Managing Diversity — Fifth in a Series of Five Articles
Thus far this five-article series on diversity and the camp industry has painted the change process in very broad terms. This is because every camp is different, and a cultural audit (a mandatory step in the change process) will indicate that the specific interventions needed for one camp may already be in place in another. It is therefore impossible
As described in the last article, a camp determined to invest itself in change could bypass many of the logistical headaches that come with its implementation by hiring an organizational consultant versed in diversity management. This individual will complete the cultural audit, formulate a suggested accumulation of change interventions, implement many of them, and offer follow through and feedback in regards to the achieved outcomes. At a far less comprehensive level of involvement, the consultant could perform one or more of these steps or simply lead awareness and sensitivity trainings for camp staff members. The two major obstacles with the use of an organizational consultant are locating one with the qualifications sufficient to lead the change and the cost of hiring that consultant. Most of the camps with which I am familiar are nonprofit and could never ever begin to think about acquiring the services of a consultant for a comprehensive change effort.
I am well aware that most camp administrators will be helming a diversity change effort on their own. The purpose of this article then is to introduce a myriad (but in no way final) number of intervention techniques utilized by intercultural trainers. Fortunately, many of the interventions utilized by diversity consultants will be familiar to camp professionals. Intercultural training methods are often based on experiential education techniques, a model of hands-on learning that is a staple of camps. There is no reason that, with the right person helming the diversity change effort (an unavoidable necessity), a camp cannot begin to make strides towards successful involvement with diverse populations. If a camp can afford the cost of a consultant or a speaker to lead a sensitivity and awareness training, please make use of them. But be forewarned that a session on awareness is not a panacea for our diversity effort. There is scant evidence that a training on diversity awareness makes any positive difference in an organization without it being imbedded in a comprehensive diversity management plan. Actually, there is far more evidence that such diversity awareness training as stand-alone intervention is more likely to raise the ire of participants and negatively affect organizational harmony. At the best, a short-term rise in awareness of participants in regards to diversity occurs but quickly recedes into the day-to-day functioning of the organization.
A word of caution though before some typical training tools are presented: Culture influences all aspects of our lives, so it should come as no surprise that organizational change would likewise be affected. First, Americans are renowned for their willingness to take chances, but this is certainly not true of the rest of the world. The director of an American company might decide on an initiative (for example, a diversity initiative) and expect to work "the bugs out" as it proceeds. American companies are simply comfortable with announcing some type of change and issuing accompanying rudimentary guidelines and directives to steer the initiative in the right direction. Second, the United States' cultural orientation of a short-term perspective leads us to ignore the fact that most change efforts are long-term efforts, and this is indeed true for diversity. We tend to expect quick results, and delayed responses and/or extended modification hamper our desire for efficiency.
Too often a program targeting diversity arises because it is no longer possible to ignore the new demographics that partake of our services or a well-intentioned administrator pushes the idea of diversity. In both cases, all involved parties underestimate the true effort that must accompany this agenda. We typically want quick results with a minimal of planning. Both of these culture-bounded approaches foredoom our efforts.
Diversity is a long-term process. Reading one related book or having staff participate in one experiential exercise will not lead to success. Fostering cultural diversity in camps will not occur quickly and not without mistakes. We would never expect a person to be proficient in a foreign language after only a few hours to a few days training, and we should not expect the same of our staff and ourselves after one or two intercultural trainings.
The Goals of Intercultural Training
We have already ascertained that the long-term goal of a camp in regards to diversity is to create an organization capable of working with any demographic population. The camp, in effect, will develop a staff with intercultural excellence, incorporating both a mindset and a set of skills that are conducive to successfully working with different cultural groups.
Intercultural training is often referred to as consisting of four tiers of development, each building on the other, and with each level of training introducing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral interventions:
Level One Awareness of the concept of culture
There is a consensus in the field of intercultural communication that the very first step toward success with diversity is having a working conceptualization of what is meant by "culture." Many books present an analogy of an iceberg to depict the concept of culture with its above water portion composed of characteristics we can experience with our five senses, including dress, dietary habits, and musical tastes. Surface characteristics can appear strikingly similar amongst nations and fool the unwary into thinking that cross-cultural work will be quite an easy endeavor. One camp talent show, as an example, featured a performance of a song that appeared to be known by all of its staff members, though they hailed from three different continents and nine different countries. With such similarities, and the knowledge that we all eat, use the bathroom, and fall in love, people can be forgiven for wondering just how different cultures can really be. Additionally, it is not an uncommon belief that language is the primary if not the only obstacle to cross-cultural success especially when all involved parties otherwise appear similar. In such scenarios, all that is ostensibly needed is an interpreter. The perception of surface similarities can confuse profound conflicting differences.
We all know the majority of an iceberg rests beneath the surface of the water. Similarly, most culturally relevant factors lie beneath the top portion of our iceberg analogy. Indeed, there are fundamental differences in assumptions, beliefs, values, expectations, and customs amongst cultures. Specific examples include comfort with risk, importance of family and work, attitudes about men's and women's roles, and views about leadership. While there are exceptions to every rule, generalizations about a specific culture based on research and the insights of cultural experts allow us to depict a fairly accurate portrayal of that culture. Not recognizing the cultural differences can result at best in humorous misunderstandings that all identified parties can glean as cultural faux pas. But such misunderstandings can also result in bad feelings, animosity, perceptions of ignorance of the other involved parties, and the loss of customers and/or desirable business partners.
Researchers have discerned a multitude of dimensions relevant to culture that they believe we must acknowledge if we are to be successful in our intercultural dealings. These dimensions include risk acceptance versus risk aversion, equality versus hierarchy, long-term versus short-term orientation, and individual versus group identification. As a more in-depth example, one dimension is labeled "masculine versus feminine." In more masculine cultures, gender roles and responsibilities are clearly distinct. Men are the ones to work and support the family; women are to remain at home and take care of the family. In such cultures males are not supposed to publicly exhibit tenderness or other emotions stereotypically associated with females. In contrast, feminine cultures are not the direct reverse of masculine cultures but rather allow both males and females more flexibility in their roles and responsibilities; gender roles overlap. A male could stay home and raise a family while his wife secured the family income.
These cultural dimensions overlap, and each nation can be plotted in regards to its standing on combinations of cultural dimensions. Since immigration is the most potent current force in the diversification of the United States (readers are reminded that changes to immigration policy in 1965 resulted in a massive influx of unintended diversity which has had and continues to have cascading effects on our country), knowledge of the cultural characteristics of a country enables us to pro-actively consider how best to approach its emigrants (all possible new customer and workforce populations). There are many books available on the subject of these cultural categorizations, some written for academia, some for international business people, and others for the lay public. Check out the Web site for Intercultural Press, www.interculturalpress.com , for a vast listing of very engaging books on the topic of culture. A Web search on cultural dimensions will also turn up related information. Using the term "cultural dimensions" along with a prominent researcher in the field will result in sites devoted to each one's own findings about these dimensions. Some researchers include (last name only): Hofstede, Trompenaars, Maznevski, and DiStefano.
Targeted games are another modality for learning about culture. Bafa Bafa and Ecotonos are prepackaged simulation games that involve trainees in an interactive, experiential exercise that demonstrates the concept of cultural differences. During Bafa Bafa trainees are separated into two groups and each given directives about their respective fabricated cultures. After practicing the "rules" of their culture (based very much on the previously mentioned cultural dimensions), observers and visitors are exchanged. The exchanges between these cultures are rife with misunderstanding and offer much insight into the challenges that too often arise between different cultural groups.
Ecotonos is another simulation game. Participants are divided into three groups, given a set of cultural rules for each group and then asked to solve a problem within their own culturally assigned groups. The members are then re-assigned to form new multicultural groups containing members from each of the original three teams. Now these new teams must solve the problem with each participant acting from the cultural rules that defined his or her own originally assigned culture. This game not only demonstrates the challenges of working with individuals from different cultures but also the creativity that can arise when a multicultural team is synergistic in its combined efforts.
Barnga is one of my personally favorite training games, and I have yet to use it and not have pandemonium break out. It is particularly appropriate for demonstrating the presence of subtle cultural differences that may impact intercultural collaborations. The setup for the game is exceedingly simple. Trainees form small groups and are given a set of instructions for a new but very simple card game. They take several minutes to practice the game. During a silent tournament stage in which no person is allowed to speak, winners and losers of each round must move to another small group so that within several rounds of the game, the teams are thoroughly mixed. The devilishly clever lynchpin to Barnga is that while teams pre-suppose that each has learned the same new card game, the written instructions given to each original team are different in one—and just one—ostensibly minor rule. Thus in reality each team has learned a different version of the game that still appears very similar to each other during the playing of the game. Recall the iceberg analogy mentioned earlier in this article. During Barnga, the surface of the game appears very similar to each participant, but the underlying rules and understanding of the game are different. It doesn't take many rounds before people are banging their hands on the desk, throwing their cards down in frustration, and looking for the intercession of the facilitator.
Ecotonos and Barnga are available from the Intercultural Press. Bafa Bafa is available from Simulation Training Systems (www.simulationtrainingsystems.com ).
Levels Two and Three: Awareness of Culture and Development of Intercultural Skills
Many individuals in the United States have a tough time accepting that they are culturally conditioned, but the United States can be plotted in regards to the dimensions described above as can every other country of the world. Just ask any visitor to this country if he or she see our citizens as having a "national character" and you will undoubtedly receive an affirmative response. Incidentally, some common descriptions about us include loud, boastful, wasteful, always in a hurry, and racially prejudiced. To add some balance to this otherwise pejorative list of appellations, we are also seen as outgoing, friendly, hardworking, not class conscious, and generous. All of these descriptions have corresponding cultural dimensions.
There are also numerous exercises using a combination of written worksheets and small group activities that can help us recognize our own cultural manifestations. For example, one of the exercises in Stringer and Cassiday's 52 Activities for Exploring Values Differences (2003) is titled: Cross-Cultural Values (p.33). This exercise offers a worksheet with contrasting value assumptions. Readers are asked to choose the one statement that they most agree with and is most reflective of their own culture:
This one question is designed to measure a culture's value regarding human nature, a value that has striking contrasts across the cultures of the world.
Another method to conceptualize our own cultural values is called "cross-cultural dialogues." Such dialogues are very brief written encounters between individuals from different cultures. There is something askew in the exchange, and it is up to the reader to determine what cultural influences are affecting the conversation. I borrow an example from the work of Craig Storti
#1: Lucky for Hassan:
What's going on here? Ms. Anderson appears to be a teacher and is upset that one student has copied the answers of another classmate during a test. And in the United States this is indeed a reason for disciplinary action. Yet the student whose answers were pilfered appears to have a completely different conceptualization of the issue. If we assume that the two individuals involved are from different cultures (And in cross-cultural dialogues written for a United States audience, one of the dialogue participants is always an American. In this particular dialogue, Ms. Anderson assumes the role of the identifiable American.), we might have a better understanding of the different outlook with which each participant approaches the presenting problem.
Each cross-cultural dialogue is followed by an explanation of the discrepancy between the parties engaged in the dialogue. In the above example, we learn that what Ms. Anderson calls "cheating," Abdullah calls "helping a friend." In contrast to the well-known American values of personal responsibility and self-reliance resulting in the belief that each of us is responsible for the outcomes in our lives (in this case, the second student Hassan was responsible for studying so that he too was able to pass the test), Arabic cultures instead place much more value on the support of one's primary group. As remarked by Storti, "The American saying, ‘To stand on your own two feet' doesn't resonate in many cultures" (p. 26). There will undoubtedly be times of travail and hardship in life, and in Arabic culture, a recognized value of much more salience is the support of a person in a primary group during these times so that such solicitation will be reciprocated in one's own time of need.
One of the most known and utilized intercultural training tools is called a "cultural assimilator." These are brief written accounts depicting situations that have the potential for misunderstanding(s) based on cultural differences. Each vignette is followed by a question concerning the behavior, thoughts, or cognitions of one of the involved parties and then four possible interpretations that can be given as a response to the question. Cultural assimilators are created to teach trainees how to interpret an event from the perspective of another culture and not immediately respond from our American inclination. They are excellent for both independent study and group exercises. The following is an example from Cushner and Brislin's Intercultural Interactions (p. 1996, p.167):
How would you explain Mark's poor performance to his boss?
Each of these responses is open for exploration. The best response is (2) and as explained in "rationales for alternative explanations" that are offered at the conclusion of each vignette, interactions with different cultures can be exhausting, particularly in this case in which Mark had to re-adjust to a new culture's behaviors, language, and surroundings every few days. The underlying theme of this vignette is that cultural exchanges can be taxing (even for those ostensibly accustomed to such events). Hundreds of assimilators are in print, some of them focusing on the general intercultural issues, including expectations, stress, communication and language issues, value differences, and adjustment. Each of these issues is a possibility in whatever particular culture in which one decides to engage. Notice that not only do assimilators lull readers into considering possible cultural explanations for each scenario, but they also offer a litany of culture-based problems and suggested solutions for these problems.
Other modalities to increase awareness of both our own and other cultures include role plays, the discussion of critical cross-cultural incidents, case studies, and personal inventories. Space does not allow us to review each one. Interested readers are referred to both volumes of Fowler and Mumford's Intercultural Sourcebook: Cross-Cultural Training Methods (1995 & 1999) available from Intercultural Press.
Level Four: Awareness of a Targeted Culture
As a starting point, do not assume that the values we attempt to instill in youth via a camp experience will be welcome by every culture. Americans tend to believe that children need to learn personal responsibility and self-reliance, and such goals are congruent with the idiosyncratic American ranking on specific cultural dimensions. But would an immigrant family coming from a collectivist culture in which family-based decision making was imperative and the needs of the individual are experienced as secondary to the needs of the family be welcoming of such a dramatically different conceptualization of youth development?
Researchers inform that there are specific categories of cultural information with which we must acquaint ourselves if we are to find success with diverse groups. For each targeted demographic group, we should have a basic knowledge of its history, economic structure, social structure, customs, and generalized underlying value system. We can begin by reading up on the cultural characteristics associated with each group, become acquainted with local media geared to this demographic group, and use census data to augment our understanding of the local community. Census information might inform us of valuable information such as the estimated size of the population in the local community, the size of the typical household, and jobs and professions held by this community.
Also, we want to pay attention to how other local organizations—both profit and nonprofit—tend to promote their wares and services. For example, many organizations sponsor an event such as a walk-a-thon targeting conditions prevalent for that community. Other community organizations do little promotion in the media (likely for the same reason that your own camp does not: lack of funding) but rather set up informational displays at health fairs and other community events, including parades and ethnic or demographic group festivities.
Most organizations make use of a liaison. This person will act as an "expert" on cultural matters pertaining to the designated group. An expert for our purposes knows not only the language and relevant information about a culture but is also tapped into the local scene. This expert can inform of us of the prominent people in the community and its hierarchy, community events, pressing community concerns, and, finally, has a way to place our organization in touch with those in the community that will be most able to assist us in our efforts.
Success often depends on language. Brooks Peterson, in his book Cultural Intelligence (2004), cautions us that though we do not need to be fluent in a foreign language which is almost impossible unless we began learning it at an early age. However, he recommends that we know the following six basic words and phrases in the language of our indicated group:
a. Yes d. Thank you
Peterson also recommends that we recognize the social formalities and protocols associated with each group.
This article concludes the series on diversity in camps. Many readers may have had the patience to wait until this last article before beginning a diversity initiative. Others though may have already started and are finding both the challenges and joys that occur, often simultaneously. I ask readers though to please consider the effect of our cultural upbringing on an organizational change effort. In this country we often exert little effort on the planning stage and jump right in to an implementation. In addition, we expect quick results. This might be the American way, but it not necessarily the best way to approach a diversity effort. True success will depend on identifying the right people to lead the charge, completing a diversity audit, defining a target audience and the best methods to reach them, and fostering an intraorganizational diversity-supportive environment (including the learning of an intercultural skill set). This unquestionably will take more than hours, weeks, and even months. It is a long-term process. Jumping in with an intervention without the preparatory work may lead to a brief burst of ostensible success. Yet the long-term result will be a failure or desultory at best. Lay the foundation for success by making use of the information presented in this article series, maintaining a sense of humor, and demonstrating perseverance. It is through this process that success—though possible slow in arriving—will ultimately occur. Good luck.
Michael Shelton, M.S., C.A.C., C.E.T., is a consultant, trainer, and the director of Camp William Penn, a camp owned by the City of Philadelphia Department of Recreation. He is the author of Coaching the Camp Coach and Secret Encounters: Addressing Sexual Behaviors in Group Settings. Shelton can be reached via his Web site: www.meshelton.com .
Originally published in the 2007 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.