Cultural Diversity in the Workplace - Sam's Story
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HR Management and Cultural Diversity in the Workplace   




In December, 2012, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Sonoma State University. Companies hiring for management positions were requiring years of experience which, as a recent graduate, I did not have. I decided to focus on retail companies and was fortunate enough to be hired by a large retail company. When I went to my interview, I was told I was overqualified for the position but that the company was opening a new store and they would hire me for that position and list me as a GP candidate. This designation is given to employees that have a college degree and potential for growth in a future management role. I accepted the position of Custom Experience Coordinator with the understanding that I would be considered for future management jobs. I got really good reviews from my manager and other employees.


After several months, my manager complimented me on my performance and asked if I would like to transfer to another store where there would be a greater opportunity to advance into a management position. He explained that the store had a history of having lots of challenges and he had faith that I could assist in making the store more profitable. His belief in my ability was greatly appreciated and I accepted the new position. When I arrived morale was terribly low and turnover high. I quickly assessed the current way matters were handled and made many suggestions for improvement. The managers all welcomed the new ideas but initially I had lots of resentment from other employees. I worked very hard to help the other employees understand and try the new ways. I told them only by trying would we be able to see if it was a good change.  If it didn’t then together we could come up with another idea that was even better.  Slowly the situation improved and we were working well together. Everyone felt valued and appreciated.


Everything went smoothly for about 10 months, revenue was up, staff performances were improved and, most importantly, everybody seemed happy at work. Then, there was a dramatic change in management. Our operations manager left the company for personal reasons, one of the merchandise managers suddenly decided to retire and another merchandise manager resigned because of family issues. I was asked by the company manager if I could run the entire store in the absence of regular managers. I remembered the faith my previous manager had had in me, the positive response to the changes I had already made at this new store and decided to test my ability. I told him that I would try my best and I would not let him down. For a month I ran the store.  I implemented team meetings with all the departments and every department willingly participated in the effort. For the first time at this store, there was no inventory in the processing department. There were smiles, laughter and joy in the workplace.


During this time, I was accepted into an MBA program. This presented a dilemma. I discussed the situation with my store manager who understood how important education was to me and encouraged me to take the opportunity to get my MBA. This would mean I would have to give up any possible management position while I was in school but the company wanted me to stay on as a coordinator. He explained that once I was finished with my MBA program I would be well placed to go into a management position.


He was very cooperative with fitting my work schedule around my school requirements. I was very grateful that he had faith in me and respected my work. Shortly thereafter, the company filled four vacant positions within the company. Three were filled with transfers from another store while one was a new hire. The new hire manager was assigned to my department. It was immediately apparent that the new manager was not comfortable in her role. She was distant from the other employees and was quite rude when addressing them. Additionally, she would not accept any suggestions or assistance in learning how the department worked. I tried very hard to help, making myself available to her for any questions or input she needed. The more I tried, the more disrespectful her behavior was toward me. She was constantly belittling me in front of other employees, mocking my accent, and questioning my motivations. She further accused me of being disrespectful to her when I attempted to explain to her some of the procedures in the department.  In one instance I was scheduled to train some new employees. To start the training, I needed a manager to create new IDs and passwords for the new hires.


Historically, this was done within minutes upon the request being received. When she did not respond to my request after quite some time, I asked another manager to create them for me as the training class was about to begin. That manager immediately created the required IDs and passwords. It was common practice within the company to seek assistance from another manager if the direct manager was absent or too busy to assist. After the training had begun, my manager interrupted the training by saying she needed to see me in her office. The new employees could clearly see I was about to be reprimanded for something. She was so upset with me, stating I didn’t know the procedure and that I had been disrespectful to her in going to another manager for the IDs and Passwords.


I tried to explain to her that this was common practice and, as she had not responded to my request by the time training was about to start, I had sought assistance from a different manager. She then stated she could barely understand me when I talked because my accent was “so bad.” She further said that she might ‘write me up’ for my ignorance of the procedures and for being so disrespectful to her. I was devastated by her reaction and I could not understand why she was attacking my work knowledge and my ability to communicate. I was only following the common practices within the company and trying to do what was requested of me. In fact, I thought I was helping her as my manager in keeping the training as scheduled. I had never before received any complaint about my ability to communicate. Although I had received only praise and support from previous managers and other employees on my work ethic and knowledge, I felt I must have done something wrong to deserve this treatment. For reasons unknown to me, the new manager did not perceive me as a productive employee and a positive representative for the store.


After much thought, I believed the honorable thing for me to do was to leave the company. This was such a difficult decision as I had thought my future was with this company. I was so ashamed I had failed the company. When I submitted my notice, management was shocked and asked why I wanted to leave.  I was too embarrassed to tell Human Resources the full story so I simply said that I was returning to school. For several months after resigning, I withdrew from my family and friends. I was depressed and ashamed, but mostly upset with myself for being unable to be a ‘good’ employee. Several of my co-workers kept in touch with me, still wondering why I had left. They confided in me that many of the employees, including other managers, had left the company or transferred to a different store because of the new manager’s lack of understanding on how to treat employees from various cultural backgrounds.  I know that this was said to make me feel better; however, I still believed that it was my responsibility to have the manager see me as added value to the company. Yet, the more I heard about her treatment of others, the more I felt she needed help in being a good manager and relating to other employees. In any event, the damage had been done.



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