Our identities are to some extent the product of shared cultural belief. One example is the idea of having certain characteristics because you went to a certain college or university. Whether these characteristics have to do with intelligence, demeanor, or one's likelihood of future success in life, it is unlikely that one became a certain sort of person simply because one graduated from one school or another. This is one example of a socially constructed identity, which is influenced by people's general perceptions of things associated with us. Another example is race—we are all part of the human race, but some identify with one ethnicity or another. Other examples might be the sort of person one becomes in one's workplace, in the context of one's religion, or when identified by gender and raised as a typical member of that gender group. All of these are to some extent real, because they affect how people treat us, and in many cases, how we think of ourselves. They become real because they are acted upon, and things happen because of these social constructs, according to Schwalbe (p. 137).
According to Weber ( 2010), stereotyping can be both good and bad. Stereotyping is categorizing people based on their behavior or other traits without having a necessarily clear and complete picture of who they are as a person. Obviously, this can be bad and lead to negative consequences. One example of negative stereotyping is generalizing about a certain race. Weber mentions this in connection to criminal profiling—police may make decisions about how likely someone is to be a person of interest or pull people over based on race. This would definitely be a harmful stereotype. However, stereotypes can also be useful when they are used judiciously. If a stereotype can familiarize someone with a group, while at the same time he or she knows that not every person in the group will conform, that is a positive thing. Weber gives the example of a TV show in which a relatable character who acts in a stereotypically "flaming" way associated with homosexuals might make people more comfortable with homosexuals in reality.
According to Buckingham (2005), all human beings basically share the same fears and needs, and this is the way in which we are all alike. These include the fear of death (with a corresponding need for safety and security), fear of being alone (with a need for love), and others. Of course, human beings also have differences. According to Hampden-Turner and Trompenaar, our differences fall under the six dimensions of cultural diversity. Different cultures, and thus the people within those cultures, will fall into different categories within each dimension. Identifying, cataloging, and studying our differences and similarities as people can help us to promote tolerance, because even as we acknowledge the differences that make us unique we also notice the fundamental things we all have in common as people.
Within the world, what serves human purposes most effectively tends to survive, whereas less useful alternatives tend to disappear. This is somewhat like the theory of natural selection in science, except in this case Sowell (1991) means it in a cultural way. This concept can help multicultural students understand the place of various cultures in the international and historical continuum: every culture has offered something to the vast stores of human knowledge at one time or another. For example, within the realm of the arts, Germans excel at piano-building. This does not mean that others have not been strong artisans in this area, but German techniques have been found to be best, and these are the ones that have survived. However, not only Germans can or should play German-made pianos: in fact, French, Italian, and other nationalities boast wonderful pianists. The cultures work together to make something of beauty. For multicultural students, understanding what their culture has to offer and how it works in symbiosis with others is extremely important and can be very fulfilling as well.
Legally, a workplace must comply with Title VII and other civil rights laws (Section III, p.269) which prohibit discrimination in any way, including hiring practices or salary levels, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, physical disability, or other factors. This means that the person most qualified to do the job should be hired regardless of any of these factors. For a workplace to be optimally functional in terms of diversity, though, it should go the extra mile to be inclusive. For example, a workplace should not just hire openly gay employees, but make sure that they and their domestic partners feel welcome and included at company events. Older employees should be hired and treated the same as younger ones, including in terms of developing their potential. These changes, while not legally mandated, will help to make a workplace more functional in terms of diversity.
Diversity has to do with who we are in a quantitative sense, with measurable variables such as age, gender, and nationality. A group of people who vary greatly in this respect is a diverse group, no matter how they feel about each other or about their diversity. Multiculturalism involves moving away from a simple acknowledgment of diversity and toward the understanding that all of the different cultures within a diverse group have something to offer and present cultural norms which are valid. Multiculturalism is politically charged because it involves change from our current ideas, for some of us, toward a world in which political views, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors do not separate us.
Differences are ways to differentiate between two or more people, according to the National Association for Independent Schools (1997). For example, one person might have brown eyes and another blue eyes. This is a difference, but unless they are treated differently because of it, it is not an inequality. Inequalities occur when one group is treated differently from the norm due to a shared characteristic of that group. An example of an inequality would be women and men getting paid different amounts of money for doing the same job. This would be inequality based on gender: other types include those that cause a negative effect for the person based on religion, age, sexual orientation, and race. Some differences are not socially constructed, such as the above example about eye color. However, differences in some areas, like religion or gender, are to some extent socially constructed. All inequalities are socially constructed, because they have to do with how people treat others. Some of them come from erroneous beliefs like the old-fashioned belief that women do not work as well or hard or effectively as men and thus should earn less money. Inequalities, often, are based on or stem from perceived differences between people.
A framework for understanding organizational diversity and inclusion. ( date unknown.) Section III. p. 259-275.
National Association for Independent Schools (1997). Diversity and multicultualism. Online. Accessed 13 September 2010 at http://www.nais.org/equity/index.cfm? ItemNumber=146141 .
Schwalbe, M. (2007) Inventing the social world. 134-151.
Sowell, T. (May/June 1991). Cultural diversity: A world view. The American Enterprise. 44-55.