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Instructor’s Overview

Many I-O psychologists design and/or provide training on a wide variety of topics. Workplace diversity has become a strategic imperative in many companies across the country, from production floors to the boardroom. This module covers the multiple types of diversity that are encountered in today’s workplace. The materials include lecture overheads for a 15-20 minute lecture (include the "Challenges of Diversity" slides if you have extra time) and an activity that could be conducted in 15 minutes or could be expanded for additional student involvement and critical thinking.

The material in this lecture is based on the work of Susan Jackson and Associates in their book Diversity in the Workplace (see References).


Workplace Diversity

International Meeting Activity

This activity is intended to illustrate the assumptions we all make in simple social interactions. Break up the class into groups of 5-6 and provide each with a set of instructions. The instructions will differ from group to group and will focus on a set of cultural norms, specifically greetings, personal space, eye contact, and individualism/collectivism.


Greetings: instruct each group to do one of the following:

Use handshakes as greetings

Use a nod of the head as greetings

Use a loud "LA" as greetings


Personal space: instruct each group to do one of the following:

Maintain at least a 2-foot distance (by backing away if necessary)

Maintain a 6-inch distance between you and others


Eye contact: instruct each group to do one of the following:

Stare at people you talk with

Never make eye contact with people you talk with

Make initial eye contact but look away as discussion begins


Individualism/Collectivism: instruct each group to do one of the following:

Never leave the other members of their group

Never refer to oneself by name, only by group membership

Never stay with the other members of their group

Talk about oneself to the exclusion of other members of your group


By combining different levels of the four sets of cultural norms (some of which have a basis in actual cultures, others not), you can create groups different enough from each other to create some challenges for the groups. Give the groups 1-2 minutes together to discuss how they want to approach the meeting and then give the entire class their task.

The task that each member of the class must accomplish is introducing themselves to 5 other members of the class (from other groups) and learn one interesting fact about each person.

After 10 minutes of interaction, bring the class back together and review the discussion questions provided with the lecture.

If you have more time to devote to the activity, provide the groups with the four sets of cultural norms (i.e., greetings, personal space, etc.) without the behavioral examples and have them devise their own culture.



This exercise gives students an illustration of the sorts of problems that someone from a different culture encounters when they are unaware of or don’t understand the assumptions of a different group.


Workplace Diversity References


Carr-Ruffino, N. (1996). Managing diversity : People skills for a multicultural workplace. Cincinnati, Ohio: Thomson Executive Press.

Carr-Ruffino, N. (1996). Managing diversity: Skill builder. Cincinnati, Ohio: Thomson Executive Press.

Jackson, S. E., and Ruderman, M. N. (Eds.) (1995). Diversity in work teams: Research paradigms for a changing workplace. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Jackson, S. E., (Ed.) (1992). Diversity in the workplace: Human Resource initiatives. New York: The Guilford Press.


Suggested Films and Videotapes

Discovering Psychology: Sex and Gender (Annenberg/CPB Project)

This video covers how our gender affects how we will be treated and explores the different biological, psychological, and social environments of males and females.


Eye of the Storm/A Class Divided (ABC)

To introduce in-group and out-group effects, this video covers the classic demonstration of an Iowa schoolteacher who formed groups based on eye color. Through differential treatment, she creates in-groups and out-groups, to which the students respond as one might expect. Animosity between groups, feelings of victimization, and a vivid lesson about prejudice resulted.


Resolving Conflicts (CRM/McGraw-Hill)

Studies typical responses to interpersonal conflict and strategies for reducing conflict. The film presents three everyday examples of conflict and five alternative strategies for dealing with them.

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