Organizational Acculturation

Pamela Perkins

Reprinted from fall 2007 edition Diversity Works! Magazine

How do you like your salad? Drenched with dressing? A little dry? How about vegetables – mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes? Maybe something a bit more exotic like mandarin oranges or toasted almonds? Regardless of the specific mix, all salad lovers will tell you, they want to taste the unique flavors as the meld together in one delicious bite after another - otherwise, just eat lettuce! So how does this relate to the “salad bowl” analogy of organizational diversity? We are all familiar with the intent of this analogy to encourage individual contributions of all ingredients while being held together by the mission of the organization. The overriding question is - can we truly taste diversity within corporate decision-making, resourcefulness and innovation? The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005 revealed that Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to hold corporate management positions as cited in the charts below¹. In addition, there are vast numbers of ethnic co-cultures and other co-cultural groupings not represented in these statistics. Yes, the salad bowl has become a complex mix of flavors that become more multifarious in the current global mix of workforce dynamics. How can an organization ensure that their workforce is truly representative of the unique and brilliant voices of the global perspective?

Organizational Acculturation is an inclusion model designed to create organizational environments that incorporate and value varying points of view and identities. It is a concept introduced by Dr. Albert J. Mills in his writings on Gender Discrimination³ and refers to the process by which: co-cultures adapt to cultural patterns of the dominant culture without losing their unique customs, values or traditions. It requires adjustment on both sides of the cultural paradigm. It is a process of cross cultural diffusion, or give and take. Acculturation is the process of adapting to cultural attitudes, values and belief that are not your primary culture (enculturation). It differs from assimilation in that in addition to learning how to fit in, you are encouraged to bring your unique perspective and experience to the table adding to the collective mission.

The paradigm of corporate assimilation has long been preserved as a formula of inclusion within organizations historically and currently managed by white males. This model called for a major cultural shift on the part of co-cultures to absorb and become like the dominant culture while the dominant culture need do little more than tolerate the occasional anti-assimilation attitude, soon to be terminated. Most corporate analysts concur that assimilation has done little to advance the aim of inclusion in corporate America except for minute gains made by European American females. According to Catalyst, “the leading research and advisory organization working with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work,” findings presented in a July 2006 census found that:

The average Fortune 500 company had 21.8 corporate officers in 2005; on average, women held only 3.6 of these positions…Catalyst’s study also showed that women of color held just 1.7 percent of corporate officer positions and represented only 1.0 percent of Fortune 500 top earners in 2005, suggesting that little has been done to remove the multiple and intersecting barriers that hinder the advancement of women of color. Men of color fared only slightly better, holding 6.4 percent of corporate officer positions² (Ilene H. Lang, et al., Catalyst Inc., 2006).

Why hasn’t assimilation created the path to equal opportunity for co-cultural advancement in the corporate environment? The following metaphor may shed some light: it is nearly impossible for anyone playing another person’s game to effectively compete and win when they have no creative input in the rules or how the game is played. In addition, the creator maintains the liberty to change the rules anytime he sees fit. The playing field is created with only one winner in mind – the creator. In order to win, the opponent must think, act and play like the creator. In other words, become a mimic or an exact duplicate. For many diverse players, this is the problem. Most co-cultures have no interest in giving up their cultural heritage including language, traditions, customs or beliefs. They too are ethnocentric in their need for self-identification and preserving cultural heritage. We witness this throughout communities where Ethnic Americans and other co-cultures have created thriving surroundings that mirror their particular world view. It is not that they are anti-American, but they are anti-lose my culture! This is a direct reflection of the current “culture war” environment that many U.S. Americans feel we are experiencing as our numbers enlarge to 300 million.

So, what about the real recipe? How can organizations experience the full benefit of a diverse work environment and successfully move forward in the organizational charge? First, they must understand that real diversity is more than co-cultures providing support services for those who make decisions. Their input, imagination and innovation must be valued at the top levels. The decision-making tables and board rooms must be effectively diversified beyond the occasional person-of-color or wheel chair. Secondly, U.S. corporate world view must expand to embrace the pluralistic points of view they purport to represent. The Global Market encompasses an ideological and pedagogical framework that expands beyond linear and analytical approaches to innovation and problem solving. Thirdly, the organizational environment must embrace multicultural paradigms of inclusion and comfort.

Organizational Acculturation offers a working solution for inclusion. Examples of this formula in practice might be: “English only” on the work floor, but designated areas where groups are comfortable to use their first language; creating mentoring programs that aggressively groom and promote diverse members; or in-house celebrations or recognition of major co-cultural holidays providing total company inclusion. Intercultural Communication clinics would help diverse members learn American cultural values and their significance to the corporate structure and “way of doing things”, as well as how they affect bottom-line results. These same classes would offer the dominant culture a skill based formula of how to effectively communicate across cultures. Interpersonal and Nonverbal Communication clinics offer strategies for speaking and listening to others who differ in communication styles and perspectives.

The paradigm of Organizational Acculturation is a win-win model of organizational effectiveness which ensures success in the 21st century global market. As we expand our boundaries to deliver services and goods to people of all cultural groups and regions, it is imperative that we make room for their reality. We can not do this as long as we maintain homogenous boardrooms and structures. True diversity speaks to the realities of our heterogeneous nation and world in all its beauty and complexity. The recipe for a good salad is not just lettuce, but LET US create real inclusion that brings complimentary satisfaction and realized expectations. Add the dressing of the corporate mission, and the organization is on its way to recruiting, retaining and promoting the best pool of talent the human race has to offer. Eat up, DIVERSITY is served!


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2005). Charting the U.S. Labor Market in 2005. Chart 4.6. [Electronically retrieved October 17, 2006]

Ilene H. Lang, et al. (July 2006). Rate of Women’s Advancement to Top Corporate Officer’s Positions Slow, New Catalyst Tenth Anniversary Census Reveals. Catalyst Inc.,
[Electronically retrieved October 15, 2006]

Mills, A. J. (1988) "Organizational Acculturation and Gender Discrimination". In P. K. Kresl (Ed.), Canadian Issues, X1 - Women and the Workplace: 1-22. Montreal: Association of Canadian Studies/International Council for Canadian Studies.

About the Author:
P.S. Perkins is the Founder & CEO of the Human Communication Institute, LLC. The Institute offers clinics in Intercultural Communication – Organizational Acculturation Practices, and other Communication Management skills.
Visit the HCI, LLC website at

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