 to 2007, minority group market share and purchasing power doubled and in some cases tripled. By 2012, that buying power will increase by another 30%. This economic clout is not limited to minorities. Gay and lesbian consumers will control a 6.4% market share, or $835 billion. The present and future monetary power of diverse markets is more apparent each year. In order for organizations to remain competitive for talent and for customers, it is imperative that we attract and value diverse talent and enable that talent to attract and value diverse customers.

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