Do Race and Gender Matter Within the Context of Organizational Culture Change?: An American Case Study of Assessing Identity Group Consensus in Organizational Culture Perceptions

Abstract

Many organizations approach managing diversity as a culture change process. Some, in fact, incorporate managing diversity efforts into their continuous improvement and TQM programs. The present study describes a case study of a major Fortune 1000 corporation that had undertaken a major culture change process targeted at empowering employees, building trust and mutual respect among workers, eliminating unnecessary work procedures, and continuously improving processes associated with all aspects of the organization’s businesses. While not initially designed to directly address diversity management issues, the culture change process, nonetheless, had a number of indirect effects and implications for the organization’s diversity efforts, which had recently been initiated at the time of the study. The SYMLOG culture assessment tool was used to assess the company’s organization culture. The results are reported by identity group membership categories and implications for diversity management programs are discussed.

Introduction

Whites and people of color who work together on a day-to-day basis frequently view the world from such divergent perspectives that they seem to be, and actually are, often talking different languages and experiencing their working environments and essential relationships from totally different perspectives. Organizational cultures consist of the informal norms, or mental models (deeply ingrained assumptions and images that we carry in our minds of ourselves, other people, and institutions), that support or hinder diversity and that have differential impact on different groups in the organization (Holvino, Ferdman, & Merrill-Sands, 2004). Johnson, Lee, Lee, O’Connor, Khalil, & Huang (2007), and Ultewilligen, Waller, & Pitariu (2013), and other scholars suggest that mental models determine what we see and also shape how we act.

From a cultural perspective, modern organizations are chaotic and much of the failure to maintain high quality, productivity and performance can be attributed to an inability to manage the issues that flow from the newly diverse workforce. On the other hand, when specific work is done to create an environment that is sensitive and skilled in managing these cultural differences, we find organizations characterized by high levels of teamwork, trust, clear communication, high morale and loyalty, and commitment to the organization’s vision, mission and goals (Denison, Hooijberg, Lane, & Lief, 2012).

The best approach for creating such an environment is often elusive, and practitioners vary widely in their specific recommendations for achieving such an environment through various diversity initiatives. The path is oftentimes murky. However, adding to the earlier work by Alderfer and his colleagues at Yale (see e.g., Alderfer, et al., 1980; Alderfer, 1982; Alderfer, et al., 1983), recent empirical evidence has begun to emerge in the literature to guide our thinking and practice in a systematic, comprehensive, and conceptual way, especially as it relates to racial diversity in organizations (cf.,Kravitz, 2010; McKay, Avery, Liao, & Morris, 2011; Richard, Ford, & Ismail, 2006; Richard, Murthi, & Ismail, 2007; Roberson & Park, 2007). Certainly, the books by Cox (1993), Cox & Beale (1997), Thomas & Gabarro (1999), and Bell & Nkomo (2001), among others, have offered some very useful insights. More recently, the books by Bell (2011), Davidson (2012), and Ferdman (2013) offer more contemporary useful ways for understanding and developing diversity competency in organizations. Nonetheless, additional empirical studies, grounded in appropriate theory, are needed to guide our thinking and action in the area of assessing diversity initiatives in organizations.

The present case study’s focus is on the research application of a particular framework that has been used extensively in organizational development practice in the USA and abroad, as well as in classroom instruction, in areas unrelated to issues of race or gender diversity. This framework is SYMLOG (cf. Hare, Sjovold, Baker, & Powers, 2005). SYMLOG is a promising assessment technology that can reinforce the research findings from other methodologies and can provide insight and direction to organizations on how to proceed or to facilitate various forms of d ivers it y a n d it s effec t ive m a n a gem ent in organizations.

In recent years, a number of multi-national corporations in the USA have approached the topic of managing diversity as a culture change process rather than simply training. Some, in fact, are incorporating managing diversity efforts into their continuous improvement and TQM programs, resulting in a dramatic increase in the level of morale and sense of “belonging” of the employees. The present case study discussed herein describes how SYMLOG assessment procedures were used to diagnose the organizational culture of a major Fortune 1000 corporation (herein referred to as XYZ Corporation) that, at the time the data was gathered, was approximately two years into a major culture change process targeted at empowering employees, building trust and mutual respect among workers, eliminating unnecessary work procedures, and continuously improving processes associated with all aspects of the organization’s business. While not initially designed to directly address diversity management issues, the culture change process nonetheless had a number of indirect effects and implications for the organization’s diversity efforts.

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