||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Diversity Training Research
Conducted at UW-Eau Claire
MAILED: Dec. 1, 1999|
Dr. Susan Hafen, assistant professor of communication and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, recently wrote a paper studying the role of cultural diversity training in the workplace and dealing with scholars who are for, against and critical of diversity training.
Hafen's paper, "Cultural Diversity Training: Its Cartographies of Silence," recommended that organizational communicators facilitate a dialogue in the workplace, recognizing the validity of all positions toward diversity. In this dialogue, however, it is important for each participant to acknowledge that despite the organizational need for fairness and inclusiveness, individual economic interests and moral standpoints differ. Before making recommendations for organizational outcomes, people first must focus on their own personalities to determine not only what they believe but how they anticipate personally benefiting or losing from any organizational programs, policies or initiatives.
Through her research, Hafen found that while many people are under the assumption everyone is pro cultural diversity, the reality is a lot of covert resistance. Even when people are advocates for diversity, their perspectives change when diversity agendas create obstacles in reaching their goals or call into question their values and identities.
"Diversity training creates as many problems sometimes as it solves," she said.
Hafen said that many people's belief that communities are more similar than they are different is not necessarily true. This can be seen more clearly through the pressures people feel to conform, cohere, bond and focus on similarities when put into any given group.
For the paper, Hafen reviewed literature and analyzed papers written by students in her "Diversity Training and Human Resource Development" class. Her class was asked to answer the question, "As an employer of a retail store in Eau Claire, Wis., would you require your employees to attend a four-hour cultural diversity training program? And, as employees, what would your reaction be to attending such a training program?" At the end of the semester, students wrote another paper responding to their first to see how they agreed or disagreed with their initial opinions.
"It isn't a black and white issue. It's much more complex," Hafen said.
Hafen has taught her class the same way for three years now, and her students always have similar responses. She said students initially believe diversity workshops are good, but they are not needed in Eau Claire. Students think the workshops would be beneficial in larger cities such as Milwaukee or Minneapolis, Minn.
"They learn over the semester that diversity is not just race and that it takes more than an hour (to educate)," Hafen said, adding that by the end of the semester students feel diversity training workshops are needed in Eau Claire.
Hafen found diversity often is present in the workplace but is not addressed. When people have to dress a certain way to portray a company image, is that respecting their diversity or is it more important to have an organizational identity or image, Hafen questioned. In which case, whose identities are sacrificed? In a related example, Hafen noted that companies often respect the Christmas and Easter holidays but do not give time off to celebrate Jewish holidays.
"(Companies) might not call it Easter, but it's Easter," Hafen said. "It's not that simple when there's an organization that has to consider benefits and costs and believes that 'majority rules.'" But what happens to diversity then?
"Our perceived differences often depend on our resources," Hafen said.
Hafen stressed that many people associate diversity training with the terms "affirmative action" and "equal opportunity," but they aren't the same. When the two are conflated, problems result from fears of reverse discrimination that anything focuses on diversity will result in some groups of people getting something another group does not get.
"Cultural Diversity Training" was presented Thursday, Nov. 4, at the 84th annual meeting of the National Communication Association. Hafen's paper was chosen for presentation by a panel of peers made up of three or four faculty members from other universities and was well received at the conference.
Hafen said this area of research is very important to her and she has presented papers on the same topic at other conferences. She became interested in diversity because she believes many people have mixed feelings about the notion of diversity and its connection to affirmative action.
"It was fun reading all these other voices," Hafen said of her research. "We're all saying that we care about diversity. There are a lot of problems when diversity training becomes an organizational mandate depending on how it is implemented."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Dec. 1, 1999