Different Opinions and Insights Valued Smorgasbord Inclusion

Early years—1960s and 1970s.

This was the period of the civil rights movement in the United States. During this time, African American activists fought to end discrimination and to secure their legal rights as spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. It was also a time when the federal government passed a series of landmark equal employment opportunity laws: (1) the Equal Pay Act, which stated that women and men must receive equal pay for equal work; (2) the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in employment based on race, sex, national origin, religion, and color; (3) the Executive Orders, which required organizations that accepted federal funds to submit affirmative action plans that demonstrated their progress in hiring and promoting groups of people who had been discriminated against previously; and (4) the Age Discrimination Act, which protected workers over 40 years of age from being discriminated against at work because of their age.

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During these early years, the focus of diversity was on “righting the wrongs” experienced by people who were perceived as different because of their race or gender and who were also the targets of discrimination and exclusion. It was also a time when the government began forcing organizations to confront inequities between individuals and groups in the workplace. Thomas and Ely contend that these early years were focused on discrimination and fairness. Because of prejudice, certain demographic groups were not treated the same as other groups. To comply with federal mandates, it was important for organizations to ensure that all people were treated equally and that no one was given an unfair advantage over another person.

It was common during the early years to think of diversity using the term melting pot, a metaphor for a blending of many into one, or a heterogeneous society becoming homogeneous. Sociologically, diversity was thought of as an assimilation process where those from different cultures were expected to adapt to and, in many cases, adopt the customs of the majority group. Assimilation focused on the process of making people from diverse cultures come together to create one American culture. Healey and Stepnick point out that while assimilation is often thought of as a gradual and fair blending of diverse cultures, in fact it requires different cultures to blend in with the predominant English language and British cultural style. Although assimilation helps to bring diverse individuals together, it requires that those in the minority culture give up many, if not most, of their own values and traditions in order to adopt the dominant culture.

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