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This paper will go over the importance of having diversity initiatives in the workplace. I will discuss three common approaches used when addressing diversity in the workplace: colorblind approach, multicultural approach, and all-inclusive multiculturalism approach. This paper will discuss the positive and negatives of each approach as well as examples. I will also discuss critiques and future research ideas.
Keywords: Diversity, Colorblind, Multiculturalism
Since the 1980’s specialist have suggested that employers designate diversity committees and task forces composed of people from different departments, professional backgrounds, and managerial levels (Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006). In order to not have dictatorial companies, diversity committees allow for the needs of diverse populations to be heard and respected. Robinson and Dechant (1997) listed many business reasons for managing diversity such as cost saving, winning the competition for talent, driving business growth, increasing creativity, producing higher quality problem solving, enhancing effective leadership, improving marketplace understanding, and more. It is clear that managing diversity is a key component for employees and employers. One important component of diversity initiatives is to make every employee feels that they are in an inclusive environment. Previous research shows that social exclusion is linked to aggressive behavior and decrements in intelligent thought (Baumeister, Twenge, & Nuss, 2002). Therefore, in order for businesses to keep their employees as productive as possible, it is important to make sure there are no feelings of social exclusion. Though, this task is not as easy as it may seem. For minorities in particular, seeing that they are underrepresented in middle- and upper-management positions makes it more likely for them to discount the principles of the diversity initiative and conclude that the organization does not value people like themselves (Avery, 2003). This data shows that not all diversity initiatives will be effective. Diversity initiatives have to be tested out to make sure that they are truly getting through with their intended message. Though, diversity can have a wide range of meanings. Some companies use the traditional Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition of diversity, which deals with differences in gender, racioethnicity, and age (Robinson & Dechant, 1997). Other companies tend to favor the broadest definitions of diversity, ones that encompass differences in gender, racioethnicity, age, physical abilities, qualities, and sexual orientation, as well as differences in attitudes, perspectives and background. (Robinson & Dechant, 1997). Many individuals rely on a more detailed definition of diversity considering diverse people as being in the non-dominant social system who have been traditionally under research and under served (Henderson, 1998). While there is no correct definition of diversity, the three diversity initiatives discussed in this paper seem to target a definition that encompasses creating a diverse work environment that is inclusive to everyone, specifically focusing on the inclusion of minorities and non minorities.
Diversity Approaches: 3 main approaches to diversity
The colorblind approach is similar to the well-known American concept of the “melting pot”. The melting pot implies that everyone melts together in one pot, meaning that people assimilate to become one. The colorblind approach seeks to have people see everyone as ‘colorblind’. This means not paying attention to the color of ones skin and seeing everyone the same. Efforts to promote a colorblind principle in which all people were to be judged as individual human beings without regard to race or ethnicity, was intended to eliminate racism and discrimination, promote justice, and generally improve the economic and social climate for Blacks in the US (Ryan,Hunt,Weible,Peterson, & Casas, 2007). An example of using the colorblind approach in the workplace is to structure rewards that foster greater nonminority-minority collaboration, bringing important deep-level characteristics to the foreground while pushing demo- graphic differences, such as racial and ethnic diversity, to the background (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008). Using a colorblind approach in the workplace entails pushing back ones background/culture aside and focusing on the persons individual characteristics. The way that this approach focuses on finding unique and similar qualities in one seems to have some promise at both the theoretical and empirical levels in facilitating positive intergroup consequences (Rosenthal & Levy, 2010). Focusing on a common in-group identity (“we”), which transcends intergroup distinctions (“us” vs. “them”) has been found to improve intergroup attitudes (Gaertner, Dovidio, Anastasio, Bachman, & Rust, 1993). Though, the problem with this approach is that there doesn’t seem to be an “we” group formed. The process of assimilation that this approach entails creates a resistance to forming a “we” mindset. Assimilation seems to have negative consequences, especially for members of lower status societal groups (Rosenthal & Levy, 2010). Research indicates that assimilation is not necessarily successful or desirable for non- dominant group members (Oudenhoven, Prins, & Buunk, 1998). This information should not be surprising as the process of assimilation strips ones identity and seeks to create an accepted identity. The colorblind approach seems to only identify with non-minorities. Nonminority’s who believe strongly in individual merit or have a high need to belong are likely to identify highly with an organization that espouses colorblindness (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008). A colorblind approach works best for making nonminority’s feel included but does the opposite for minorities. The idea of putting someone’s identity to the side does not lead to less bias but is actually associated with higher levels of increases bias (Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004). While the intentions of this approach were sincere, it does not seem to be an approach that truly values diversity.
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The multicultural organization is an organization that has within its vision, mission, goals, and values, explicit policies and practices that are intended to ensure that all members of the diverse workforce feel fully included and have every opportunity to contribute to achieving the mission of the organization (Jackson, 2006).A common thread through definitions and goals of multiculturalism is that race and ethnicity should be given attention (as opposed to being ignored) because prejudice develops in part from a lack of knowledge of and respect for other groups ( Rosenthal & Levy, 2010). This approach embraces the idea of having different cultures/backgrounds and makes it a mission to be aware of these differences in the workplace. Some examples of multicultural initiatives range from networking and mentoring programs that provide additional resources for demographically underrepresented groups of employees, corporate “diversity days” where employees backgrounds are celebrated, diversity luncheons where food of different nations is served, and workshops or seminars that focus on aspects of diversity (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008). Other companies may require or strongly encourage employees to attend diversity training, which is designed to diminish bias and increase cultural awareness among nonminority employees (Paluck, 2006). While minority groups appreciate the value put on their culture and individual characteristics, non-minority groups have found a weakness in this approach. One study found that as potential job applicants, nonminority’s reported less positive attitudes toward promotion opportunities and less attraction to an organization when policies were specifically framed as benefiting minorities than when the policies were more generally framed (James, Brief, Dietz, & Cohen, 2001). Studies have found that whites that associate multiculturalism with exclusion, are less likely to endorse diversity with this approach (Plaut, Garnett, Buffardi, & Sanchez, 2011). Whites feeling that they are not diverse enough may cause them to feel threatened as they don’t want to lose their social dominance or status and also causes feelings of exclusion. While attempting to value diversity, this approach does not make all employees feel valued.
The all inclusive multi cultural approach recognizes the importance of differences and acknowledges such differences, which is essential for gaining minority support (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008). The all inclusive multi cultural approach recognizes the important role that non-minorities play in workplace diversity, addressing their concerns of exclusion and disadvantage. Essentially, the AIM approach addresses deficiencies in the standard multicultural ideology without reverting to colorblindness (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008)By encouraging employees to feel included and valued, the AIM approach fosters organizational commitment and trust, internal motivation, and satisfaction for both minorities and non minorities alike (Morrison & Milliken, 2000). An example of using an AIM approach would be to use word choices in an organization’s diversity materials (e.g., mission statement, corporate brochures, etc.) that communicate the inclusion of all employees (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008). This simple change in an organizations diversity materials can make it clear that the term diversity is an inclusive term that is meant to target everyone in the organization. An example of an organization that has successfully utilized aspects of the AIM approach is IBM. D. A. Thomas’s (2004) case study in which the initiative resulted in development of cross-cultural competence, deeper knowledge of major markets, and attraction, development, and retention of employees. The AIM approach promises to enhance positive relationships across difference, resulting in heightened employee engagement and individual and organizational performance. (Stevens, Plaut, & Sanchez, 2008). By making sure non minorities know they are included in the diversity initiatives and still valuing individual differences, this approach seems to be effective for both minorities and non minorities.
Out of the three approaches described above, all-inclusive multiculturalism seems to have the best outcomes when making non-minorities and minorities both feel included in the workplace. Though, this approach needs to continue to be tested as it is a fairly new approach and there are few studies to prove the positive effects. As of now there have been no negative effects of this approach found but it is important to be continue to challenge our theories in order to make them better. One concern I see with this approach is that it changes the traditional concept that many people use to identify who is diverse. “Diverse populations are defined as people in the non-dominant social system who have been traditionally under research and under served” (Henderson, 1998). Changing this definition to include whites may lead to negative feelings from people who strongly identify with this specific definition of diversity. The simple fact that whites feel excluded/ threated by diversity shows that many of them use this definition as a construct for who is diverse. This definition makes whites feel excluded due to the fact that they are in the dominant social system and they have not been under research or under served. Including whites into the definition of diversity may lead to minorities feeling a sense of threat on their traditional belief of diversity and identification with their belief. They may see it as an invasion on their self-identity of being diverse and may react with negative attitudes or resentment. Another concern I have with this approach is that its simplicity may not be enough to get through to the people with strong bias and stereotypes. The purposes of diversity initiatives are to highlight individual differences, inter race collaboration, trust, respect, inclusion, and more. Simply making an employee feel included in the initiative does not mean that they are going to make the same effort to include others. It does not mean that they will make the effort to rid of their pervious stereotypes and bias. Though the all inclusive multi cultural approach has been proven to be a positive measure, it is important to continue to test this approach in various ways in order to eliminate any concerns with the approach.
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This approach has been tested on a basis on how employees feel included and respected but should continue to be tested on other variables in the workplace. Companies that are evaluating if their AIM approach is beneficial should differentiate between the effects the initiatives have on management and on employees. For example, It should look to see if management feels more connected to their employees, if they have more trust toward their employees, and if they have less bias/stereotypes toward their employees. On the other aspect they should look to see if the employees feel more supported, if they have better day to day interactions, if they give their work environment a higher rating, if they identify more strongly with the companies values, and if it actually increases their chances of reaching higher level positions. I believe a long term study of the AIM approach is also needed to see if these positive effects persist and if after a couple of years it leads to minorities and non minorities being at a level playing field.
It is also important to research this approach in different work settings. The AIM approach may have different outcomes in a school, hospital, corporate business, small business, etc. The AIM approach may work better when there is a small number of employees versus a large number or vice versa. It would be extremely useful to know which companies would be best suited for this approach.
In conclusion, all-inclusive multiculturalism seems to be a better approach than colorblind and multiculturalism. It is a better approach in the way that it makes all employees feel included and has positive effects with business outcomes. Though, researchers should continue to test the AIM approach with different individuals, in different settings, and with different methods.
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