Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Elements of Individual, Professional, Organizational, and Societal Levels of Multicultural Competence

Martin Luther King, Jr.Martin Luther King, Jr. via

Understanding the importance of individual/personal, professional, organizational, and societal levels of multicultural competence carry heavy weight in modern management/leadership styles. Comprehending cultural competence in multifaceted dimensions helps alleviate ethnocentric monoculturalism, ingrained biases and prejudices, hate and fear of others at the individual/personal level. No one is born to fear and hate others but that it is learned. As suggested by Sue (2001), cultural incompetence begins at birth. Likewise, misinformation about others’ cultural differences is not acquired through free choice but imposed through a process known as social conditioning (Jones, 1997; Carter, et al., 1998).

Overcoming personal belief systems, behaviors, and emotions for both trainers and trainees could be a personal journey to overcoming cultural incompetence and a major challenge for leaders.

In order to believe in justice and democracy, it is equally important to overcome the biases that threaten our self-image. Understanding how our own biases and actions perpetuate and constitute injustice helps every concerned leader bear greater responsibility in order to administer powerful change. Honesty and openness for each other, overcoming fears, fostering concern for all groups of society and being acquainted with the effects of prejudice and discrimination and how it affects others opens equal access and opportunities for all people. However, Sue (1999, 2001), provides four helpful and important principles that could herald for individual cultural competence. Initially, individuals will have to familiarize with and learn from different perspectives and not exclusively rely on the media or what the neighbors say. Secondly, immersing in the culture to be learned generates a balanced analysis of what is expected to be reaped. Thirdly, supplementing realistic intellectual capacity with practical certainty of individuals from that culture is a way of identifying with that culture and can be applied as a supplementary encouragement. On the professional level, management and leadership styles have been shown to over and over again experience the impacts of cultural values, beliefs, traits, and decision techniques.

Different cultures view leadership from dissimilar perspectives. In American cultural way of thinking, leadership is portrayed as forceful and independent whereas in Japan, good leadership is based on the theory of harmony and fairness. The latter Japanese view is the view I share and scrutinize wholeheartedly. In France, a manager is expected to answer a subordinate’s query accurately. American mangers and leaders are regarded as problem solvers who take time to provide answers to the subordinate’s concerns after thorough examination and head scratching. In modern Japanese culture, respondents described a leader as one who displays fairness, is flexible, has good listening skills, is outgoing, and is responsible while American respondents described a leader as one who is intelligent, honest, understanding, determined, and possesses effective verbal skills.

Leaders who value multiculturalism have organizational structure that treats all employees, suppliers, and customers equally. For leaders to be competent, the organizations they serve have the responsibility to create strategies, policies, procedures, and implementations acceptable to their employees.

Though organizations have contrasting procedures in the way they deal with cultural, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and gender issues, overcoming conflicts and misunderstandings in the workplace should be a prerequisite for any organization willing to do away with institutionalized monoculturalism.

Monocultural organizations are those organizations that operate on Eurocentric and ethnocentric ideologies. A prime example is the former apartheid regime of South Africa whose mode of operations was built on racial divide and racial superiority. Based on outright exclusionism, either explicitly or implicitly, the former Boer regime of former apartheid South Africa marginalized people of color and other minority groups. This means, people were divided into racial categories. With Whites on top of the privileged ladder, Indians and Coloreds enjoyed the center stage while Blacks remained at the bottom. Besides the Whites, all other races were persona non grata in exclusively reserved white neighborhoods, white shopping centers, and white schools. Blacks lived in the Ghettos with no jobs, no sewage, no viable infrastructure, and no decent schools. In other words, South Africa of the yesteryears was a discriminatory organization where the color of the epidermis and the sex of a person determined where one belonged in the government registry of races and sexes. On the other hand, the strong believe in the melting pot and equal opportunity for all should be a driving factor for cultural equality. Culture should have the least impact on management.

Historically, courageous men and women spent time and effort to fight American discriminative policies of the 60s. Mention is to be made of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Nobel laureate who lost his precious life while fighting human injustices. Despite civil and human rights activists dying for the cause of equality and justice, disparities in employment, education, employment, and social facilities do exist in modern America.

On the contrary, nondiscriminatory organizations are more culturally significant and sympathetic. However, foot-dragging remains an impediment to the advancement of affirmative actions; equal employment opportunities are taking a grudging stand, prejudice and biases do exist, and policy implementations remain inconsistent and elusive.

Assumingly, the United Nations is the biggest nondiscriminatory organization the world has seen. Looking back at its past line-up of hierarchical leadership history, we find that the top echelons were drawn from multifarious nationalities. Formerly the League of Nations, the United Nations, came to fore after the end of World War II. Its first Secretary General was Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1952) followed by Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden (1953-1961), U Thant of Burma (1961-1971), Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981), Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru (1982-1991), Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996), Kofi Anan of Ghana (1997-2006), and currently Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea (2007-). Because the world is regarded as a one big society, the position of the Secretary-General of the United Nations is based on equal distribution between the various continents. So far, Western Europe and others had three secretary generals; Latin American and Caribbean Group had one; Asian Group had two; while the African Group had two secretary generals.

The greatest challenges facing the United States today include the issue of race, the existence of unfair disparities between racial/ethnic minorities and Euro-American groups that are invisible and deeply ingrained, and the absence of open dialogue regarding racial inequalities, and bigotry and racism. Despite the efforts of former President Bill Clinton in his issuance of Executive Order No. 13050 and his creation of the Race Advisory Board to examine race and racism, a lot needs to be done in the fields of racial reconciliation. The issue of race in the U.S. is so ingrained in the minds of the American social fabric and that the society itself is ill-equipped to tackle it alone.

The glorification of racism has been used as an unbending instrument by monoculturally ethnocentric fanatics whose strong cultural superiority is based on past biased historical legacies. The presence of the Ku Klux Klan and others of like mind must be cause for alarm in America’s racially divided nation. In conclusion, knowledge, skills, and awareness in leadership in a diverse and multicultural environment could be an added advantage for millions in management worldwide.
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