Cultural Diversity Workshops

Thanksgiving weekend–when families of diverse origins gather around the festive table–seems the ideal moment to explore cultural diversity. Our resident blogger HR expert Robin Paggi discusses how employers and employees can get the most out of cultural diversity workshops.

Cultural Diversity Workshops

I participated in my first cultural diversity activity when I was in the fourth grade. Our teacher had all the students with brown or dark eyes stand on one side of the room, then had all the students with blue or light eyes stand on the other side. I stood in the middle of the two groups not knowing where to go because I have a brown eye and a blue eye. Everyone stared at me and the teacher, unprepared for this little snafu, fumbled around trying to figure out what to do. I don’t remember what happened next, but I do remember learning that I didn’t like cultural diversity activities.

Ironically, one of the things I do now is teach cultural diversity workshops. And, I would venture to guess that most of the participants in those workshops are initially unhappy their employers made them attend. “Why do we have to listen to some lady drone on about respecting other cultures?” they probably wonder. “We already learned that in fourth grade!”

One reason such workshops are beneficial is because we often don’t understand what culture is or what it does to us. Culture, according to, is the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. In other words, we are taught how to behave, what to value, and how to celebrate by the elders of our group.

My culture taught me that it’s ok to talk about money, that pets are valued family members that are welcome on the furniture, and that Christmas presents are to be opened on Christmas morning. My husband’s culture taught him that it is uncouth to talk about money, that pets are animals that live outside, and that Christmas presents are opened on Christmas Eve while eating pizza (heathens!).

I’m only partly kidding about calling them heathens. That’s what our culture does to us. It teaches us that our way is the right way and people who do things differently are doing them wrong.

One workshop participant challenged me about that last statement a few years ago. She said she didn’t think her way of doing things was right and others were wrong for doing things differently because she was very open-minded. I asked whether she thought everyone should be open-minded. She answered “yes.” I pointed out that thinking everyone should be open-minded like her was essentially a “my way is the right way” mentality too.

I ran into that participant about a year ago. She told me that conversation was a mind-altering experience for her. That’s what cultural diversity workshops can do.

Author Charles F. Glassman said, “In a few seconds, we judge another person and think we know them. When, the person we’ve lived with the longest, we still don’t know very well—ourselves.”

We know that we’re supposed to treat people of other cultures with respect (or at least not harass or discriminate against them). But do we realize the impact our own culture has had on our worldview? Do we realize how often we tend to disparage others for doing things differently (even when they’re married to us)? The answer to those questions is usually “no.”

Cultural diversity workshops should mostly help us learn about ourselves. If you’re not inclined to attend one, just have a conversation about the things your culture taught you that differs from what others were taught. Be prepared though, because it could alter your mind.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

She last wrote for us on Managing Five Generations at Work, before that on Accommodating Religious Beliefs and before that on Politics and Work and before that on Emojis-A Workplace Communications Menace and before that on Alcoholism and the ADA in Employment. To read her previous columns, search Paggi in the search box at the top of this home page.


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