Lost in Translation

The “Diversity Day” episode of the Office emphasize multicultural training and Michael who is played by comedian Steve Carrel instructed his staff to participate in the exercise “Name that Stereotype”.  The intent of the exercise was to enhance his staff’s cultural competencies.  Although the episode was extremely funny, in reality, I’ve often found myself in situations similar to that portrayed.  The multicultural training session was intended to enhance cultural awareness and was geared towards “stomping out stereotypes”, by playing upon the many historical views WE have of our melting pot society.  Following that vein of thought, multicultural training is the cure for our organizational ailments.  Coupling that with the prevailing notion that after completion of the training, employees will automatically become more aware of the impact of their actions and when appropriate, make positive changes to their behavior, or it represents a magic wand and when waved, “WALA”… employees are deemed culturally competent.   The  desired outcomes employee satisfaction, increased productivity, or if deemed one of the more “privileged” minority groups, the pleasure of representing your cultural group and educating the masses…..nothing couldn’t be further from the truth…

I can imagine the pressure Kelly, the young women featured towards the end of the episode, must have felt when faced with the expectation that she would represent her cultural group during the multicultural awareness/training session.  The fact that departments recognize the value of developing cultural awareness, knowledge and skills is commendable.  However, the answer to developing cultural competency in the work place is not as simple as applying band-aide solutions or canned programs that play upon hurtful and demeaning stereotypes.  The way conflict is perceived and addressed in the workplace often times is reflective of the individual’s culturally based attitudes and beliefs.  Multicultural training is only one approach to resolving the types of issues that arise in diverse organizations.  Training can positively affect an organization’s awareness of those who are different in their climate and increase knowledge of how different cultures interact in the group is also very useful in identifying and developing the skills needed to perform duties/tasks required of a position.  Although culture is the biggest indicator of how individuals will handle conflict in the work place, recent studies suggest that focusing on an experiential learning approach of building cultural competences and increasing awareness and knowledge of differing cultural groups is critical to the development of the skill sets needed for our global society.

The Office “Diversity Day” episode highlighted the multicultural training minefield that all organizations must maneuver.  I’m a firm believer that discrimination and any type of “ism” should be called out and addressed head on.  This course on Leadership however has brought home to me that how you handle the situation is equally as important.  While the manager, Michael, in the Office episode may have had good intentions, the desired outcome was not achievable with the training model used and the skills sets and cultural competencies obtained would be short lived.

It is my desire to have a positive impact on the climate of any organization to which I’m affiliated and assist in the development of our future leaders.  I intend to continue to develop and refine my cultural competency and use my influence to foster an environment that is inclusive and appreciative of the multitudes of differences that comprise our world.

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