Cultivating Diversity Learnings through Multi-Identity Group Interactions

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Reviewed by Clare Fisher


This conceptual paper by Fujimoto and Härtel provides an overview of the shortcomings of traditional diversity training and proposes a set of criteria that allow for true diversity learning in the workplace. These criteria make up a framework devised by the authors that aims to allow staff of all backgrounds (both personal and professional) to meaningfully participate in discussions about organizational diversity in a group setting. 

Yuka Fujimoto is a Professor of Management and Associate Dean for Research and Postgraduate Studies at Sunway University. Her research focuses on the role of inclusion and diversity in fostering inclusive workplaces and society. Charmine Härtel is a Professor of Management at Monash University. Her research emphases are: 1) inclusive employment and entrepreneurship and 2) emotions and wellbeing at work.

Methods and Findings

The authors outlined the following shortcomings of diversity training that they sought to address through their alternate diversity framework:

  1. Group composition: Traditional diversity  training programs “do not promote crosscutting participation by those in the different hierarchical statuses, roles, and social groups, therefore potentially attracting only certain employees who are already open and inclusive of different employees.”
  2. Design: Traditional diversity training programs do not provide employees opportunities to engage in participatory learning with other people.
  3. Content: Traditional diversity training programs emphasize differences between social groups and may reinforce biases as a result.
  4. Evaluation: Traditional diversity training programs do not evaluate changes in how employees’ work relationships improve (or worsen) as a result of diversity initiatives.

Next, the authors lay out steps to implement an organizational diversity learning approach. This type of approach enables staff to make organizational decisions while gleaning learnings about diversity through group interactions. The authors provide guidance for these group interactions in three contexts: preparing for a group interaction, the conditions set during group interactions, and evaluating group interactions after they are complete. Within each of these three phases, an organization should enforce a set of conditions to enhance participant learning regarding behavior, cognition, and attitude. Behavioral learning is “different social groups learning the utility of an equal opportunity to develop and utilize multiple perspectives;” cognitive learning is “different social groups learning to obtain multiple perspectives and rethinking their own perspectives;” and attitudinal learning is “different social groups learning to enhance appreciation of different perspectives.”

Preparing for Group Interactions

  • Behavior: Create intentionally diverse teams across both demographics and organization hierarchies. This promotes interaction across social categories, such as race and gender, and work categories, such as job function and status.
  • Cognition: Teams should be “briefed about specific organizational goal(s) and be encouraged to exchange perspectives and knowledge with one another to achieve those goal(s).” Emphasis on organizational goals will shift focus from personal identities to the organization’s identity.
  • Attitude: A culture of “psychological safety” should be cultivated by letting participants know that they provide input anonymously. This encourages participants to be honest, and reduces bias towards the shared perspectives.

Conditions during Group Interactions

  • Behavior: A facilitator should moderate communication in meetings to ensure that participants are taking equal turns speaking and listening.
  • Cognition: A facilitator should moderate discussion around multiple perspectives and ask participants to identify “similarities, differences, and cross-connections” between contributions.
  • Attitude: A facilitator should clarify that personal stories and experiences may be shared if a participant wishes to do so, to deepen the group’s learning.

Evaluation after Group Interactions

  • Behavior: “The behavioral learning of participants may be assessed, for example, by anonymous self-reported and third party questionnaires that indicate the extent to which different perspectives were shared and the joint decision-making processes took place in each team.”
  • Cognition: A survey may also assess participant’s knowledge and understanding of the diversity of perspectives on issues within their team.
  • Attitude: Lastly, a survey may include questions that assess participants’ attitudes towards the group interaction experience. These questions are subjective, and ask participants to share their feelings and perspectives.


This paper’s authors argue that their proposed practical framework is distinct from previous approaches to diversity initiatives because it enables organization members to alter their perceptions of and attitudes towards people from backgrounds different from their own. They also claim that this approach provides organizations with staff-driven strategies to promote diversity. The format and context of an organizational diversity learning approach provides a safe space for minority staff to share their perspectives. “Over time, an ongoing organizational learning framework may gradually reverse employees’ assumptions of incompatible or conflicting perspectives with other social groups, helping the employees to jointly produce novel ideas and better work decisions at the group and organizational levels.”


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