Challenges to Achieving Diversity

Barriers to Organizational Diversity

Companies seeking a diverse workforce face issues of assimilation into the majority group and wage equality for minorities.

Learning Objectives

Identify key barriers to integrating diversity within the business environment

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Despite various trends towards a more diverse workplace, barriers continue to limit progress. These barriers can be addressed by knowledgeable diversity management.
  • Communication within teams and work groups can be a substantial challenge when there is a high variance in employee background, as differing predispositions and cultures often result in different forms of expression.
  • When diverse employees do most of the acclimating, the value of having varying perspectives is diminished.
  • One example of a barrier to diversity is the glass ceiling. The gap between wages and education level in males and females offers concrete evidence that diversity barriers in the workplace still affect equal opportunities.
  • Understanding the barriers to effective assimilation, with a particular focus on communication and avoiding group biases, is a critical step in creating a more conducive environment.

Key Terms

  • assimilation: The absorption of new ideas into an existing cognitive structure.
  • glass ceiling: An unwritten, uncodified barrier to further promotion or progression for a member of a specific demographic group.

Despite various trends towards a more diverse workplace, some barriers still limit progress. Though the advantages of diversity are well established, difficulties from a managerial and organizational perspective can reduce optimal incorporation of different cultures. The implementation of a more diverse workforce faces obstacles in both the assimilation of new cultures into the majority and wage-equality and upper-level opportunities across the minority spectrum.

Communication Barriers

The challenges of assimilating a large workforce can be summarized as difficulties in communication and resistance to change from dominant groups. Avoiding miscommunication within teams and work groups can be a substantial challenge when there is a high variance in employee background, as differing predispositions and cultures often result in different forms of expression. These differences can lead to less effective teams and reduced synergy in work groups. Solving communication issues requires self-monitoring and empathy. Put simply, individuals need the presence of mind to think carefully about both themselves and their audience when working in groups.

Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is a slightly different barrier to assimilating more diversity in work groups, as it pertains more to the momentum of company culture. Diversity affects organizational norms by creating the need for flexibility and evolution towards a broader culture—a need that is sometimes met with resistance. Resistance forces minorities to bear the burden of changing to fit the existing culture, thereby limiting the initial value of having new perspectives in the first place.

In the organizational journal article ” Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: The State of the Field,” Marlene G. Fine comments that “those who assimilate are denied the ability to express their genuine selves in the workplace; they are forced to repress significant parts of their lives within a social context that frames a large part of their daily encounters with other people.”

Fine expands upon this concept by pointing to the energy involved in assimilating to these situational cultures, emphasizing how minorities have less energy to deal with their actual job responsibilities as a result. Arguably the largest downside of assimilation, however, is that when diverse employees do most of the acclimating, the value of having varying perspectives is diminished.

Wage Equity

The barriers discussed so far support the idea that opportunities, particularly at the higher level, are not equally distributed. This misallocation of human resources is called the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling represents an invisible barrier to employees of minority backgrounds, one that keeps them from achieving executive positions in corporations.

The consistency of the gap between wage and education levels in males and females offers concrete evidence that the barriers to diversity in the workplace still exist. Though this gap highlights gender inequality in particular, the strength of the empirical data suggests that a glass ceiling could apply to any minority group.

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Average Earnings by Educational Attainment in 2006: Wages grouped by gender and education reveal a “glass ceiling” for women in the workplace, and the wage gap between men and women only grows as educational attainment increases. Men with doctorate degrees earned an average of $125k and women with doctorate degrees only $92k in 2006.

Developing a heterogeneous company culture, through effective communication and well-informed organizational behavior concepts, is the most effective approach to achieving a more equitable and diverse workplace. Understanding the barriers to effectively assimilating, with a particular focus on communication and avoiding group biases, is a critical step in creating a more conducive environment.

Challenges to Achieving Organizational Diversity

There are various challenges to achieving diversity at individual, interpersonal, and organizational levels.

Learning Objectives

Recognize the difficulties involved in achieving higher levels of diversity in the workplace

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Diversity can include elements across religion, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability status, and other related factors. It can also include work skills and personality types.
  • Identifying which components of diversity are to be overtly emphasized and discussed, along with how to confine their definitions, is the first substantial challenge in diversity management.
  • One challenge of creating diversity is the various cognitive biases individuals in the organization may have about others similar to or different from them.
  • Managers encounter challenges in managing diversity as differences in cultural customs and norms emerge.
  • Offsetting these challenges while growing more international is an important focal point for companies.

Key Terms

  • Diversity: The quality of being different.

There are various challenges to achieving diversity, ranging from the difficulties of defining the term to the individual, interpersonal, and organizational challenges involved in implementing diversity practices. Due to the rapidly increasing amount of diversity in varying countries and companies, achieving diversity is of extremely high business value.

Difficulty in Defining Diversity

Diversity can include elements across religion, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability status, and other related factors. It can also include work skills and personality types. There are many ways, therefore, that people can be categorized into different ” groups,” and so identifying what categorization is most useful can be challenging.

Identifying which components of diversity should be overtly emphasized and discussed, along with how to confine their definitions, is the first substantial challenge in diversity management.

Cognitive Biases and Stereotypes

Once the definition of diversity has been decided and its different elements have been prioritized, the organization faces challenges in incorporating different groups. One challenge of creating diversity is the various cognitive biases individuals in the organization may have about others similar to or different from them. This is essentially a tendency to stereotype, which significantly narrows the worldview of the individuals within the organization. This reduces all of the potential benefits of diversity and empowers groupthink.

Homophily

Another challenge is related to a social behavior called homophily—the tendency of individuals to associate with others who are similar to them. This tendency can manifest not only in the recruitment and hiring processes within organizations, but also in the informal socialization patterns of individuals within the firm. It is quite common for individuals of similar backgrounds or beliefs to form bonds, and use these bonds to create preferential group settings. Managers must tackle this challenge through awareness, promotion of grouping based on differences, and clever delegation.

Interpersonal Miscommunication and Conflict

Another challenge faced by organizations striving to foster a more diverse workforce is the management of a diverse population. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people. Managers must understand the customs and cultural predispositions of their subordinates and carefully ensure they do not violate crucial cultural rules. It is the role of the managers to change the existing organizational culture to one of diversity and inclusion.

Communication, be it via language or cultural signals, is also a critical challenge in the interpersonal arena. Ensuring that all professionals (human resources, management, etc.) have access to resources which can assist in localizing or translating issues is a significant challenge in many situations. Communication issues can create complex misinterpretations, which can reduce efficiency in the workplace.

Diversity takes careful consideration to implement effectively. Offsetting the challenges involved in growing more international is an important focal point for companies.

Diversity Bias

Cognitive biases carried by individuals in organizations can create negative outcomes and reduce diversity of perspective.

Learning Objectives

Apply the four false consensus biases commonly identified to the value of avoiding diversity risks in business.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Individuals face various cognitive biases that can affect organizational life. A cognitive bias is the human tendency to make systematic decisions in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence.
  • The false-consensus bias is a cognitive bias whereby people tend to overestimate how much other people agree with them, and to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and that others think so as well.
  • Status quo bias is a cognitive bias in which the current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.
  • In- group favoritism is the tendency of individuals to provide preferential treatment to those of a similar perspective or disposition.
  • A stereotype is a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things, the basis of which may not reflect reality. Stereotypes can lead to misunderstandings, stifled innovation, and potentially damaging group behaviors, including discrimination.
  • These biases should be actively prevented and screened for within the work environment of any multinational corporation.

Key Terms

  • homophily: A tendency towards similarity in groups.
  • bias: An inclination towards something; predisposition, partiality, prejudice, preference, predilection.
  • diverse: Consisting of many different elements; various.

Individuals face various cognitive biases that can affect organizational life. A cognitive bias is the human tendency to make systematic decisions in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence.

Bias arises from various processes that are sometimes difficult to distinguish. These processes include information-processing shortcuts, motivational factors, and social influence. Several of these biases have especially impactful intersections with diverse groups. Examples include the false-consensus bias, status quo bias, in-group favoritism, and stereotyping.

Diversity Bias Types

False-Consensus Bias

A cognitive bias whereby people tend to overestimate how much other people agree with them, and to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and that others think so as well.

This bias is especially prevalent in group settings where people think the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population and, sometimes by extension, that those who do not agree with them are somehow defective. This can impair the integration of diverse perspectives and lead to misunderstandings.

Status Quo Bias

A cognitive bias in which the current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss. Status quo bias should be distinguished from a rational preference for the status quo, as when the current state of affairs is objectively superior to the available alternatives, or when imperfect information is a significant problem. A large body of evidence, however, shows that an irrational preference for the status quo—a status quo bias—frequently has a negative affect on decision-making.

In-Group Favoritism

A social process that may have links to cognitive biases but also to other social dynamics. This bias relies on a tendency toward homophily (the tendency of similar types of individuals to form groups), as in-group favoritism is the tendency for individuals to provide preferential treatment to those of a similar perspective or disposition. As this can include the allocation of resources, promotions and other critical organizational attributes, it poses a serious threat to inclusion (and the benefits of inclusion).

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U.S. male/female wage comparison 1979–2005: Women consistently make less than men in the workplace. It is likely a result, at least in part, of in-group favoritism.

Stereotyping

Stereotyping is categorizing—in ways that may or may not accurately reflect reality—specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. While stereotypes do not necessarily lead to prejudice and/or discrimination, expectations and beliefs about the characteristics of members of groups perceived as different from one’s own can lead to misunderstandings, inflexibility, stifled innovation, and potentially damaging group behaviors.

Taking these biases into account with regard to the business environment highlights some of the pitfalls that must be avoided in a diverse business environment. These biases should be actively prevented and screened for within the work environment of any multinational corporation.