A Review of
Establishing a Diversity Program is Not Enough: Exploring the Determinants of Diversity Climate
Organizations that implement diversity programming to promote leadership development as well
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Since 2020 we have seen more employers establish diversity programs to promote values of diversity within an organization. Yet, few have acknowledged existing research that has challenged the implementation and efficacy of diversity programs at the managerial and staff levels. This summary examines this earlier research by focusing on one study to show that these initiatives do not guarantee a strong diversity climate. This study defines diversity climate as the degree to which an organization’s structure and values are perceived to uphold diversity. Employers seeking to foster a strong and positive diversity climate at their respective organizations will benefit from an improvement in employee satisfaction, attendance, and commitment. A strong diversity climate also supports recruitment and retainment of diverse workforce, including Black and Brown workers.
Herdman and McMillan-Capehart evaluate the underlying influences on diversity climate and their impact on the effectiveness of diversity programs. A common diversity program in the workplace is an HR initiative to hire diverse staff. Another example of a diversity program is establishing employee resource groups for staff with shared identities to foster mentorship, support, and professional development. The authors hypothesize that the effectiveness of these types of programs is impacted by underlying culture and climate of organizational support for diversity. Herdman and McMillan-Capehart study five hypotheses focusing on racial diversity among staff and managerial attitudes about diversity to evaluate their effect on diversity program effectiveness and strength of an organization’s diversity climate.
An organization’s established policies and demographic makeup of management send an impactful signal to their employees that their organization is committed to achieving diversity. These factors shape employee perception of their organization’s diversity climate. Herdman and McMillan-Capehart intend to expand upon existing work in this field by investigating the impact of the demographic makeup of staff, management appreciation of staff and diversity, and the existence of diversity programs on diversity climate.
Andrew O. Herdman is a Teaching Instructor at East Carolina University’s College of Business. Herdman offers management courses at ECU and his research focus is on team behavior and performance in the workplace. Amy McMillan-Capehart is the Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development at East Carolina University’s College of Business. McMillan-Capehart’s work concentrates on diversity and organizational climate.
Methods and Findings
This study was conducted at the management and staff level, drawing participation from 163 independently owned and operated hotels under the same brand name and therefore sharing management and implementation of diversity initiatives. Participants completed questionnaires on the following topics, for a total of 3,578 responses:
1) diversity program information, 2) managerial values and demographics, and 3) diversity climate. The authors used the results from these surveys to score each hotel’s diversity programming, diversity climate, demographic diversity, and managerial values relating to diversity initiatives. Using these data, the authors tested each of the following hypotheses:
- Hypothesis 1: The existence of diversity programs contributes to a strong organizational diversity climate.
- Hypothesis 2: A diverse management team contributes to a strong organizational diversity climate.
- Hypothesis 3: A racially diverse staff contributes to a strong relationship between the implementation of diversity programs and organizational diversity climate.
- Hypothesis 4: Management appreciation of staff development and diversity (managerial relational values) is associated with the existence of diversity programming at that organization.
- Hypothesis 5: Management appreciation of staff development and diversity (managerial relational values) contributes to a strong relationship between the implementation of diversity programs and organizational diversity climate.
The analysis supported most of these hypotheses. (Hypothesis 2 was not supported in the authors’ findings.) The existence of diversity programs did contribute to a positive diversity climate, although diversity of the management team did not have a significant effect. Racial diversity of the staff also contributed positively to the relationship between the implementation of diversity programs and organizational diversity climate. Managerial values around staff development and diversity were also positively related to the existence of diversity programming and the impact of that programming on diversity climate.
This study concluded that the efficacy of diversity programs is driven by a complex set of factors. Leadership initiatives to establish diversity policies and programs legitimately demonstrate a commitment to staff development and diversity values in order to more successfully promote an organizational culture in which diversity is perceived as a true asset. Additionally, these commitments allow management to move beyond perceptions of diversity initiatives as “lip service” to a truly positive diversity climate.
Herdman and McMillan-Capehart acknowledge that further research should focus on these and other contextual factors that influence perceptions of organizational diversity. This study surveyed employees of one hotel brand, so it would be informative to conduct similar research across the hotel industry and across other industries. In future research, Herdman and McMillan-Capehart would recommend conducting a study with a larger participant base and direct researcher observation of survey distribution and collection, both of which were limitations in this study in particular. Lastly, further research on this topic should include an analysis of Human Resources programs and their effect on diversity climate.
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