Business course adds diversity workshop


A multiculturalism workshop for business students is supposed to make them more culturally aware, according to NIU administrators.

The workshop has been added to a class requirement for NIU business students and is supposed to focus on the discussion of cultural issues.

Barbara Henley, vice president for Student Affairs, has received a $100,000 grant from Philip Morris Companies, Inc. for establishing a six-hour workshop to train business students to manage a diverse workplace.

Henley strongly stressed the six-hour workshop is not in itself a multiculturalism course. It is, however, a required part of Management (MGMT) 333, Principles of Management.

Henley said the purpose of the workshop is to heighten students’ awareness of cultural diversity in the workplace. The main focus this semester will be race because of limited time and funds, Henley added. She was optimistic about prospects for expanding the workshop to cover other topics in diversity as well.

Henley said the workshop is divided into 21 sections, most of which were moderated by two of the 14 or 15 facilitators from Student Affairs volunteering to coordinate the workshops. There are 582 students majoring in business who are currently participating in the workshops.

Henley cautioned against overreaction to this addition to MGMT 333. “Multicultural components already exist as requirements in many courses. This is no different from a test or term paper being a course requirement.”

Henley said the only difference between MGMT 333 and other such courses is having a separate workshop funded by a corporation, as opposed to having the multicultural component be a part of the instruction of the course itself.

Terry Bishop, associate professor of management who teaches MGMT 333, said his course is required for all undergraduate business majors, but is not open to students not majoring in business. Should a student enrolled in his course fail to attend the workshop, he or she would receive an incomplete grade for the semester.

Bishop said the workshop’s format is primarily discussion and thought exercises. The homework consists of students either interacting across cultural lines in a meeting or event, or attending some kind of presentation, exhibition of art or performance by another culture.

Bishop said the workshop is divided into three sessions, two hours each.

The first session explores what actually constititutes differences and identifies ways people view other races, the opposite gender and other cultures.

In the second session, students share personal experiences in dealing with people and try to find solutions in managing diversity in the workplace. The purpose here, said Bishop, is to avoid the possibility of diversity becoming a barrier to teamwork and performance.

The third session deals with actual corporate organizational activities, and programs and corporations’ perspectives on solving diversity problems in the workplace.

Bishop said the reason for adding this workshop to his course was not to indoctrinate students, but to train students to be competent and effective managers of a workplace with a diverse group of people.

“The last thing we want in exposing students to the concept of diversity is for anyone to react defensively. This isn’t about telling people that they’re racist or sexist.

“Instead, it’s about exposing people to the problem of managing a diverse work force and improving their skills at doing that. As such, it will benefit a wide variety of people,” he said.

Bishop cited sessions he had attended where both men and women became aware of ways in which they harbored bias against or stereotypes about the opposite sex, and where both black and white students were able to see ways in which they contributed to the breakdown of interracial communication.

Bishop agreed with Bratone that the workshop was not intended to make anyone feel excluded from the workplace, but to create an atmosphere where all people could be accepted and work together in a diverse setting.

“It is unfortunate that there is so much controversy over teaching diversity issues,” said Bishop. “This diverts people’s attention from the real issue of the difficulty people have working in diverse environments.”

Bishop said there would not be textbooks in the workshop, but there would be handouts and a videotape of a recent seminar at NIU, “Diversity in the Workplace.” Also in the video are four corporate officers interviewed after the Sept. 30 panel discussion.

Bishop said discussion is open in the workshop within the context framed by the facilitators, and any student could relate opinions and contribute ideas. He and Henley agreed the workshop would attempt to give NIU students a competitive edge over students in other institutions, since corporations are looking for students with a variety of experience in dealing with other races and cultures.

Henley and Bishop also said the course could possibly be opened to non-business students in the future if more funding and resources were made available to expand the scope and availability of the workshop.