Diversity Management Basics (Part 3 of 3): The “Why”s and “How”s of Diversity Management

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Organisations may manage diversity in different ways, to varying degrees of success. Here, I'd like to expand a bit on this idea and share the framework I developed for thinking about approaches to organisational diversity management. (If you haven't already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this 3-part series, please do that first and then come back!) If leaders of an organisation claim to "value diversity", we might ask two fundamental questions:
  1. "Why do you value diversity?" and
  2. "How do you bring different people together at work?"
Let's approach each of these in turn...

1. Why do you value diversity?

There could be lots of reasons. Some might say that they want to have a workforce that mirrors their customer base. Others might say that they value equality and think that people of various backgrounds should be presented with the same opportunities. Yet others might say that they aim to have diversity of thought, which leads to innovation and agility in a rapidly changing business environment. And still others might just want to make sure they don't break anti-discrimination laws. 

You can probably think of other reasons as well, but I think we can cover all of these various reasons with two very broad answers...

a. "We value diversity because it is just the right thing to do."
b. "We value diversity because it helps us to achieve our organisational objectives."

Drawing on some pretty well-established social psychological research on values (Rokeach, 1973), we can say that organisations largely focused on the first reason view diversity as a terminal value, because it is the desirable end-state. These organisations will often appeal to their moral or social responsibility for maintaining a diverse workforce where all employees are given equal opportunities.
On the other hand, we can say that organisations largely focused on the second reason view diversity as an instrumental value, because diversity is "instrumental" in achieving organisational objectives. This is where a lot of the business-related rationales come in.

Of course, organisations could value diversity for both reasons, and we would say that such organisations hold a dual-value for diversity. 

There is more we could say about the consequences or effects of having these different types of values, because you can probably imagine that these different values drive different practices, policies, and behaviours in an organisation. But for now, let's just note that this is a pretty substantial cultural aspect for any organisation that claims to value diversity, and that we see a bit of variation on this across organisations.

I'll refer you to my academic work on this if you want to get more into the details and move on to the second question we raised earlier...

2. How do you bring different people together at work?

If we value diversity, it follows that we would try and get various people together into our workforce. However, there are different ways we can do this.

For example, we could bring in various types of people but require them to conform to our organisation's cultural norms and practices. We might justify this by saying that we are treating everyone equally--which we are--but we're doing this by treating everyone the same. In cross-cultural psychology, this is called assimilation (Berry, 1984; Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987). We may accept everyone, regardless of their differences, and we may want to achieve and maintain high levels of diversity, but we expect everyone to conform to the dominant culture.

On the other hand, we could bring in various types of people and allow--even encourage--them to express themselves and their differences. We would even allow the organisation--including its core values--to shift and change according to the backgrounds of the various groups and individuals in the workforce. There may not really be a "dominant culture", except to say that it is a culture that values diversity, expression of differences, flexibility, and adaptation. Everyone is treated equally, but they are not necessarily treated the same. They are still united in the organisation's core purpose and likely feel like they are a part of that larger group, but they also can retain and express the identities and group memberships that they hold dear. In cross-cultural psychology, this is called integration (Berry, 1984; Berry et al., 1987). We integrate various types of people into our organisation, allowing them to maintain and express who they are at work.

Putting the "Why"s and "How"s Together

Organisations may therefore value diversity as a terminal value, an instrumental value, or a dual value. Further, regardless of how they value diversity, they can choose to bring different people together at work by way of assimilation or integration. This means that there are 6 basic types of diversity management approaches, as illustrated below.

As I detail in my academic work, I generally recommend the dual-value integration approach. It recognises the business case, but emphasises ethical and social responsibility and is less susceptible to the potential downfalls associated with short-term thinking. It allows diverse perspectives and ideas to surface with ease. This approach best equips an organisation to leverage diversity towards its objectives while maximising the well-being of all members of its diverse workforce. Whenever I look at organisations' diversity management programs or discuss best practices, I usually have the dual-value integration approach in mind.

Concluding Remarks

In this three-part series, I've really only covered the basics, but it is important for us to have some kind of framework for thinking about diversity management.

Try to think about your organisation and understand how you might categorise its thinking and approach to diversity. Do you have practices or policies that promote a particular approach? Why would you categorise your organisation's approach that way? Is it appropriate for your organisation's purpose? What might you change and how might you change it?

Links: Part 1 :: Part 2 :: Part 3

Again, if you'd like to know even more about this way of thinking about diversity management, take a look at the article I wrote with Dr. Luis Martins in the Journal of Organizational Behavior by clicking here.

  • Berry, J. W. (1984). Cultural relations in plural society: Alternatives to segregation and their sociopsychological implications. In N. Miller, & M. B. Brewer (Eds.), Groups in contact. New York, NY: Academic Press.
  • Berry, J. W., Kim, U., Minde, T., & Mok, D. (1987). Comparative studies of acculturative stress. International Migration Review, 21(3), 491–511.
  • Rokeach, M. (1973). The nature of human values. New York, NY: The Free Press.
This article was originally published on the Centre for Workplace Leadership blog. Read the original article.