Cultural Diversity in the Workplace1

Basically our conversation started by commenting, "Why do Hispanic/Spanish speaking workers suffer more work accidents than the American/English speaking workers?" In fact, the rate of fatal work accidents for Hispanic workers has increased by 72% from 1992 with 533 fatalities to 917 in 20052. "We think," they continued saying, "that it has much to do with communicating properly in Spanish".

As I reflected on their comments, my memories took me back to my personal experience on living, studying and working in both countries, and the different aspects that influenced my decision making, action and behaviors. It is through this experience that I offer you An Integrated Approach to Cultural Diversity in the Workplace. Understanding that it is not only bilingual communication that marks the difference, but culture, work conditions, literacy levels and training methods that also weigh heavily in what can be called the "Cross-cultural Workplace."


What do you understand by Culture? Is it an attitude, is it what guides our understanding and explains how we relate to each other? Does it define our perceptions and our assumptions? In general terms, it is all that and more, because what we see in our interaction with other people are Actions and Behaviors, which are the end result of our cultural conditioning.

The best definition I have found about Culture was offered by Anthropologist Edward T. Hall, Ph. D. "Refers to the totality of ways we understand and interact with the environment and with each other (norms, values, beliefs, orientations, understandings and so on) that govern our actions and behaviors." Based on this we can conclude that Culture guides our Communication, our Values, and the way we interact with other people. Therefore, it also defines our Perception, Common Sense and Decision Making.

Example: Consider you are working on a roof top. While working, your hammer breaks by the handle. What do you do?

  1. An American Worker: As the hammer breaks, his Common Sense tells him, "Go to the tool shed to replace the hammer." His Decision Making: Goes to the tool shed, replaces the hammer and returns to his workplace.

  2. A Hispanic Worker: As the hammer breaks, his Common Sense tells him, among other things, "I'm in trouble as my boss is going to think that I don't take good care of things, that I'm just wasting time. His Decision Making: Hide it, don't tell anybody or, even better yet, repair it, wrap with some wire or duct tape, make it hold and continue working, buy one out-of-pocket after work. Hopefully they won't notice it; I'll get the work done and all will be ok; no problem."

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