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12.2: An Introduction to Workplace Diversity

  • Page ID
    12983
  • Learning Objectives

    1. What is diversity?

    Diversity refers to identity-based differences among and between two or more people1 that affect their lives as applicants, employees, and customers. These identity-based differences include such things as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age. Groups in society based on these individual differences are referred to as identity groups. These differences are related to discrimination and disparities between groups in areas such as education, housing, healthcare, and employment. The term managing diversity is commonly used to refer to ways in which organizations seek to ensure that members of diverse groups are valued and treated fairly within organizations2 in all areas including hiring, compensation, performance evaluation, and customer service activities. The term valuing diversity is often used to reflect ways in which organizations show appreciation for diversity among job applicants, employees, and customers.3 Inclusion, which represents the degree to which employees are accepted and treated fairly by their organization,4 is one way in which companies demonstrate how they value diversity. In the context of today’s rapidly changing organizational environment, it is more important than ever to understand diversity in organizational contexts and make progressive strides toward a more inclusive, equitable, and representative workforce.

    Three kinds of diversity exist in the workplace (seeTable 12.1). Surface-level diversity represents an individual’s visible characteristics, including, but not limited to, age, body size, visible disabilities, race, or sex.5 A collective of individuals who share these characteristics is known as an identity group. Deep-level diversity includes traits that are nonobservable such as attitudes, values, and beliefs.6 Hidden diversity includes traits that are deep-level but may be concealed or revealed at the discretion of individuals who possess them.7

    These hidden traits are called invisible social identities8 and may include sexual orientation, a hidden disability (such as a mental illness or chronic disease), mixed racial heritage,9 or socioeconomic status. Researchers investigate these different types of diversity in order to understand how diversity may benefit or hinder organizational outcomes.

    Types of Diversity
    Surface-level diversity Diversity in the form of characteristics of individuals that are readily visible including, but not limited to, age, body size, visible disabilities, race or sex.
    Deep-level diversity Diversity in characteristics that are nonobservable such as attitudes, values, and beliefs, such as religion.
    Hidden diversity Diversity in characteristics that are deep-level but may be concealed or revealed at discretion by individuals who possess them, such as sexual orientation.

    Concept Check

    1. What is diversity?
    2. What are the three types of diversity encountered in the workplace?

    References

    1. McGrath, J. E., Berdahl, J.L., & Arrow, H. (1995). Traits, expectations, culture, and clout: The dynamics of diversity in work groups. In S.E. Jackson & M.N. Ruderman (Eds.), Diversity in Work Teams, 17-45. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

    2. Thomas, R. R. 1991. Beyond race and gender. New York, NY: AMACOM.

    3. Cox, Taylor H., and Stacy Blake. "Managing cultural diversity: Implications for organizational competitiveness." The Executive (1991): 45-56.

    4. Pelled, L. H., Ledford, G. E., Jr., & Mohrman, S. A. (1999). Demographic dissimilarity and workplace inclusion. Journal of Management Studies, 36, 1013-1031.

    5. Lambert, J.R., & Bell, M.P. (2013). Diverse forms of difference. In Q. Roberson (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Diversity and Work (pp. 13 – 31). New York: Oxford University Press.

    6. Harrison, D.A., Price, K.H., & Bell, M.P. (1998). Beyond relational demography: time and the effects of surface- and deep-level diversity on work group cohesion. Academy of Management Journal, 41(1), 96-107.

    7. Lambert, J.R., & Bell, M.P. (2013). Diverse forms of difference. In Q. Roberson (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Diversity and Work (pp. 13 – 31). New York: Oxford University Press.

    8. Clair, J.A., Beatty, J.E., & Maclean, T.L. (2005). Out of sight but not out of mind: Managing invisible social identities in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 30 (1), 78-95.

    9. Philips, K.W., Rothbard, N.P., & Dumas, T.L. (2009). To disclose or not to disclose? Status distance and selfdisclosure in diverse environments. Academy of Management Review, 34(4), 710-732.