A huge increase in the number of immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa over the last 30 years has made the United States the most culturally diverse nation in the world. It is creating both challenges and opportunities for businesses.

Consulting Psychologist Mark Williams says the key challenge for businesses he advises is to comply with U.S. equal employment laws. These prohibit U.S. employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin.

New opportunities, he said, involve product marketing. Mr. Williams said, "Different cultural groups have more economic buying power, and there is a general sense that if people could get products and services targeted to them or sensitive to their cultural backgrounds, companies will sell more."

Mark Williams helps evaluate corporations' opinions on race and ethnicity. In general, he says, corporations tend to view multiculturalism through one of ten different "lenses." He said, "The 'assimilationist' employer, for example, wants all employees to leave their cultural differences behind when they come to work and dress, speak, and behave like natives. An assimilationist viewpoint is, 'They better act more American or they are not going to be successful. And when you do that, you start to violate some of the equal employment laws.'"

The "multiculturalist," on the other hand, goes too far in the other direction. This, Mark Williams says, is an employer intent on celebrating and preserving cultural differences. Mr. Williams continued, "They can be accused of lowering standards to put people into positions that they are not ready for, simply to promote diversity. They can be accused of reverse discrimination."

Frank Newport of the Gallup Poll, which conducted nationwide opinion surveys on multculturalism for Mark Williams, said the results point to a growing national tolerance for diversity. He said, "Lenses that lots of people tended to use were the "transcendent" lens, the "color blind" lens, which basically says Americans look beyond color when they look at various people, and people are willing to live with multiple cultures in a diverse society."

In contrast, Frank Newport says, very few Americans qualified by their survey responses as users of the "seclusionist" lens - the category of people who want to keep all races and cultures separate.