“Diversity Change in Organizations: A Systemic, Multilevel, and Nonlinear Process”, by Jorge Gonzalez of the University of Texas-Pan American, was the most frequently read article in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science in 2010. Jorge has provided additional background to the article:
Workplace diversity scholars acknowledge that diversity leads to positive and negative effects, and their research considers moderators and contextual circumstances that explain when and why these occur. With this paper, I wanted to explore an alternative perspective to explain how organizations become diverse thanks to the positive outcomes diversity has and in spite of the negative ones. This led me to think of a dynamic model that would integrate ideas from the diversity and the organizational change and development fields. I wanted to explain how diversity as an outcome of a management initiated change process that can gain upward momentum, lead to inertia, and even decline and gain downward momentum.
The paper focuses on the path by which organizations become diverse, including its experience with positive and negative outcomes and their impact on future diversity change efforts. For instance, an organization can succeed in attracting people from underrepresented demographic backgrounds, but this may lead to conflict and end up in turnover. In other words, organizations may recruit a diversity workforce, but lose it later. The problem is that this experience does not just leave the organization where it started. It imprints a negative memory that can harm future diversity initiatives. However, organizations can also learn from success. If diversity leads to positive outcomes such as innovation and creativity, it can breed other positive outcomes such as intergroup learning and a climate of inclusiveness. This in effect leads to a positive diversity reputation, which leads to more recruitment and more diversity, and so on.
I think people are reading this paper because it provides a dynamic way to see workplace diversity. Intergroup conflict resulting from a diversity initiative backlash can be seen as resistance to change, and increased knowledge and creativity can be seen as outcomes of increased intergroup contact. Working on this paper has led me to do more research on the impact of increased diversity on organizational learning.
I also think this paper is important for managers and change agents because they can see how management-led efforts to increase workplace diversity can have their intended effects, but also lead to unintended adverse side effects. Examples of both are discussed in the paper. This means that diversity management and planned change overlap. Planned diversity change involves relying on positive intended effects and building upon them, but also working to reduce the impact of the adverse effects on future change efforts.