Are We So Different We Can’t Work Together?
Adelina M. Gomez, Ph.D.1
John Smith, a black supervisor of predominantly white employees, in response to the question “How do you think your subordinates see you as a manager?” said, “In this particular agency, they see me as being low on the power chain even though I am their supervisor. They know they can challenge certain things I ask them to do because there are certain higher-level supervisors who are white and who will listen to them and often -countermand my decisions, even though they have disregarded the chain of command. This has caused me some supervisory problems in terms of controlling the employees and it has an impact on respect. I do not believe that they feel they have to be as loyal to me as they are to those above me. Therefore, I am ineffective as a supervisor. So I personally feel they see me as a convenience-type supervisor, someone they tolerate probably because I am black.”
Leo Marquez is a Hispanic manager who complains that the cultural differences among his subordinates often create problems in work-related situations when he has to talk to any of them about deficiencies in their work. He explained, “It is easier for me to talk to other Hispanics and Anglos than it is for me to talk to blacks. They usually become defensive when I bring to their attention the mistakes in their work. I try to talk to them in a manner that is not construed as offensive or racist. I have learned to be careful that a black does not feel that I am singling him out because he is black.”
Manager Maria Torres has expressed serious concerns about the problems that arise in managing culturally diverse groups. She argues that because 98 percent of the top-level managers in her agency are white males, they are not sensitive to the needs and concerns of minorities, much less those of women. She indicated that there are few, if any, minorities in the top-grade management levels that are the policymaking positions. She explained, “A few male minorities are promoted to a certain grade level where they are usually dead-ended; women seldom are promoted. I am an exception, and although I am as capable as any man here, I believe mine was a token promotion. There is a strong need to remind white men about this inequity because it seems that no women or minorities will be promoted soon. I address the issue every chance I can. I do it in oversight reports and in supervisory and sensitivity training. I try very hard to get it across to them, but to no avail.”
She explained that there are serious problems because the buddy system and the selection process work predominantly for white men as they climb the ladder. She concluded, “These men seldom take minority men under their wing, and we know they will certainly not take women!”
1. Analyze the problem in each case by addressing the role of cultural differences and how they may have contributed to the existing situation.
2. “Equality,” “wisdom,” and “a comfortable life” are examples of cultural values. What attitudes do you have that stem from these values, and where did they originate? What role did they play (or could they have played) in the scenarios?
3. List four characteristics about your own culture and describe how they help you to understand the behaviors of someone from a different culture.