Developing a Social Justice-Oriented Workforce Diversity Concentration in Human Relations Academic Programs

Developing a Social Justice-Oriented Workforce Diversity Concentration in Human Relations Academic Programs

Marilyn Y. Byrd (University of Oklahoma, USA) and Brenda Lloyd-Jones (University of Oklahoma, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0209-8.ch010
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There are limited human relations [HRL] programs in higher education in the United States, and even fewer that include an integrative concentration of social justice and workforce diversity. The purpose of this chapter will be, first, to identify the need for social justice and workforce diversity perspectives in HRL programs and then provide a philosophical and theoretical rationale for how an integration of these perspectives is critical to the advancement of HRL in praxis. Second, to develop students' awareness of ways that the organizational social culture operates to create social stratification and exclusion. Third, an experiential service learning component will be described as a necessary step for students to experience environments and contexts where social injustice is prevalent. The chapter will conclude with a proposal for a social justice workforce diversity certificate in HRL that recognizes professional competency and skill as a social change agent. This chapter advances the concept of organizational social justice (Byrd, 2012).
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The Need For Social Justice Perspectives In The Human Relations Academic Program

Over two decades ago, a study by the Rand Institute predicted that cognitive and social skills needed to work with a diverse workforce would be included among key skills sought by employers (Gray, Heneghan, Fricker, & Geschwind, 2000). The study further revealed that institutions of higher education were challenged in preparing students to develop these skills, to interact in diverse workplaces, and to be open to differing perspectives and worldviews (Hurtado, 2003).

Compounding this challenge is the recognition that some college students may not have had a significant level of prior interaction with some social identity groups, which further limits their skills to interact on a basis of social group understanding and mutual respect. Yet these students will be placed into learning groups and other scenarios where preconceived stereotypes obtained through media and other sources of miscommunication are their only basis of perception. It is disturbing, yet enlightening, that the college students entering academia with an unfamiliarity and lack of social interaction with diverse social groups will be members of the future workforce. Without facilitated dialogue in the learning environment that will help dispel these preconceived notions, students are likely to choose not to interact with diverse social groups; thus transferring this lack of understanding to the workplace.

Students with rigidly held stereotypes about diverse groups will most likely perpetuate these perceptions in the workplace (Hurtado, 2003). Social justice perspectives are needed to prepare students for the realities of dealing with the complex world of difference and to respond morally and respectfully to a multicultural workforce. The goal is to promote students’ learning about themselves first as members of a rapidly changing and demographically diverse society and then to develop an intercultural comprehension of what it means to be a professional who provides service in response to the needs of this changing society.

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