Organizational Practices that Promote Racial Equity through Positive and Intentional Interactions

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Reviewed by Clare Fisher


  • Diversity: “The representation, in one social system, of people with distinctly different group affiliations of cultural significance.”
  • Inclusion: “The degree to which individuals feel a part of critical organizational processes such as access to information and resources, involvement in work groups, and ability to influence the decision-making process.”
  • Equity: “The absence of systematic disparities … between groups with different levels of underlying social advantage/disadvantage—that is, wealth, power, or prestige.”
  • Generative Interactions: The key to realizing true inclusion and equity is through generative interactions. These are diversity interactions that “generate social connection and the deeper understanding needed to facilitate equity at the organizational level.” Generative interactions push against the status quo and provide the opportunity to establish new social understandings that embrace diversity.


Research has demonstrated that investments in diversity and inclusion efforts implemented by organizations throughout the United States have not effectively improved institutional racial equity or reduced staff and leader racial biases. This paper by Bernstein, Bulger, Salipante, and Weisinger identifies organizational practices that promote generative interactions and successfully advance institutional racial inclusion and equity. The authors argue that a particular set of ongoing implemented practices contribute to an organizational culture that supports these critical developments.

Methods and Findings

The authors conducted an extensive literature review, from which they synthesized key thematic findings and recommendations. Bernstein, Bulger, Salipante, and Weisinger identified three main factors that curtail diversity and inclusion efforts – self-segregation, communication apprehension, and stereotyping and stigmatizing. As they indicate, “these dynamics pose a major challenge for organizations. They imply that publicized or otherwise known attempts to increase diversity can engender negative stereotyping of underrepresented groups, even by the groups’ members themselves.” Accordingly, the authors proposed three organizational mitigation strategies:

  • Self-Segregation
    • Even if an organization is racially diverse, research indicates individuals tend to socialize within racially homogenous groups.
    • Mitigation: When organizations facilitate intentional interracial interactions between individuals they create more interethnic friendships are more likely to form as well as individual staff racial openness.
  • Communication Apprehension
    • Staff can feel uncomfortable engaging in cross-cultural communication.
    • Mitigation: Organizations can provide opportunities for people to improve their cross-cultural communication skills. The authors recommend “adaptive cognitive processing,” which involves repetitive (and sometimes uncomfortable) reactions to cross-cultural stressors in an effort to suppress stereotypes.
  • Stereotyping and Stigmatizing
    • Racialized group benefiting from affirmative action programs can be stigmatized by white people in power who feel threatened. This contributes to negative stereotypes about Black, Indigenous and staff of color’s performance and personalities.
    • Mitigation: Studies have shown positive outcomes related to cross-racial and cross-gender collaboration efforts, including  relational processes that restructure interactions from segregated to collaborative, create better stereotype awareness,  lower social group boundaries, and increase positive assessments of the capabilities of racially marginalized groups.

Additionally, the study details the set of organizational conditions that stimulate ongoing willingness, ability, and comfort for employees to interact across racial lines. These three conditions are:

  • Contact Theory: (Repeated) interaction between racial/ethnic groups, especially with shared goals and cooperation result in reduced prejudices and more equal social status. 
  • Avoiding Unfavorable Conditions: Interaction between individuals of different racialized groups should not feel forced.
  • Common Ingroup Identity: Group biases are reduced when individuals can relate to one another based on a commonality other than their primary social identity. This common ingroup identity transcends (but still recognizes) the differences among members of the ingroup.


The theory of generative interactions outlined in this study emphasizes that diversity and inclusion efforts do not only matter at the individual level, but are critical for organizational efforts for achieving inclusion. Organizations that maintain a culture of social exclusion, even unwittingly,  will maintain racialized stereotype and prevent equitable organizational culture, and also failSustained interactions, grounded in positive reinforced racial identity awareness, allow for cognitive and skill adaptation that individuals, especially who are white and in dominant racialized groups,  need to eliminate their prejudices and be more effective in the workplace.


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