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Diversity in Business Class To Prepare Students for Iowa's Future Workforce

As Iowa becomes a more diverse place, the state's future business leaders will need to know how to manage a workforce that reflects that diversity. A new class offered by the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business will provide a starting point for many of them.

Diversity Awareness for Business, a 10-week course offered this spring, will demonstrate to students the importance of diversity, with a focus on a workplace setting.

"Survey after survey shows us the business world is becoming more diverse, so being knowledgeable about diversity issues in the broadest sense is important to be successful, and for business to thrive," said Carlos Serrato, an assistant director in the UI's Office of Student Life and course co-instructor.

Statistics bear out the fact that business is becoming more diverse. Projections show that by 2020, women will make up half the workforce, and one-third of all workers will be non-white. By 2050, whites will make up only half the entire U.S. population. Even now, minorities have enormous economic power, with Latinos' purchasing power nearing $600 billion a year, and African-Americans' purchasing power approaching $650 billion. And in 2002, 18 percent of Americans had some level of disability.

"Businesses know how important cultural diversity is, and will hire employees who can demonstrate they understand the issues," said Todd Parks, assistant director of the Tippie College's Undergraduate Program Office and the other co-instructor. He said the class is particularly important in a state like Iowa, where minorities make up less than 5 percent of the state's population, and at a university like the UI, where minorities make up less than 10 percent of enrollment.

"Many of our students come from places where they've never been asked to think about what it means to be white, for instance," said Parks. "But these are questions they need to ask themselves because they will confront these issues eventually. Iowa is becoming a more diverse place, and for those who leave the state, many will go to places where there is a more diverse population. And as the workplace becomes global, most of our students will work for companies that do business with customers in other countries, and they'll need to have basic cultural competencies to succeed in the international market."

Serrato expects that many of the students who take the class have a general understanding of the importance of diversity and want to learn more about it, but aren't sure where or how to ask their questions.

"A class like this allows them to participate in conversations about diversity and ask the questions they want to ask," he said. "In many cases, they just don't know how to start talking about diversity in a safe environment."

Parks said the class is being planned as more than a corporate diversity seminar, using cross-cultural teams, collaboration and a textbook. Students will learn about things like how to build effective cross-cultural teams in a business setting, and how to incorporate diversity into hiring decisions to ensure an employer hires the best employee.

"Since it's a 10-week course, students will be able to process and reflect on what they've learned, and come back and discuss it," he said.

William C. "Curt" Hunter, dean of the Tippie College of Business, noted that the class also provides an important component in achieving the goals set out in the college's and the university's strategic plans.

"One of our goals at the Tippie College of Business and the University of Iowa is to create a broader, more inclusive atmosphere for all people," he said. "A class like this is a step toward achieving that important goal."


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