A Review of
Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity: All-Inclusive Multiculturalism and Positive Organizational Change
A Fully Inclusive Approach to Organizational Diversity
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In response to shifts in population demographics over the past several decades, American organizations have launched diversity initiatives to address their changing workforce. These diversity initiatives are not necessarily focused on their employees’ perspectives regarding how to approach diversity and have fallen short in their efforts. By analyzing existing approaches to diversity, this article promotes the necessity of framing multiculturalism as a positive organizational change that can benefit all employees.
Flannery G. Stevens is an Assistant Professor of Management at Villanova University. Her research focuses on the sources and consequences of inequality in organizations. Victoria C. Plaut is a Professor of Law and Director of the Culture, Diversity & Intergroup Relations Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. Her primary research interests include inclusion and belonging in the workplace and educational settings. Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks is a Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan. His work focuses on how culture shapes behavior in the workplace.
Methods and Findings
Stevens, Plaut, and Sanchez-Burks analyze two primary approaches for framing diversity initiatives in the workplace: the colorblind approach and the multicultural approach. The authors summarize findings from previous research on these approaches and propose an alternative, more effective framework: all-inclusive multiculturalism (AIM). The authors introduce the AIM framework and lay out strategies for implementation.
- The Colorblind Approach: “The colorblind approach to organizational diversity […] focuses on ignoring cultural group identities or realigning them with an overarching identity.” Colorblind diversity initiatives are very popular in the United States as they prioritize the organization’s identity and de-emphasize individual differences. Since colorblindness discourages people from affiliating with their personal identity groups, racially minoritized employees feel excluded in the workplace. Additionally, research shows that these popularized colorblind approaches are associated with both racial bias and a potential culture of racism within organizations.
- The Multicultural Approach: “The multicultural approach to diversity emphasizes the benefits of a diverse workforce and explicitly recognizes employee differences as a source of strength.” Multicultural diversity initiatives celebrate employees’ backgrounds and seek to decrease bias in the workplace. However, these intentions and goals of multicultural approaches are often thwarted by nonminority staff, who can feel skeptical and resentful of multiculturalism because they feel that it “excludes nonminorities and threatens unity.”
Historically, the colorblind approach and the multicultural approach are not productive in promoting workplace diversity because both minority and non-minority employees do not embrace them. The authors argue that it is essential that diversity initiatives gain buy-in from all staff to be effective and sustainable.
- All-Inclusive Multiculturalism: “AIM acknowledges that the demographic groups to which people belong have important consequences for individuals, it also explicitly endorses this vision equally across members of all groups, including nonminorities.” All-Inclusive Multiculturalism emphasizes that diversity is inclusive of all employees, of all races. Previous research conducted by one of the authors found that nonminority college students quickly associated multiculturalism with exclusion, but did not associate AIM with exclusion. These research findings demonstrated that study participants perceived that white people were included in All-Inclusive Multiculturalism, but excluded by multicultural approaches like colorblindness. Therefore, AIM can be used in the workplace to “diminish perceptions of social exclusion” for minority and nonminority groups and instead celebrate individual and organizational identity.
All-Inclusive Multiculturalism enables employees to incorporate their diverse backgrounds into their work. The AIM approach also promotes more open and comfortable communication among employees, strengthening their relationships.
- AIM Implementation Strategy 1, Communication and Language: The words that an organization selects for its diversity messaging impacts that organization’s perceived climate for inclusion. AIM-based language is inclusive and emphasizes that all employees are welcome to contribute to multicultural events and initiatives, not only minority employees. “For example, when asking for recipes for a multicultural picnic or cookbook, the invitation might mention interest in ‘family recipes from all employees’ rather than ‘ethnic recipes reflecting your heritage.’”
- AIM Implementation Strategy 2, Organizational Structures and Policies: Organizations should ensure that the teams leading diversity initiatives have diverse staff – including minority and nonminority members.
All-Inclusive Multiculturalism is a beneficial framework for organizations to approach diversity initiatives because it fosters positive connections between demographic groups, improves staff recruitment and retention, and contributes to the overall success of the organization. “In creating an all-inclusive, multicultural environment, organizations can create workplaces in which employees feel safe to innovate, knowing that their unique experiences and contributions are valued.” AIM approaches facilitate creating and developing positive relationships between and among demographic groups.
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