Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Fact Sheet

Working With Diverse Cultures


Bill Smith
Ann W. Miller
Thomas Archer
Carla Hague

Culturally Diverse Coalitions

Brazzel defines diversity in terms of human differences that play an important role in the culture and operation of organizations. The culture of an organization includes the customs, assumptions, beliefs, values, rules, norms, practices, arts and skills that define and guide members about:

Cox states that prejudices are negative personal attitudes toward a member(s) of a cultural group; discrimination is "observable adverse behavior" toward the group member(s).

Discrimination requires prejudice plus organizational or dominant-group power to lead to destructive denial of recognition, power and privilege.

The dimensions of diversity in organizations include:

These dimensions need to be considered when identifying, selecting and recruiting prospective coalition members. A heterogeneous group can work together effectively on mutual goals and objectives through consensus and cooperation.

For an example: a neighborhood in a midwestern city might contain several political subdivisions, a native American group, an African-American population, some small businesses, blue collar workers, a variety of religious groups and possibly some gang factions.

If a coalition is to be formed to obtain more housing, people from each or most of these groups must participate for the coalition to have power. If not participating, at least all cultural groups must be consulted for their opinions or beliefs. A culturally-diverse coalition is composed of representatives of the cultures living in an area or community. It is also critical to consider varied opinions or beliefs within a certain culture. Two people do not have the same opinions because they are both native Americans or from an Appalachian culture.

Making the Most of Diversity

Often, a culturally diverse youth/family coalition is viewed in the negative sense, rather than the positive. It is easy to identify the inherent obstacles and barriers associated with differences in religion, class, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, region of origination, educational level or even paid employees versus volunteer staff.

The first phase of making the most of diversity is to make a concerted effort to become aware of what dimensions of cultural diversity exist within an organization. Acknowledging there are differences between individuals and groups of people is an important initial phase.

When conflicts, ill feelings or stressful situations arise due to the sub-cultures involved, it is because of "differences." The second phase of making the most of diversity is for people to talk about their cultural differences. Two things must be remembered concerning cultural diversity:

Awareness and discussion can cause a clearer picture of cultural diversity. Appreciation and understanding of cultural diversity means not just tolerating differences among individuals or groups, but supporting and nurturing them. A variety of ideas, talents, skills and knowledge is a desirable attribute to any youth or family coalition.

Providing a supporting and nurturing environment enhances other goals of the coalition by exposing group members to new issues, ideas, information and cultures. Diversity creates opportunities for character development by teaching tolerance and respect for people and by encouraging concern for equity. A culturally- diverse coalition that values and nurtures people from all backgrounds is worthy of active participation. Such an organization will flourish and perpetuate.

Making the most of diversity in a youth or family coalition requires the commitment of all involved. Changing prevailing attitudes and assumptions is not easy. Often the only hope is to change behaviors rather than deep-seated attitudes. Members of a diverse coalition must be committed to what they are doing and address issues related to cultural difference.

There may be resistance to disturbing the status quo, but it is no excuse for avoiding change.

Attention to cultural diversity may be the necessary catalyst for making things happen. Coalitions of youth or family agencies that strive to address specific community needs and issues have no chance of success, or even continued existence, unless they mirror, understand and make the most of their community's cultural diversity.

Enhancing the Dynamics

According to the traditional melting pot theory, immigrants who settled in America would shed the ways of the old countries and blend happily into one people. At least two essential fallacies are inherent in the melting pot theory. The first is that non-white Americans can (or should) become like white Americans. The second is that non-white people do not have cultural significance in the New World. Both ideas have met with controversy and rejection.

Since the 1960s, the idea of a single monoculture has begun to deteriorate. It has given way to a more pluralistic society that continues to evolve through cultural integration and influence. These changes are commonly evident in fashion, dietary habits, entertainment, music, literature and sports.

Within the framework of a youth and family coalition, diversity empowers its members to capitalize on unique skills and areas of expertise. Careful attention must be given to mutual understanding and appreciation of individual differences. Strengthening the sense of positive cultural identity is an important aspect of establishing a viable coalition.

Individuals may consciously or subconsciously interject ethnic values, attitudes or behaviors into the dynamics of the larger group.

Factors that impact the extent to which diverse cultures interact with existing cultures are:

The concern with diversity and related programming by Extension and other organizations is a result of changes in the workplace and general population. Brazzel cites that aspects of diversity are being incorporated into vision and mission statements of both for- profit and not-for-profit organizations. To ignore its impact on profits and other bottom line measures affects performance. Organizations as well as individuals are exploring the impact of this diversity.

The result is a growing recognition that multiple perspectives can benefit an organization's approach to opportunities and problem-solving. Loden and Rosener say this approach assumes "we will be more successful as individuals, work teams, organizations and a society if we acknowledge, respect and work with . . . dimensions of difference."

So, the case for building a culturally diverse or multicultural coalition is without question. The drastic change in the status quo of the U.S. population, labor force, race and ethnicity, and citizen status demands adaptation.

All families in this country have experienced the stresses of immigration and migration. While ethnic heritage may have become dimmed or forgotten, it continues to influence outlook and interaction with others. Under the pressure of accommodating new situations, many groups have been forced to abandon much of their ethnic inheritance.

To understand ethnic identities, it is important to realize the impact immigration has on families over succeeding generations. Second generations are more likely to reject the "ethnic" values of their parents and to strive to become "Americanized." Third or fourth generations frequently reclaim aspects of their heritage that were sacrificed by previous generations as they sought to assimilate.

As the United States experiences the growing pains of becoming a citizenry of descendants of early forbearers, the challenges are apparent. Preserving our roots need not prohibit the effectiveness of diverse individuals or groups working together.

Managing Cultural Diversity

  1. Recruitment- Try to include people or organizations within the youth or family coalition that are representative of the community.

  2. Diversity Tralaing- Become aware of the cultural diversity of the coalition. Try to understand all its dimensions and seek the commitment of those involved to nurture cultural diversity. Address the myths, stereotypes and cultural differences that interfere with the full contribution of members.

  3. Communications Within Coalitions- Remove the major barriers that interfere with people from diverse cultures working together. The best method to do this is through understanding and practicing better communication:

  4. Different, But the Same- Men and women, whites and non-whites, volunteers and paid staff, middle-class and working class people are different, but much less different than they are the same. An appreciation and acceptance of both commonalities and differences are essential to effective working relationships.

  5. Maintain the Commitment- Your coalition will become more connected with the community that it serves if it states publicly that having a diverse work force is a top priority. Continue to revisit the various components that address the awareness, understanding, communication and nurturing of a culturally-diverse organization.

  6. Provide Strong Leadership- Loden and Rosener believe the following leadership behaviors foster coalitions of diversity:

Valuing Diversity

The Key to Success

Diverse coalitions will be more successful because of support from the community they represent. Goals must be established to encourage diversity in membership. Without diverse coalitions there is animosity produced within neighborhoods and communities regarding "us versus them."

Within a culturally diverse group new ideas are produced, communications are improved and bridges are built to the people needing services.

There are numerous benefits when coalitions value diversity:

Developing a Coalition Which Values Diversity

Look intensively at the community (or communities) being served by the coalition. Look at the makeup of various groups or agencies currently or projected to be represented in the coalition. Do they match?

Coalition membership needs to reflect specific cultures represented in the community. If cultures are "lumped" together, true diversity will not be achieved. For example, to say a coalition needs an Oriental representative does not take into account the numerous Eastern cultures such as Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and others. The other critical concern should be the amount of "Americanization" which has influenced communities. First generation Vietnamese will normally have stronger cultural ties than a fifth generation Chinese population.

Be certain the coalition is not only composed of agencies saying they represent various cultures. Individuals who are representative of diverse cultures must be a part of any successful coalition.

Coalitions serving diverse cultures must be representative of these cultures.


Coalitions which are truly culturally diverse and serve diverse populations must:

In building coalitions, it is important that neither prejudice or discrimination be tolerated, with consequences outlined in the constitution and bylaws or operational agreement. Self- awareness and sensitivity training should be a prerequisite for coalition membership as well as initial and subsequent orientation and training. Coalition leaders should help members understand cultural diversity, realize such diversity can strengthen the coalition and acquaint them with specific roles they can play in developing a diverse group.


Culturally Diverse Pluralism- A culture that promotes mutual respect, acceptance, teamwork and productivity among people who are diverse in age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, class, religious beliefs, physical ability and other perceived differences.

Coalition- A unit composed of distinct elements of the population it serves.

Multicultural Organizations- Organizations that maintain a pluralistic culture promoting mutual respect, acceptance, teamwork and productivity among diverse people. It reflects the interests and contributions of members of diverse groups in mission, operations and product or service.

Diverse coalitions are well represented in multicultural organizations at all levels, in all functions and in all work groups. Members of diverse groups have power and influence in the organization. They are included as full and influential participants in all aspects of the organization, especially where decisions are made and policies established. Discrimination is not tolerated within the organization and in its relationships with people, groups and organizations in its environment.

Discrimination- The systematic, intended or unintended denial of recognition, power and privilege to certain people based on the groups to which they belong.

Cultural Bias- Cox includes discrimination and prejudice as a part of cultural bias. He states that prejudice is a "judgement made about others that reinforces a superiority/ inferiority belief system."

Stereotype- A fixed and distorted generalization made about all members of a particular group. (Loden and Rosener)


Brazzel, Michael. "Building a Culture of Diversity in the Cooperative Extension System: A Paper to Foster Dialogue and Discussion About Pluralism in Extension." ECOP and ES-USDA National Diversity Strategic Planning Conference, Denver, Colorado, September, 1991.

Cox, Taylor, Jr. "The Multicultural Organization." Academy of Management Executive 5, No. 2 (1991): 34-47.

Cross, Elsie V. "Issues of Diversity." In Sunrise Seminars, edited by Dorothy Vails-Weber and Joseph Potts. NTL Institute, Vol. 2 (1985): 15-19.

Jackson, Bailey W. and Evangelina Holvino. "Working With Multicultural Organizations: Matching Theory and Practice." Conference Proceedings, Organization Development Network, 1986.

Jackson, Bailey. Keynote Speech for Youth 2000 Conference, as reported in New Hampshire COSA Newsletter (November-December 1990).

Lauffer, Armond. "Rubbing Shoulders and Rubbing Wounds- Gender, Class, Culture and Identity in the Workplace." Careers, Colleagues, and Conflicts. Sage Publications, 1985.

Lee, L. "The Opening of the American Mind." Cornell University, Forum (Winter, 1991): 2-5.

Loden, Marilyn and Judy B. Rosener. Workforce America: Managing Diversity as a Vital Resource, Homewood, Illinois: Business One Irwin, 1991.

McGoldrick, M. "Normal Families: An Ethnic Perceptive," In Normal Family Processes, edited by F. Walsh. New York: The Guilford Press, 1982.

Nestor, Loretta Gutierrez. "Managing Cultural Diversity in Volunteer Organizations." Voluntary Action Leadership (Winter, 1991).

Valuing Diversity - A Strategic Plan for Cultural Diversity in the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service. 5th Draft, August 30, 1991.

Valuing Diversity- Part 111: Communicating Across Cultures. Copeland Griggs Productions, San Francisco, California.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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