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Why Multiculturalism Fails and What It Means to Corporate America

Do people have a right to their own values when working for a company—or immigrating to a country?

Luke Visconti's "Ask the White Guy" column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Question:

Interesting situation in Europe (reference: this article about a Swiss Muslim group demanding that the cross be removed from the Swiss flag). It would be the same as Turkey allowing hundreds of thousands of Christians to immigrate and the Christians demanding the removal of the crescent moon from the Turkish flag. I wonder where you see this going in America?

Answer:

My first thought when I saw this particular article was "Oh, come on." Anyone who knows Swiss people and Switzerland would know that this is an article about a fringe of a fringe group. The Swiss have the most cohesive culture of any country I've been to. No immigrant could miss that—but I think the larger question is a good one.

This reader also asked me how I felt about multiculturalism, so I will answer both questions in this column.

Sure enough, the article cited by the reader was written by a person who is obsessed with Muslims and is busy whipping up fear. In addition, if you go through Nina Rosenwald (Hudson New York's editor in chief)'s connections, you'll see she also has an ax to grind when it comes to Muslims. I often use muckety.com to research people; it turned up connections that make this point clear.

However, just because this article is designed to provoke Islamophobia (in a publication devoted to Islamophobia) does not mean that the reader's overall point is wrong. I think multiculturalism, as practiced by countries in northern Europe and Great Britain, is a failure. Group performance, whether it be in a country or a corporation, requires clear values. Our Constitution and Declaration of Independence do a good job for our nation (such a good job that our Constitution is the longest-lived constitution in existence). The best statement of corporate values that I've seen is Johnson & Johnson's credo.

I think it's imperative that values be succinctly stated, rarely changed and frequently and loudly communicated to everyone (not just newcomers) that it is expected that we all adhere to the stated values. That means you can't be a good American and expect theocratic dominion, whether you are Muslim or evangelical Christian. The danger, of course, is that the value message can be hyper-extended and turned into Jingoism—or perverted and turned into McCarthyism. In a corporate setting, it can turn into self-justified amoral behavior and result in horrible repercussions for society at large, such as the subprime crisis and Greek crisis (Goldman Sachs "helped" the Greek government hide its debt with swaps)—or huge companies, like GE, which can manipulate tax law to pay no taxes. Overt bad behavior aside, I've observed that values-based problems are usually due to imprecise expression of values—or poorly crafted values in general. History shows us that the benefits of concise, clear communications of well-crafted values not only outweighs the potential dangers but creates immense strength.

In my opinion, multiculturalism is economically and politically detrimental. A society does not benefit by fostering enclaves of people who refuse to knit into the society as defined by its stated values. I know that some people will disagree with this, but I also feel that it is the nation's right to purposefully work toward limiting the operations of those who do not wish to live by the stated values, and that citizenship must overtly include living by our standards as defined by the foundation documents.

In an organization, this means that you cannot have overtly religious management meetings or associations (like the Air Force does) and expect top performance from your "outsiders." This destruction of performance is a breech of fiduciary responsibility in any organization. In a publicly held company, it is also a breech of fiduciary responsibility to stockholders, which should strictly eliminate detrimental-to-brand-value behavior such as making donations to anti-gay organizations.

Our Constitution defines a cumulative behavior. If we define our values as founded on believing people are created equally and that our rights are given by the creator to the individual, then I don't understand how you capture someone and fly them to another country to torture them and think it's somehow OK. I also think there's a broad swath of Americans who are profoundly ignorant of what the Constitution is. Recent immigrants have to learn what is written in the Constitution; they are likely escaping places that don't believe people are created equally and endowed by their creator with human rights and therefore cherish what America truly is. In other words, if you come from a place where you have no rights, you're likely to truly cherish the place that respects your rights—and that is certainly the path that the overwhelming majority of American immigrants have taken for hundreds of years.

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