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date: 05 December 2020

Managing Surface-Level Diversity as a Business Imperativefree

  • Jacqueline A. GilbertJacqueline A. GilbertDepartment of Management, Middle Tennessee State University


Organizational diversity is regarded positively, but haphazardly embraced. The absence of a cultural mandate at work (one which includes an emphasis on managing differences) can result in minority assimilation, and in either unintended bullying or in intentional abuse. Declining stock price, loss of goodwill, inability to recruit qualified candidates, and internal havoc marked by perpetuation of firm dysfunction may occur. These outcomes are especially alarming in the face of transformative population growth, in which minorities are predicted to become the demographic majority within the United States.

Inattention to employee misconduct prevents firms from experiencing enhanced productivity. Encouraging civil behavior is thus essential to engendering camaraderie in a diverse workforce, in which incivilities, or micro-inequities, are disproportionately targeted at minority groups. Management modeling of appropriate behavior (and swift action toward perpetrators for non-compliance) are necessary to achieve human capital integration.


Workforce diversity (as a business imperative) has been reframed from earlier arguments, which equated diversity in numbers, goals, timetables, and record keeping as a way to maintain an organization’s ability to bid on government contracts. Companies jumping on the diversity bandwagon (either from a desire to appear socially responsible and politically correct, from court order, or simply from a desire to meet the numbers) may have selectively introduced a diverse constituency, but may not have created a climate conducive to its success. Moreover, demographic projections and population growth shifts suggest that future work forces (within the United States) will become more diverse as a consequence of sheer numbers alone.1

The Changing Demographic

Business arguments for increasing diversity suggest several advantages of a heterogeneous workforce—including the ability to market to an array of potential customers, capitalizing on inherent workforce strengths. A diverse employee base (in terms of sales and manufacturing) can suggest product improvements that respect cultural differences. Maybelline’s “Shades of You” makeup, marketed by and promoted to women of color, catapulted the company into a major player in the ethnic cosmetics brand line (Robinson & Dechant, 1997). In a similar vein, Loreal’s “True Texture” makeup line was the brainchild of diverse work team perspectives that produced a product specifically targeted to women of color, who style naturally curly hair (Forbes Insights, 2011). Not surprisingly, diversity’s impact on the bottom line can be dramatic. Herring (2009) found positive relationships between levels of racial and gender diversity and sales, such that for every one-unit increase in racial diversity, organizational sales increased by approximately 9%; and for every one-unit increase in gender diversity, organizational sales increased by approximately 3%. Additionally, workforce diversity promotes heterogeneity in thought and perspectives, which translate to increased creativity and product breakthroughs. The Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce Survey (Forbes Insights, 2011) reported that in companies with 10 billion in revenues annually, 56% of executives surveyed equated greater diversity with enhanced innovation.

An inclusionary atmosphere can encourage employee connectivity. Forbes Insights (2011) reported that large companies (e.g., AT&T) have allowed for creation of employee groups that focus on minority issues, and foster organizational learning. Similarly, Avon has created Associate Resource Groups, which include The Asian Network, Black Professionals Association (BPA), AHORA Latino Network, PRIDE Network (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), and Avon Women’s Empowerment, all to promote cultural awareness and engagement among workers and to identify respective group issues (Avon, n.d). Diversity has been associated with increased return on equity with regard to diverse boards of directors (Barta, Kleiner, & Neumann, 2012), and enhanced business performance (Heskett, 2015). Cox and Blake (1991) suggest that organizational diversity can benefit companies on a wide array of criteria, including talent acquisition, marketing to diverse constituencies, enhanced creativity and problem solving, and organizational reaction time, whereas racial diversity has been positively associated with individual employee productivity (Richard, 2000).

Business benefits notwithstanding, future organizations may find that hiring a diverse workforce is necessary due to rapidly changing demographics. In the United States alone, looming business reality suggests that recruiting managers will need to hire from a diverse employee talent pool.

According to U.S. census data (Cárdenas, Ajinkya, & Léger, 2011), in a few decades Caucasians will no longer be the demographic majority—largely due to acceleration of Hispanic and Asian populations. The October 2011 published report revealed the following:

In eight U.S. states, children of color currently predominate among those under age 18.2

The cohort over 65 will grow faster than the population as a whole, and is expected to hit the 20% mark by 2050.

By 2050, one in three children within the U.S. will be born outside its borders (or will be the offspring of at least one immigrant).

In addition:

Approximately nine million respondents classified themselves as multiracial in the 2010 U.S. census (Rice, 2014).

Between 2000 and 2050, new immigrants and their children will account for 60% of projected U.S. population growth (Alsalam & Smith, 2005).

Those presently classified as minority are expected to comprise more than half the U.S. population by 2044, creating a demographic plurality within the United States (Colby & Ortman, 2015).

These numbers signify that recruitment of a diverse workforce makes sense not just from the resulting business benefits, but because companies (to stay afloat) will necessarily need to select from a demographic that looks radically different from today. Accelerating growth (of those now considered minorities) will shift U.S. census numbers to reflect the majority labor pool in the not too distant future. Hiring for diversity is therefore an impending certainty in the projected workforce.

The Challenge of Diversity Implementation

Attracting and retaining the best individuals from a diverse employee pool may be challenging, particularly for companies that have cultivated an exclusionary culture. In 2016 alone, 91,503 discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, n.d.). Cox (1991) suggests that firms reside in a diversity management continuum, with (a) monolithic companies affirming white male privilege, both structurally and in terms of in-house culture; (b) plural firms employing “window dressing” comprised of a smattering of diversity initiatives (designed to impress outside constituencies), with no real commitment to changing either culture or practice; and (c) multicultural organizations, which have overhauled their policies to integrate a true commitment to inclusion as a core value. But even when firms genuinely attempt to value diversity, their initiatives may backfire—as in the radical structuralist training approach (Nemetz & Christensen, 1996), in which majority employees are blamed for historical transgressions, and participants are pitted against one another (Bader, 2007). Dobbin and Kalev (2015) argue that the inflammatory nature of some diversity training programs creates unintended problems for managers (who may later retaliate against minority employees when deciding on promotions) and for employees, once latent stereotypic notions are enacted. Diversity programs (if administered poorly) may be perceived as efforts to control individuals, as opposed to create workplace harmony.

Diversity training’s “flavor of the month” nature suggests it is an unimportant initiative, one that can be easily discontinued in times of economic duress (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 2000). Failed diversity programs may also result when a handful of individuals in the organizational driver’s seat do the lion’s share of policy creation—with little input from those they are attempting to help. Most failed efforts hinge solely on the recruitment of minority employees—but not in developing practices to engage them in a meaningful way once they arrive (Medina, 2014). Results of inattention to diversity can be disastrous, especially in terms of the “revolving door” syndrome. Minority employees may be wooed and courted in an attempt to meet the numbers, but they may encounter an unwelcoming work environment that deters job longevity (Diversity InEd, 2014). Merely ushering in diverse workers will do little to increase demographic heterogeneity.

Despite rhetoric that espouses that diversity inclusion is good for business, the business evidence for retaining talented minority individuals appears weak. Although women comprise 20% of engineering graduates, 40% of them never pursue a career in that field, or quit the profession entirely (Silbey, 2016). Unequal turnover distribution can result not only from more tangible factors (such as lack of access to high visibility mentors, unequal compensation for similar work, or career plateauing and stagnation), but also from a more fundamental aspect of work culture that impacts individuals’ self-perception: that of bullying and uncivil treatment, targeted more at women than men, and at racial minorities in higher numbers than whites. A 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (Namie, 2014) revealed that 69% of perpetrators are men, and that the majority of those (57%) target women. Only 10% of men surveyed reported experiencing bullying from women. Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans all reported a greater degree of bullying than their white counterparts, with Asian-Americans most likely to blame employers for allowing emotional abuse to occur. The Workplace Bullying 2014 study also found that the majority of bullies (56%) are bosses.

Statistical discrimination (which occurs when observable group characteristics are substituted for information gathered from personal interaction) may result in the “token” effect, where minority workers are showcased in small numbers to comply with organizational mandates. Homogeneity begets homogeneity, with the dominant group in upper management—who are many times white males (Zweigenhaft, 2013)—making the selection, retention, and recruitment decisions, with a disproportionate impact on individuals who retain less political clout. Cortina, Kabat-Farr, Leskinen, Huerta, and Magley(2013), in their study of selective incivility (a type of modern discrimination specifically targeted toward women and racial minorities), found that women were on the receiving end of greater incivility than men, racial minorities reported greater incivility than whites, and race interacted with gender such that African-American women reported a greater degree of uncivil treatment than either African-American men or whites of either gender. Modern incivility is characterized by micro-inequities, which are difficult to pinpoint as originating from either racial or gender hostility and, cannot definitively be associated with demography. In all three experiments of Cortina et al. (2013), measured incivility as evidenced by “workplace barbs” was positively associated with intention to leave, and was one of the strongest predictors of turnover intentions. Portrayals of inequity in A Tale of “O” (Kanter & Stein, 1980) suggest that minority groups are systematically singled out for uncivil treatment.

Turnover and absenteeism, uncomfortable working conditions, and time siphoned from the bottom line are outgrowths of a culture where uncivil acts are tolerated and/or encouraged. Unconscious biases manifest (Gender Advisory Council, 2008) when organizations promote those who look similar to existing managers, and specifically, when few minority members are in positions to recruit. Relatedly, Clayton (2010) notes that benefits from diversity may not be automatically forthcoming. Findings from a pool of 10,000 respondents suggest that “derailing behaviors” (e.g., bullying and acts of incivility) resulted in individuals (the majority of whom felt that race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation were underlying poor treatment at work) exerting less than full discretionary effort. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) explains the cost of replacing a worker (in terms of training, lost corporate knowledge, and administrative expenditures) can be up to three times their salary (Churchman & Thompson, 2008).

Culture—The Achilles’ Heel

A firm’s culture is reflected in areas of policy and accountability, which can be either welcoming or inhospitable. Toxic workplaces are ones in which bosses are short-tempered, and in which employee tenure is short-lived (Gilbert, Carr-Ruffino, Ivancevich, & Konopaske, 2012). In a toxic workplace (one in which discrimination is tolerated), loyalty to the organization may actually be a perverse form of organizational commitment—a type of shamed silence in which those who disagree—but who see few options for exit—simply keep their mouths shut to avoid negative repercussions (Gilbert, 2011). A more common response from women to uncivil treatment may be “silencing [them]selves, making [them]selves dumb” (Rothleder, 1992, p. 176). Dysfunctional work cultures may proliferate despite the benefits that a diverse workforce provides. A McKinsey analysis (Hunt, Layton, & Prince, 2015) reported that firms in the top 25% (in terms of ethnic and racial minority representation) were 35% more likely to obtain above median industry financial returns. Similar proportions for gender diversity representation resulted in a 15% likelihood of industry returns that surpassed median earnings.

Toleration (and in the worst case scenario, encouragement) of office bullying is the impetus for a broad range of bad behaviors, outgrowths of which disproportionately target underrepresented workplace populations. Bullying behavior (and its accompanying lack of inhibition) is showcased in environments that have few if any sanctions for its occurrence. In A Tale of “O” (Kanter & Stein, 1980), those in the dominant group (the “Xs”) made rules governing the “Os,” who were expected to behave as supporters of X issues—to the point of ostracizing fellow Os who failed to toe the X company line. The corresponding work corollary is that not only may minority employees be deprived of managerial support, but they may be alienated from their peers who, as a survival strategy, side with X workers. Within minority groups lackadaisical, unscrupulous bosses who develop cliques can also create unfairness.

As opposed to mere phenotype, diversity is a set of characteristics that shapes our experiences and resulting self-concept. In his groundbreaking book Black Like Me, Griffin (1961) chronicles his six-week journey as a white man “passing” as black in the Deep South, and the torrent of hate-filled discrimination that accompanied his transformation. The resulting biculturalism in the black community has been described as code switching—or the necessity that blacks feel to modify their norms of appearance, expression, and demeanor so that they are in congruence with white expectations (Cross, Smith, & Payne, 2002). Over time, they may even arrive at the conclusion they have done something to deserve the abuse (Stanley, 2015). Pyke (2010) defines internalized racism as the absorption and acceptance of racist dogma perpetuated by white society, resulting in a type of self-loathing that is apparent in the disparagement of one’s own race. One manifestation occurs in East Indian society, where success, beauty, and status are associated with a more “European” appearance. Similarly, a lighter-skinned black, sneering at the darker individuals of his own race while speaking to Griffin remarked, “I hate us” (Stanley, 2015, p. 17). Straddling two cultures while experiencing belongingness from neither produces what W.E.B. DuBois described as “twoness” or “double consciousness.”

Hipolito-Delgado (2010) states that in their efforts to enculturate with mainstream society in the United States, Chicanas/os and Latinas/os develop negative opinions regarding people of their own race and skin type, views that can ultimately affect their identity development (Hipolito-Delgado, 2007). Similarly, Ragins, Townsend, and Mattis (1998) found that successful female executives had to demonstrate job competence and project confidence, while at the same time being careful not to upstage senior men (or appear too presumptuous) in stating their own demands. Some interviewees provided the following advice: “Don’t be too smart; don’t be assertive… Do not disagree and be correct (kiss of death!)” (Ragins et al., 1998, p. 30). On a participatory level, minority employees may find it difficult to express themselves (at work) due to negative past treatment, and/or alleged harboring of “subversive” viewpoints. Lower self-concept, withdrawal, and silence then preside in the very meetings that could benefit from their perspectives.

“Quiescent silence” may be a unifying theme among minority groups. In a study of Latino/Hispanics and Asian Americans, Kong (2016) found that mild paranoia mediated the relationship between perceived ethnic discrimination and outcome measures, such that some engaged in the self-preservative workplace behaviors of withdrawal and diminished voice. In a typical workplace scenario, voice refers to proactive efforts to express oneself, typically associated with high self-esteem and positive self-concept. The author defines “nonclinical mild paranoia,” as enhanced self-consciousness with regard to ethnic identity and potential threats of maltreatment. Thus, those who feel they will be punished for displaying authentic viewpoints will withhold them in environments they perceive as hostile. Voice may even be transfigured into surreptitious data gathering missions on fellow “Os”— those minority workers who are considered rabble rousers for workplace equity. In response to cognitive dissonance (and as a survival technique), Os may subsequently subsume X values (as the concept of stereotype threat predicts), behaving as one of the best weapons against individuals of their own race/gender/ethnicity/identity group. Correspondingly, Stauffer and Buckley (2005) found that both black and white supervisors showed a proclivity toward white employees on performance measures.

A vacuum of representation within firms, particularly at managerial levels, results in minority workers engaging in deference toward majority employees, proffering behaviors that are pleasing to company patriarchs (Ely, 1994). Paradoxically, “… when females perceived high levels of tolerance for workplace incivility, they decreased their work withdrawal behaviour” (Loi, Loh, & Hine, 2015, p. 169), suggesting that due to social pressures and prior socialization, women who have a high tolerance for workplace incivility acclimate to uncivil cultures by subjugating their retaliatory responses.

If the benefits of incorporating and retaining diversity have been studied and confirmed, then why do conditions persist that attenuate the selection (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2004), mentoring (Bielby, 2008; Constantine, Smith, Redington, & Owens, 2008), ratings (Stauffer & Buckley, 2005), and retention (Settles, Buchanan, & Yap, 2010; Wilson, 2005) of minority employees? The Center for American Progress notes that higher turnover rates are a result of workplace policies that foster either overt or covert discrimination (Kerby & Burns, 2012), such as lack of participatory mechanisms or inadequate (or non-existent) conflict resolution. Despite legal sanctions of affirmative action, racial discrimination remains pervasive, with a large percentage (40–67%) of surveyed minority individuals experiencing at least one incident of discomfort associated with their race in a two-year period (Schneider, Hitlan, & Radhakrishnan, 2000). Moreover, discrimination may contribute to more than organizational toxicity. According to Burns (2012), discriminatory impact may extend to curtailed customer contact, employee exit, and decreased overall profitability, resulting in toxicity for the bottom line; in other words toxic inefficiency. A report by Level Playing Field Institute found that 27% of individuals who were the recipients of workplace inequity stated they could not provide a positive employer recommendation (Level Playing field Institute, 2007).

Settles, Buchanan, and Yap (2010) explain that racial discrimination occurs because of hostility toward minority groups, or the increased feeling of camaraderie that exists in a homophilous cohort. Changing cognition to value differences may thus be one of the most powerful mechanisms to reduce workplace bias (Gilbert, 2001; Gilbert & Ivancevich, 2000). “Affirmative action … does not address how to value employee differences and use them to the organization’s advantage. As a result, minority employees are forced to adjust to the work values of the majority group” (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 2000, pp. 100–101).

Businesses that wish to retain employees and to stimulate production (regardless of whether they espouse diversity management, or simply have a penchant to comply with affirmative action mandates) must address a more fundamental issue of how individuals at work are expected to behave. A climate of mistrust, incivility, and general dysfunction perpetuates when employees perceive their workplace is a “free for all” in terms of workplace conduct. Toxic organizations are ones in which:


Internal havoc festers as a result of unaddressed conflict;


Feedback and managerial interaction are one down, as opposed to reciprocal in nature;


Bullies force groupthink through aggressive behavior, overt threats, and covert character assassination;


E-mail is abused as a type of electronic prod that is used inappropriately;


Sycophants and managerial favorites are believed without the courtesy of a two-way investigation or dialogue;


Discussing employees behind their backs is rampant and encouraged;


Tattling is employed as a form of micromanagement and managerial information seeking; and


Employees are not given the opportunity to comment on managerial policies, nor are their viewpoints or feedback solicited (Gilbert, Carr-Ruffino, Ivancevich, & Konopaske, 2012).

The Path to Culture Change

Change to value diversity occurs when positive relationships are elevated to a top priority. Unfortunately, the CEO initiated approach outlined by Gilbert, Stead, and Ivancevich (1999) is not widely practiced, as firms are more reactive in their response (Stainback & Tomaskovic-Devey, 2013). According to the authors, one reason is that the EEOC and OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) do not have the same power to inspect and enforce regulations as a result of recently curtailed jurisdiction. In addition, public sentiment that affirmative action has gone far enough (and in some cases too far) has reduced the appetite to stringently monitor organizational diversity progress within companies.

Cultural change to value diversity seems ephemeral, in that some companies have simply transferred the moniker diversity management to efforts that amount to little more than conducting an occasional diversity seminar or survey. Not surprisingly, the number of organizations holding managers’ accountable (in terms of integrating minorities and women) is approximately one in six (Stainback & Tomaskovic-Devey, 2013). Reactive mode results from apathetic managers whose firms are characterized by tokenism, work/family conflict, stagnation in product development and policy formation, and majority animosity toward minority individuals viewed as interlopers. Conversely, a cultural change to value differences (through management involvement) can induce community outreach, salary equity, organization-wide training, and organizational diplomacy afforded to both foreign and domestic constituencies (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 1999). Joshi, Liao, and Roh (2011) argue that both macro level variables (e.g., organizational typology of toxic vs. cooperative) and micro variables (e.g., gender, race) should be considered in tandem in a multi-level diversity approach, to provide more conclusive and encompassing results. In this vein, Nishii (2013) found that “climate[s] for inclusion” that emphasize “the engagement of whole selves and learning from divergent perspectives” (Nishii, 2013, p. 1760) were associated with less conflict within gender diverse groups.

A possible explanation for seemingly bad managerial decisions—ones that ultimately hurt the company with regard to diversity and decision making—is the defiant nature of mental schema. Schematic representations, once made and stored in long-term memory, may be resistant to change. Organizational diversity goals may be a possible antidote (Johnston, 1996), resulting in more balanced and accurate viewpoints. Correspondingly, managers can modify underlying motivation regarding employees’ information seeking strategies (Phillips, 2013) on both a macro and micro level. Goals can be included more broadly in company mission statements. As an example, Northrop Grumman mission emphasizes the role of leadership in capitalizing on diversity benefits (Northrop Grumman, n.d.). Sometimes conduct policies are amended in response to external events (ESPN, 2014), as in the case of the National Football League (NFL), whose broad-based goal encompasses the spirit of helping others reach their potential through respecting and celebrating their differences.

Theory suggests that a proactive approach to diversity management—one that is CEO initiated and maintained—results in transformation of the human resource function, increased organizational commitment, greater appreciation and acceptance of employee differences, and retention of qualified minorities. Industry leaders in this area actively seek ways to integrate diversity into the organizational fabric, as opposed to managing solely by decree (Gilbert, Stead, & Ivancevich, 1999). Specific ways that companies have changed culture to value differences include (in the case of PwC UK) infrastructure improvements and telecommuting, along with child care vouchers that provide flexibility in traditional work place arrangements. Change efforts were led by the chief executive, Sam DiPiazza, who (along with PwC’s Gender Advisory Council) made gender diversity a primary business initiative and mandate for managerial staff (Churchman & Thompson, 2008). Correspondingly, optimal group functioning may occur when individuals simultaneously are accepted within a group, and the group accepts and values them because they in turn have something to contribute (Shore, Randel, Chung, Dean, Ehrhart, & Singh (2011).

The diversity management paradigm (comprised of voluntary efforts to integrate employees), should consist of policy and practice that is frequently monitored, adjusted, and rated by its recipients. The lynchpin for affecting change thus lies in performance appraisal, which has the power to galvanize managers to modify their behavior [notwithstanding subjective performance criteria that leave “wiggle room,” allowing managers an organizationally sanctioned hiding space]. Subjective evaluation can lead to covert discrimination that is difficult to pinpoint (Alger, 2002).

Objective selection, promotion, and appraisal criteria are necessary to enable an atmosphere of non-discrimination at work (EEOC, 2016), but by themselves, they will do little to change underlying feelings toward individuals different from oneself. A change in employee worldview, spurred by company initiatives aimed at transforming stereotypes into sociotypes (referent points based on valid information) is necessary. Gilbert (2001) found that student research in an International Human Resource Management class (which included student interviews with family members, restaurant owners serving international cuisine, foreign students, foreign language faculty, and international grocery store and travel agency owners) promoted both an appreciation and an understanding of cultural differences, and a realization that learning about foreign practice enhances one’s ability to conduct business in an increasingly global market. One of the course aims was to enhance cognitive flexibility, or the ability to view events and persons from multiple perspectives. Firms that have not openly embraced diversity, or worse yet, have displayed open hostility to minority employees may have a preponderance of workers who possess rigid, more authoritarian worldviews, along with a more ethnocentric outlook. Gilbert and Ivancevich (1999) term the attempt to stifle differences through sidestepping organizational conflict pacification. To achieve attitudinal restructuring, diplomacy focuses on unifying workers through use of liaison, taskforces, egalitarian policies, annual diversity surveys, volunteering, service on boards of directors in which they are a minority, and promoting multicultural awareness.

Cultural change is evident in select organizational policies, procedures, and codes of conduct, including the NFL’s primary conduct goals, and the inception of The Women’s Interactive Network (Kaplan, 2012)—designed to facilitate interaction among its female employees. In the wake of a $54 million discrimination class action lawsuit, the chain restaurant Denny’s (Rice, 1996) hired a CEO (Jim Adamson) who forcibly rattled the existing management team by threatening to fire anyone found guilty of discrimination. Within a few months of his speech, only one third of the original management team remained.

From an organizational perspective, training is a first step in expanding workers’ cognitive schema. Instead of segmenting training sessions into targets and perpetrators, a more pluralist training plan creates a superordinate category of company identification (Gaertner, Mann, Murrell, & Dovidio, 1989) that galvanizes employees to focus on meta-issues that span employee groupings. A novel training approach (one that emphasizes the global nature of business and the importance of cultural understanding) partners companies with local colleges and universities. At one corporation, a student team (representing an International Human Resource class) presented the “Culture of India” (Gilbert, 2001), focusing on opportunities for the specific industry through researched discussion, skits, explaining and wearing local dress, and serving Indian food. Similarly, an Experiential Learning Principles of Management class presented their uniquely crafted civility policies to executives at Nissan, Franklin headquarters (Hart, 2013): “As part of their civility policy assignment, Gilbert’s student teams actually formed ‘consulting companies’ and spent the semester working on their team projects as well as dedicating hours each week for several weeks polishing their pitch, which included detailed PowerPoint presentations layered with audiovisual components, live role-playing exercises—and of course, business attire.” Student events can be videotaped, then distributed to subsidiaries nationwide.

Other ideas that promote cultural knowledge and inclusion in an engaging, participatory manner incorporate multicultural lunches, an anonymous suggestion box (named “Dr. Equality”), calendars that feature a different aspect of diversity/culture each month, diversity booths at a Family Day Picnic, grass roots participatory management to determine diversity policy, coffee mugs and calendars designed around a diversity theme, focused corporate-wide initiatives that emanate from a cross-sectional, cross-hierarchical team of employees who meet monthly to discuss diversity issues with the human resource manager at Equality Council meetings, employee newsletters that celebrate the diversity of the firm workforce in each issue (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 2000), and films shown at work with a guided discussion afterward (e.g., Janet Elliott’s “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” series of vignettes).

Lapid-Bogda (1998) terms initiatives consisting of networks, advocacy groups, steering committees, and diversity councils as part of a “diversity change infrastructure.” Non-threatening training results in a more fluid, dynamic outlook that contributes to stereotype reduction, positive multiculturalism, a “we” mentality, schematic recategorization, celebrating diverse perspectives as a source of competitive advantage, and idea generation aimed at solving cultural conflicts (Gilbert, 2001). Moreover, Triandis, Kurowski, and Gelfand (1994) suggest that positive multiculturalism results from the ability to engage diverse viewpoints within intercultural problem solving.

The above arguments suggest that firms should both value and embrace diversity. Walter (2014) explains that diversity is a change of mind, and not simply a redirection of policy—which should be included in the very fabric of organizational mission statements, procedures, and practice. Both individual level paranoia (experienced by minority employees) and bullying behaviors emanate from the same context—one in which uncivil behavior is tolerated, modeled, and/or ignored. Tertiary diversity characteristics of personality (Lapid-Bogda, 1998) may thus emanate from more primary ones that define individuals through appearance (e.g., race, gender, physical ability, and ethnicity), when the negative, dismissive, or passive-aggressive attitudes of employees who see diversity as an encroachment are internalized. A cycle of disrespect, fueled by seemingly gender and race-neutral micro-inequities hurled in a manner cognizant of the target may be self-perpetuating. Individuals on the receiving end of incivility are many times not in a position to retaliate, because they do not possess the same type of interconnected support team. Thomas and Ely (1996) argue that companies truly committed to valuing differences (and not to providing entrance to minority groups who are expected to assimilate) evoke sharing in work production.

Because minorities are on the receiving end of a disproportionate share of bullying episodes, they might be precisely the individuals who can broker civility policies that address shadow areas of bad behavior. Individuals who stray from the dominant norm not only in observable characteristics, but in personality (e.g., introverts, shy individuals, highly sensitive persons, and employees from cultures that value face saving and reserve) may be particularly susceptible to hostile, rapid fire bullying due to their reticence to react in kind, and as a result of their delayed processing time when lobbed by enemy insults. Diversity inclusion places emphasis on using employees (other than the dominant coalition) to pinpoint organizational problems, and to subsequently craft solutions that positively impact knowledge systems. Firms organized around learning and effectiveness allow differences in a diverse staff to change the company in unanticipated ways, because they are receptive to status quo disruption—and to continuous input culled from within a non-hierarchical egalitarian structure (one open to challenging company dogma and established sacred cows). Managers should then exhibit a “proactive search to understand” from multiple levels of diversity within their firms that lead them to not simply “ask new questions and to seek out new information, but, more important[ly] … to interpret existing information differently” (Thomas & Ely, 1996, p. 89). Leaders in companies committed to valuing and integrating diverse perspectives are aware that firms may purposely (or inadvertently) create their own unique patterns of dominance and subordination based on presumed superiority of some groups. Progressive, proactive leaders ensure their organizations remain safe places for employees to be themselves, rather than squeezing them into a culturally prescribed straight-jacket of “acceptable” behavior. They are also on the forefront of devising “out of the box solutions.” Stride Rite’s unique approach to helping with work/family issues resulted in education (provided by the elderly) to preschool age children within its intergenerational day care center. Realizing that it was dealing with the “sandwich generation,” the firm expanded its facilities to house both the young and elderly, with the unanticipated benefit of cross-germination of care between them (Teltsch, 1990). Work/family innovation resulted in Stride Rite being the first corporation to open an onsite day care center.

The Pygmalion effect suggests that if individuals are treated in ways that make them feel suspect, devalued, and/or marginalized, their resulting lack of esteem will be evident in their silence and reticence to challenge dominant player viewpoints: “Those judged unworthy of special attention may begin to act as if those are the actual conditions” (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 1999, p. 31) resulting in a negative, self-reinforcing cycle that merely confirms majority members’ suspicions. Firms that choose not to value diversity may over time become insular, perpetuating insensitivity to multiple modalities of expression. Friday and Friday (2003) argue that a major liability of diversity efforts is that they do not equip individuals with the skill sets to successfully navigate a multicultural workplace; these include adequate conflict resolution, and the ability to articulate oneself clearly through conversational give and take. Additionally, many of these efforts are too limited in scope to ensure lasting change (and they rarely incorporate periodic reinforcements to effectively cement desired norms). True commitment to diversity exists in an employee base that does not march forth lockstep in conformity of thought, one that is the result of organizational soul-searching that ascertains ways to create inclusion within every aspect of business practice (e.g., employee equality, participatory management, and continued contribution from a diverse employee base; Lapid-Bogda, 1998). A successful change effort, according to Friday and Friday (2003) takes stock of the following:


Exposure—an individual’s base-line feelings and stance toward diversity;


Experience—information culled as a result of organizational change efforts;


Knowledge—cultural IQ developed from interaction;


Understanding—development of a cognitively flexible mindset, which enables reciprocal sharing among diverse employees;


Appreciation—the ability to accurately formulate sociotypes and gauge valuable contributions from each culture;


Respect—sincere acknowledgement of the unique contributions of individuals different from oneself;


Modification of attitudes and behavior—incorporating diversity lessons into one’s behavioral repertoire; and


Healthy interaction within a multicultural workforce.

Change effort mechanisms should be both internal (to assess the existing diversity climate) and external (to benchmark companies that have progressed to “managing their diversity”—those with supervisors actively involved in implementing and assessing diversity strategies based on feedback). The more that organizations make diversity a part of their standard operating procedure, the greater the possibility that it will become established practice (Medina, 2014). Intel’s diversity strategy for example consists of efforts to increase non-traditional representation in its employee selection, start-up investment, gaming education, and supplier representation (Hatton, n.d.).

In their case study, Gilbert and Ivancevich (2000) found that a multicultural firm effectively managed its diversity through CEO initiated “trickle-down” cultural appreciation, which occurred by (1) appointing a vice president for diversity, and (2) creating “folklore” that demonstrated the importance of diversity gained from personal experience. Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) suggests that observations (particularly of those who possess power) will shape the viewpoints and resulting behavior of other workers. In firms where managing diversity is an imperative, CEOs and top-level managers engage in a multipronged change effort through modifying mission statements, communicating the moral imperative of creating an inclusive culture, and through follow-up surveys to assess the effectiveness of their efforts. Gilbert and Ivancevich (2000, p. 93) note: “Greater acceptance of diversity is achieved by using multiple efforts, constant reinforcement, and broad scale change initiatives.” Absence of a comprehensive, integrative diversity program can result in tensions among minority groups as well as between minority and majority cohorts.

Conversely, firms unsuccessful in their diversity valuation efforts, those that Cox (1991) terms “monolithic,” and even some of those lodged in the “plural” category, pacify the general public through superficial diversity programs—cast in annual reports as glossy pictures encapsulating a bare minimum mindset of “meeting the numbers.” Minority employees in these companies do not feel like an integral part of the firm. Discontinuity, low priority, displacement of latent hostility onto employee scapegoats, employee surveys that are little more than hollow exercises, and intermittency in diversity change efforts (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 1999) do not promote the deep learning and consequent change that can result from listening to dissimilar viewpoints. A lack of diversity may be symptomatic of organizational problems residing below the surface, such as “strong armed behavior” and a lack of civility by those who possess legitimate power and/or who are connected to powerful players. Apathetic management (or management that actively sets a poor example) can result in a toxic environment that costs companies millions. Pearson and Porath (2009) suggest that one bullying incident experienced by half of a workforce of 10,000 employees in one year can result in over $70 million in damages (experienced through lost productivity, absenteeism, worrying about the incident, turnover, etc.). Diversity acceptance is one aspect of expected employee comportment, as well as an implicit organizational touchstone. Merely reporting diversity numbers does not provide an accurate representation of reality within corporate walls.

Supervisors “walking the talk” in terms of anti-bullying (which translates to civil behavior across the organizational spectrum) is a crucial element of any valuing diversity initiative. A positive tone delineated by proactive top management (and communicated through inclusive human resource policy) will not only dissuade incivility, but will create a climate in which all employees are aware of how to behave in a respectful fashion. Derailing behaviors (such as micro-inequities), will cease to exist where the opposite is encouraged. A more paramount level of diversity—that of perspectives—will flourish when each individual feels they are both valued in their firm and can speak freely.


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  • 1. Diversity in this article refers primarily to phenotypic dimensions of race, gender, and ethnicity, as opposed to less secondary dimensions such as personality, job function, skill level, and communication style.

  • 2. Joshi, Liao, and Jackson (2006) refer to “higher status majorities” as whites and males, and “lower status minorities” as women and people of color. The spirit of this manuscript reflects these categorizations.