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 Multicultural Understanding Leads to Better Business

Students, faculty, and staff selected hors d'oeuvres, originating from a variety of cultural backgrounds, at the Diversity Dinner.

Diversity Dinner

IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED in business, understanding diversity issues is a must, says Dorothy Simpson-Taylor, director, University Resource Office, during her diversity workshop presentation April 4.

The undergraduate School of Management Council (SMC) hosted the workshop, which was paired with a dinner celebrating the foods of different cultures. Entrees at the dinner included baba ghannouj with pita tria, bruschetta with hummus, chicken satay, and buffalo wings. Around 80 people, including graduates, undergraduates, faculty, and staff, attended.

Following the dinner, participants attended the workshop, titled "Bridging Cultural Barriers," led by Simpson-Taylor and Rachelle Edwards, a third-year graduate student in clinical psychology. Participants learned about cultural differences through role-playing and interacting with each other as teams. In one exercise, each team had its own specific cultural behavior to perform while interacting with the other people in the workshop. The other teams weren't allowed to know each other's behavioral guidelines beforehand.

The cultural guidelines presented interesting problems. One team, prohibited from responding to any remark until seven seconds had passed, found it virtually impossible to get people to wait for them to talk. Another team had to offer everyone a cookie, and couldn't talk to anyone who refused to take one. This posed a problem when encountering another team, who couldn't say no but was not allowed to eat or drink anything offered to them.

After the dinner, Dorothy Simpson-Taylor, director of Purdue's Diversity Resource Office, directed the Diversity Workshop, which was held in the Krannert

Dorothy Simpson-Taylor

After the groups interacted based on their sets of rules, Simpson-Taylor explained the reason for the exercise. "Each team's guidelines have a cultural significance," she said. For instance, in many cultures, it is polite to offer every guest food or drink. "That's a part of African American households," Simpson-Taylor said. "My grandmother always offers people food. If they say no, she thinks there's got to be something wrong with them." And the seven-second rule? Because some cultures are more reflective, their people consider it rude, brash, and unthinking to respond to questions or remarks too quickly.

"If you aren't aware of the differences in people, you won't be able to deal with them effectively," Simpson-Taylor said. "You've got to be ready to give up a piece of who you are to accommodate someone else."

Edwards overviewed diversity programs at some of the top employers of Purdue students and explained why it is necessary for students to understand that diversity is an important issue in the corporate world. Most major companies like Ford, Ernst and Young, and Honeywell have diversity programs, she explained. In addition, diversity awareness creates significant business opportunities. By understanding other cultures, business professionals can more effectively market their services and products in today's global business environment.

In closing, Edwards explained that the college experience is important to developing diversity awareness. "If you're not prepared to deal with people who are different from you, you're not prepared to work in today's corporate world," she said. "It's not just about good grades."

"Our reply from students in the School of Management was very positive, and this event was a great stepping stone for future events," says Michael Nielsen, who coordinated the event. "Plans are in the works through SMC to continue these events. We are looking more toward heading a campuswide diversity event with some large speakers.

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