E. B. King, J. F. Dawson, M. A. West, V. L. Gilrane, C. I. Peddie, & L. Bastin
In this paper, the researchers wanted to look at how much the diversity of an organisation reflected the diversity of its wider community, and if a better diversity match between organisation and community had any effect on organisational outcomes.
They begin by highlighting the fact that studies looking at diversity in organisations yield inconsistent results, and suggest that the question of ‘if diversity affects outcomes’ is better replaced with ‘when and how can diversity lead to positive outcomes?’ One situation where positive outcomes may be likely to occur is when diverse employees serve similarly diverse populations.
Based on underlying social psychological theories, they argue that unconsciously people favour members of their own personal social groups, which leads to a positive in-group bias, but conversely when organisational diversity does not reflect the diversity of the community it serves this can result in subtle disfavour.
In order to further understand this, the researchers looked at healthcare organisations, and the extent to which patients were treated with civility. They examined large amounts of data about 142 non-specialist UK hospitals, which provide healthcare to their local communities. They compared the organisations’ diversity based on large scale surveys done annually throughout the NHS with data about the diversity of the communities they served using UK census data. In addition, they took measures of the amount of ‘civility’ patients experienced in their interactions with hospital staff, based on annual large-scale patient surveys, and finally also assessed organisational performance using data from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the NHS regulating body.
Their analysis showed a number of interesting things. Firstly, they found that overall, ethnic diversity in hospital staff was related to a higher probability of incivility towards patients. However, when they looked at this in a little more depth, comparing the level of hospital diversity of front line staff to community diversity, they found that the closer they were, the more likely patients were to be treated with civility. Moreover, the greater civility that patients reported experiencing, the better the organisational performance of that hospital, as measured by the CQC.
On the face of it then, organisational diversity is most effective when it represents the community it serves. It is difficult to be confident that this relationship will happen in other organisational settings however, as there may be certain aspects of healthcare that mean the effects of organisational – community diversity are exacerbated. For example, people are often vulnerable in hospital, while staff often work with high amounts of pressure, and perform tasks which require a lot of concentration. In this situation, it may be that there is not a lot of time for meaningful interaction between staff and patients, where the negative effects of in-group – out-group stereotypes are often reduced. When the organisation represents its community, it is likely that it will have more experience in engaging with its community. It is possible that this happens in other organisations as well – the researchers only looked at hospitals here, but there is an argument to suggest that this can happen across many organisations - to a greater or lesser extent depending on the nature of the work.
An easy interpretation of these results is that organisational diversity can be a problem if it does not ‘match’ the diversity of the communities, and therefore organisations should undertake matching initiatives. However, the underlying message is that civility towards patients (and potentially clients in other organisations) is what is important. Therefore, a key task of organisations who want to enhance their performance is to promote civility which can in part be done through increasing understanding about those dissimilar from oneself. This has an important message for HR practitioners who manage diverse organisations. In many cases there is resistance and a backlash to the ‘politically correct’ diversity programmes. It may be more effective and better received for those who are tasked with devising and delivering these programs to focus on ‘civility’ rather than ‘diversity’.
- Looking at diversity in organisations yields inconsistent results, and suggests that the question of ‘if diversity affects outcomes’ is better replaced with ‘when and how can diversity lead to positive outcomes?’
- Ethnic diversity in hospital staff was related to a higher probability of incivility towards patients.
- However, when comparing the level of hospital diversity of front line staff to community diversity, it was found that the closer they were, the more likely patients were to be treated with civility.
- Greater civility reported by patients led to the better organisational performance of that hospital.
- Organisational diversity can be a problem if it does not ‘match’ the diversity of the communities, and therefore organisations should undertake matching initiatives.
- A key task of organisations who want to enhance their performance is to promote civility.
- Devising and delivering programs that focus on ‘civility’ rather than ‘diversity’ might safeguard against backlash to ‘politically correct’ diversity programmes.
- The researchers only looked at hospitals, but there is an argument to suggest that this can happen across many organisations.
King, E. B., Dawson, J. F., West, M. A., Gilrane, V. L., Peddie, C. I., & Bastin, L. (2011). Why organizational and community diversity matter: Representativeness and the emergence of incivility and organizational performance.
Academy of Management Journal, 54(6), 1103-1118.
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Lindsey, A. P., Avery, D. R., Dawson, J. F., & King, E. B. (in press). Investigating why and for whom management ethnic representativeness influences interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace.
Journal of Applied Psychology.
King, E., Dawson, J. F., Jensen, J., & Jones, K. (2017). A socioecological approach to relational demography: How relative representation and respectful coworkers affect job attitudes.
Journal of Business and Psychology, 32, 1-19