Building a Case for a Diverse and Inclusive Organization

Originally posted at www.thebusinessmediator.blogspot.com

I just read an article by European researchers who set out a model for creating an environment that is
inclusive in nature for all people. The authors frame their work in
terms of an ethical challenge, rather than cost avoidance or competitive
advantage. The authors want to capture those advantages, but also they
strive to construct a framework that “embraces diversity and fosters
humanity.”


Indeed, although only scratching the surface, the authors start to get
to the root cause of the failure of most organizations’ attempts to
build an inclusive space for their employees through assimilation rather
than inclusion: “The assimilation approach simply ignores differences,
and thus, no integrational efforts are made. Instead, women,
expatriates and minorities are more or less expected to assimilate into a
pre-defined and dominant corporate culture.” (Pless and Maak: 130) The
authors go on to suggest that the organizational model must take into
account several principles: recognition from the perspective of
emotions, solidarity and politics; it must also include reciprocal
understanding and mutual enabling. All of these elements, along with
trust, integrity and an “intercultural moral point of view” are
intended to promote discourse among those in the organization: “This
means for the organizational context that diverse groups with different
‘local realities’ need to be enabled to come together and create their
organizational story and shared cultural identity in an ongoing process
of common discursive action, built on mutual recognition.” (Pless and
Maak: 131-133)


To embed these principles and cause them to live within any organization is
a different matter. Thus, the authors set out a four-phased approach.
First, there must be awareness and reflection on the part of the
dominant culture that there are those who are being excluded by the
organization’s practices. Second, the organization must create a shared
vision of inclusion that includes many legal and moral principles of
inclusion such as communication, equal rights, and promoting work
life-balance. Third, leadership must model behaviors that are
consistent with the vision and engage others in discourse around
inclusion. Finally, systems and structures within the organization,
such as recruitment, performance appraisal and salary structures, must
change to reflect the new organizational norms and new members of the
organization must reflect those norms. (Pless and Maak: 135-143).


This four-phased approach, while appealing and logical, requires a high degree of commitment by an
organization’s leadership to implement. It must be executed well during
all four phases and there must be authenticity in terms of the
underlying motivations. There are two issues with the approach that are
immediately apparent: 1. Why would an organization go through the time,
effort and expense to put in place such a comprehensive approach? 2.
How would an organization measure its success following the realization
of this approach? Pless and Maak acknowledge these challenges, along
with the need to address power structures and discourse methodologies.


As to these questions, it is important to go back to where it starts, which is an a call for a
well-reasoned and broad economic justification for a diverse workplace.
Even under the best conditions, there would be few quantitatively
measurable effects that would support a long term investment in
diversity. And, there are few studies that track and measure an
organization that has imbued a diverse and inclusive culture over a
sustained period of time. A dollars and cents analysis is insufficient;
it is important to continue to strive for financial benefits without
marginalizing those whom we seek to include. While there is the risk of
objectifying the people for whom we seek inclusion, if done
thoughtfully, there are great benefits to an economic model. If we can
demonstrate a sustainable model within an economic context, it will
encourage those in power to endorse the notion of change. Therefore, it
is critical that we look for examples of quantitative and qualitative
success that can be a catalyst for change.


There are further elements that can enhance the success of an engagement process among diverse individuals.
In addition to a shared vision and objectives, creating outcome
interdependence helps to improve the workings of the group. “diverse
teams might benefit most in terms of reflexivity and team outcomes if
they are outcome interdependent, and that this effect becomes more
pronounced over time. . . . more diverse teams are more reflexive at
first, exploring whether members' viewpoints differ.” (Schippers: 798).
Jehn discusses the outcome interdependence in the context of a
people-oriented culture, a concept that is admittedly simplistic.
Nevertheless, Jehn and Bezrukova’s research “suggests that
people-oriented workgroup environments emphasizing collectivity and
group work can actually facilitate the alignment of actions of diverse
employees with desired performance outcomes.” (Jehn & Bezrukova:
2004: 720)


Next, focusing on the conflict management within the group and having a robust
system for navigating conflict and guiding it towards productive use,
rather than interpersonal animus, is a critical step towards creating a
holistic approach towards inclusion and openness within the group.
Several studies discuss the interrelatedness of diversity and conflict.
On one hand, the different perspectives that result from cognitive
diversity help to improve the quality of substantive decision making, as
multiple points of view lead to greater option generation, more
analytical comprehensiveness and qualitatively better decisions. In
contrast, there are problems that “high levels of diversity cause with
respect to communication, integration, and political behavior”. (Miller:
51) Such negative affect can then lead to lower levels of
satisfaction and commitment to the group.


There is no optimal group composition or methodology that predicts positive effects on group function.
Nevertheless, the models set forth above, along with other factors such
as group longevity, reflexivity and conflict management are shown in
some cases to moderate the potentially negative effects of surface level
diversity.


So, where do we go from here?

Despite the imperfect research and the inability of many social
scientists to really delve into the norms and assumptions that exist in
the workplace, it is worthwhile for research to continue to focus on the
positive effects of “demographic diversity” in the workplace. At the
risk of oversimplifying, it is because the ability to work together and
harness the perspectives of a diverse culture will enhance the quality
of decisions made and satisfaction gained by those involved. By
creating positive affect, there is a greater chance that people will
gain greater insight into the power of diversity. “[G]roup culture as a
social control system can moderate the impact of diversity on
performance by reinforcing positive views of diversity and rewarding its
presence and successful management . . . .” (Jehn: 706). There needs
to be further study to help highlight positive successes and provide a
framework that will serve as a model for both organizations and
communities.

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