Professor of Management Issam Ghazzawi delved into cultural and religious diversity and the lack of understanding and expertise within managerial functions in his faculty lecture Monday in the President’s Dining Room.
He specifically discussed the 2008 issue between Muslim Somali employees and Catholic Latino employees at JBS S.A., the largest meat packing company in the world, located in Nebraska and with headquarters in Brazil.
The main issue between the Latinos and Somalis, as Ghazzawi explained, was misunderstanding.
“Many companies are struggling with diversity because they are not used to it and do not have an understanding of different people’s beliefs, cultures or identities,” Ghazzawi said.
“The (JBS S.A.) management did not have the expertise to deal with the different backgrounds, colors or religions.”
In September 2008, the Somalis demanded time for prayer and dinner during their holy month of Ramadan.
JBS S.A. agreed to accommodate them, however, the Latinos felt that management was favoring the Muslims and protested for two days.
This issue may have been avoided if management received proper training of cultural understanding and extended this knowledge to their employees, since the key to the sustainability of diversity is to celebrate multiculturalism, Ghazzawi said.
“As your workforce changes in a short period of time, you can have major cultural problems arise,” said Jim Irwin, assistant vice president for treasury and budget and adjunct professor of the College of Business.
“It’s really fascinating that there’s an international company from Brazil, because (for) being an international company, you would think they have training and procedures for different cultures and backgrounds.”
However, as Ghazzawi said, the management at JBS S.A. attained no sense of multiculturalism or diversity.
Faculty then questioned if the University of La Verne itself obtains an understanding concerning different backgrounds and cultures.
Irwin explained that after working for the University for the past eight years, he was never trained on how to deal with the customs of different employees.
For example, a fellow employee at the University was Muslim, and he would miss certain office events for religious practices.
“People can perceive him as not having good spirit, when all he was doing was just following his religious belief,” Irwin said.
“One small thing we can do is educate faculty and staff.”
The University has implemented school policies between students and faculty members that allow for communication and understanding of religious practices.
“The religious accommodation policy creates space for students to talk with their faculty about a day that will be excused for religion,” said University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner.
“It allows faculty to be creative in making a plan with the student to make it work. Diversity work is lifelong work, and whatever we can do at the community level to educate ourselves will make our work place a better environment.”
Though this religious policy between students and staff is a step in the right direction, the main issue brought forward proceeding the lecture by several faculty members, like Irwin, is if the acceptance, understanding and sustainability of diversity and multiculturalism among faculty members themselves at the University is adequately implemented.
Deonah Cendejas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.