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Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity
All-Inclusive Multiculturalism and Positive
Flannery G. Stevens
University of Michigan
Victoria C. Plaut
The University of Georgia
University of Michigan
As the demographic composition of organizations in the United States rapidly shifts,
such that minority groups are becoming the numerical and economic majority, organi-
zations are grappling with ways to manage diversity in the workplace. The two forms
of diversity initiatives most frequently implemented in organizations—colorblindness
and multiculturalism—have clear benefits; however, each also contributes to feelings
of exclusion by different organizational members. In this article, the authors describe
problematic issues raised by these two approaches to diversity and offer an alternative
perspective—all-inclusive multiculturalism, or the AIM model. The authors posit that
AIM serves as a catalyst for positive and effective organizational change through the
development of social capital and positive relationships at work and enables organiza-
tional members to grow to their fullest potential.
Keywords: multiculturalism; colorblindness; organizational change; diversity; inclusion
The U.S. workforce, owing to the steady increase of demographic minority
entrants, is in a rapid state of change. Populations typically underrepresented in
organizations, particularly ethnic minorities and women, have become an integral
THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE, Vol. 44 No. 1, March 2008 116-133
© 2008 NTL Institute
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 117
part of the workforce.
Leveraging this diversity has important implications for the
promotion of positive organizational change through its facilitation of both individ-
ual and organizational performance (e.g., Brief, 2008; Earley & Mosakowski, 2000;
Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). The need to create organizational environments recep-
tive to diversity is therefore greater than ever. We argue that workforce diversity—if
approached in a way that maximizes inclusion and minimizes resistance—presents
organizations with opportunities to create change that fosters the positive human
potential of their employees.
Numerous organizations have recognized and attempted to respond effectively to
the demographic shifts in the workforce by launching diversity initiatives, hiring
diversity consultants, and offering an array of diversity training programs (Kalev,
Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006). A similar focus on these demographic trends and their
implications for organizations is found among academic researchers, as seen in more
than 450 articles on “diversity in the workplace” just since 2000. Scholars and prac-
titioners have not, however, reflected sufficiently on whether—and to what extent
how—organizational approaches to diversity promote employee receptivity to these
initiatives. We posit that this lack of critical reflection has curtailed the effectiveness
of diversity efforts. The current article complements and extends existing theory on
how organizations manage demographic diversity in an effort to gain competitive
advantage (e.g., Richard, 2000; Wright, Ferris, Hiller, & Kroll, 1995), specifically
through their attempts to foster positive organizational change. We do so by reex-
amining fundamental cultural assumptions within organizations about how best to
create a positive climate at work (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003; Dutton &
Ragins, 2006; Gittell, Cameron, Lim, & Rivas, 2006), particularly by drawing on
diversity as a resource (Ely & Thomas, 2001).
In contrast with a problem-focused approach (typical of organizational develop-
ment and change initiatives), viewing diversity as an opportunity rather than as a
threat creates possibilities for increased organizational understanding (e.g., Jackson
& Dutton, 1988) and positive, organization-wide change (Cooperrider & Sekerka,
2003). The current article focuses on the potential of workplace diversity as a cata-
lyst for positive organizational change, a broad concept that includes analyzing and
exemplifying instances of positive deviance (e.g., Cameron et al., 2003; Spreitzer &
Sonenshein, 2003), virtuousness (e.g., Cameron, 2003) and endorsing an affirmative
The first two authors contributed equally to this article; author order is random.
Flannery G. Stevens is a doctoral student in management and organizations at the Ross School of
Business at the University of Michigan. She is interested in various issues concerning diversity, ranging
from targeted recruitment to organizational diversity initiatives, the formulation of transmission of feed-
back across demographic lines, and top management team heterogeneity.
Victoria C. Plaut is assistant professor of psychology at The University of Georgia and on the leadership
team of the Center for Research and Engagement in Diversity. A social and cultural psychologist, she studies
attitudes toward diversity and the implications of various approaches to diversity for intergroup relations.
Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks is an assistant professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of
Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His research focuses on how cross-cultural inter-
actions can be maximized in a global economy by understanding differences in how people interpret
social emotional aspects of work.
bias, or strengths-based orientation (e.g., Cameron et al., 2003; Clifton & Harter,
2003). We articulate a new organizational premise that heightens the potential for
diversity to provide fertile ground for organizational change. Specifically, we explic-
itly address aspects of diversity as a “positive core” of organizational life—a key
component of positive change (Cooperrider & Sekerka, 2003). In doing so, we expli-
cate how, if approached inclusively, diversity creates a context in which individuals
can create high-quality relationships across difference (Davidson & James, 2006)
and approach the best of the human condition.
In the current article, we discuss the two dominant approaches used by organiza-
tions attempting to change their climate surrounding diversity—colorblindness and
multiculturalism—and how well these approaches address the unique needs of both
minorities and nonminorities to affiliate with the organization.
In doing so, we
briefly review extant research concerning diversity in the workplace as well as the
benefits and limitations of the colorblind and multicultural approaches. We also dis-
cuss the implications of these two diversity perspectives for organizational function-
ing and for the individuals embedded within these organizations. Our discussion
reveals a stark fundamental paradox in these two approaches that appears to limit
their effectiveness. To reconcile the limitations of both the colorblind and multicul-
tural approaches to diversity, we introduce a novel approach to managing organiza-
tional diversity—what we refer to as all-inclusive multiculturalism (AIM). As we
describe in the following, this approach offers organizations a way to overcome the
limitations of the colorblind and traditional multicultural ideologies by cultivating
feelings of employee inclusion and thus provides a starting point for positive orga-
nizational change. Finally, we discuss implications for practice and describe a spe-
cific empirical agenda intended for future research.
DIVERSITY IN ORGANIZATIONS
Research over the past 50 years has shown little consensus about what constitutes
diversity or how it affects organizational processes and outcomes (for a review, see
Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). A common definition of diversity refers to the degree
to which a workgroup or organization is heterogeneous with respect to personal and
functional attributes (Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999). The extant literature on orga-
nizational diversity has produced inconsistent results on effects of diversity, with
some researchers finding beneficial effects, such as increased creativity, productiv-
ity, and quality (e.g., Earley & Mosakowski, 2000; Ely & Thomas, 2001; Polzer,
Milton, & Swann, 2002; Swann, Kwan, Polzer, & Milton, 2003; Watson, Kumar, &
Michaelsen, 1993), and others finding a detrimental influence on organizational
outcomes—particularly through process losses, increases in conflict, decreases in social
integration, and inhibition of decision-making and change processes (e.g., Chatman,
Polzer, Barsade, & Neale, 1998; Jehn et al., 1999; Morrison & Milliken, 2000;
Westphal & Milton, 2000; for a review, see Mannix & Neale, 2006). Following from
such inconsistencies, diversity has been dubbed a “double-edged sword” for organi-
zations (Williams & O’Reilly, 1998).
118 THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE March 2008
In our discussion of diversity, we focus on the distribution of race and ethnicity
among interdependent members of a work unit (Jackson, Joshi, & Erhardt, 2003;
Pelled, Eisenhardt, & Xin, 1999),
whether a work group, department, or organiza-
tion. In doing so, some of the heretofore mixed results of workplace diversity and its
influence on organizational functioning are resolved. Specifically, the current article
focuses on ways in which racial and ethnic diversity can be drawn on as a resource
for building on employees’ strengths; cultivating a climate that fosters respect, com-
passion, and openness; and ultimately, gaining a competitive advantage through gen-
erating feelings of inclusion of both minority and nonminority employees.
Previous research has emphasized how individuals utilize social categorizations
based on demographic differences to make sense of their diverse environments (e.g.,
Hogg & Terry, 2000; Polzer et al., 2002), which in turn undercut social cohesion and
integration and leads to dysfunctional conflict (Polzer et al., 2002). Creating a posi-
tive diverse work environment is indeed quite challenging, but organizations need
not be at the mercy of changes in the demographic composition of the workforce and
the conflict that often accompanies these changes. Rather, in line with a strengths-
based approach (Clifton & Harter, 2003), organizations can take charge by creating
an environment conducive to embracing and fostering the benefits of such diversity,
starting with the implementation and subsequent institutionalization of best practices
that center on the self-affirmation and inclusion of all employees. Specifically, by
creating a backdrop against which interracial interactions are interpreted as oppor-
tunities for learning, as opposed to being tense and filled with discord, employees
have the chance to build supportive, enduring, and resilient relationships (e.g.,
Davidson & James, 2006). We posit that by fostering such relationships, an all-inclusive
work environment promotes individual thriving, defined as “a sense of progress or
forward movement in one’s self development” and comprised of two dimensions of
personal growth—learning and vitality (Spreitzer, Sutcliffe, Dutton, Sonenshein, &
Grant, 2005, p. 538).
Diversity Approaches and Initiatives
Organizations cultivate and manage diversity in a variety of ways. Many organi-
zations institute daily practices that demonstrate their commitment to fostering
diversity at work through a series of what can be referred to as “diversity initiatives,”
whereas other companies eschew these multicultural initiatives in favor of a “color-
blind” approach to diversity.
The colorblind approach. The colorblind approach to organizational diversity is
intertwined with American cultural ideals of individualism, equality, meritocracy,
assimilation, and “the melting pot” (Markus, Steele, & Steele, 2000; Plaut, 2002;
D. A. Thomas & Ely, 1996; M. Thomas, Mack, & Montagliani, 2004) and focuses on
ignoring cultural group identities or realigning them with an overarching identity
(Hogg & Terry, 2000). This “realignment” is achieved by placing emphasis on a super-
ordinate goal or identity, such as a common affiliation with the broader organization,
which typically increases an individual’s organizational identity while decreasing the
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 119
salience of individual differences (Chatman & Flynn, 2001). For example, an organi-
zation can structure rewards that foster greater nonminority-minority collaboration,
bringing important deep-level characteristics to the foreground while pushing demo-
graphic differences, such as racial and ethnic diversity, to the background (Harrison,
Price, & Bell, 1998). The irony in this practice is that diverse employees are discour-
aged from acting and thinking in the unique ways associated with their social cate-
gories, which does not allow them to utilize fully the viewpoints of their distinctive
social group memberships.
The colorblind approach appears as a dominant model for diversity in mainstream
American culture and organizations (Plaut & Markus, 2007; D. A. Thomas & Ely,
1996). This approach stresses individual accomplishments and qualifications over
any other factor, such as diversity, and preserves the preference for unity and cohe-
sion. Nonminorities who believe strongly in individual merit or have a high need to
belong are likely to identify highly with an organization that espouses colorblindness
(Plaut, Sanchez-Burks, Buffardi, & Stevens, 2007). In turn, these individuals are
more likely to remain with the organization once employed as their identification
with the organization’s approach to diversity grows into identification with the orga-
nization as a whole (e.g., Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail, 1994).
Although the colorblind perspective in principle is grounded in the ideals of
meritocracy and equality—in essence, “treating all people the same” (Plaut, 2002)—
evidence suggests that this approach is commonly interpreted by minorities as nei-
ther colorblind nor color neutral but rather as exclusionary (Markus et al., 2000).
Members of the majority group typically endorse a colorblind approach to diversity
because it is perceived as more inclusive of their group; minorities on the other hand
distrust colorblind initiatives because they are perceived as being exclusive of their
group. Moreover, minority distrust of colorblind ideals is exacerbated in cases where
organizations do not appear to be especially diverse in the first place (Purdie-
Vaughns, Steele, Davies, & Crosby, 2006). Within organizations perceived to ignore
or devalue racial differences, frustration, dissatisfaction, and conflict will likely
ensue, particularly for minority members high in racial identity (Chrobot-Mason &
Thomas, 2002). These negative effects on organizational attachment are not surpris-
ing given that a colorblind perspective is also associated with higher levels of racial
bias (Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004) and a tendency to ignore processes that perpet-
uate differential outcomes for nonminority and minority groups (Schofield, 1986).
A colorblind perspective does not reliably indicate a prejudicial organizational
stance but rather, may reflect an attempt by the organization to frame their diversity
practices using an ideology that has traditionally appealed to nonminority groups.
Although a colorblind ideology may appeal to nonminorities, this approach to diver-
sity also may alienate minority employees and allow a culture of racism to develop
The multicultural approach. The multicultural approach to diversity emphasizes
the benefits of a diverse workforce and explicitly recognizes employee differences
as a source of strength (Cox, 1991). Organizations promoting initiatives premised on
a multicultural ideology are particularly attractive to minorities because diverse
120 THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE March 2008
backgrounds are recognized as being different, and group identities, such as race,
ethnicity, and religious affiliation, are retained and acknowledged (e.g., Plaut &
Markus, 2007; Purdie-Vaughns et al., 2006; Verkuyten, 2005). Organizations employ a
variety of strategies to emphasize diversity. For example, multicultural initiatives range
from networking and mentoring programs, which provide additional resources for
demographically underrepresented groups of employees, to corporate “diversity days”
where employees’ backgrounds are celebrated, diversity luncheons where food of
different nations is served, and workshops or seminars that focus on aspects of diversity
(e.g., Kidder, Lankau, Chrobot-Mason, Mollica, & Friedman, 2004; Linnehan &
Konrad, 1999). Still, other companies may require—or strongly encourage—employees
to attend diversity training, which is designed to diminish bias and increase cultural
awareness among nonminority employees (Paluck, 2006).
Whereas multiculturalism should ideally foster a lasting organizational climate
of inclusion and acceptance, multicultural diversity initiatives often fade, fall short
of their goals, or fail completely because they are widely met by nonminorities with
noncompliance and resistance (Brief et al., 2005; Kalev et al., 2006; Mannix &
Neale, 2006; K. M. Thomas, 2008). Ironically, despite their overt attempt to foster
inclusion in the workplace, multicultural initiatives can produce skepticism and
resentment on the part of some groups—in particular nonminorities—who repre-
sent overlooked, yet critical, stakeholders in diversity issues (cf. James, Brief,
Dietz, & Cohen, 2001). Many nonminority critiques of multiculturalism center on
the claim that it excludes nonminorities and threatens unity (Plaut et al., 2007). This
skepticism—perhaps even contempt—is echoed by Schlesinger’s (1992) commentary
“Multiculturalism” arises as a reaction against Anglo- or Eurocentrism, but at what point does it
pass over into an ethnocentrism of its own? The very word, instead of referring as it should to all
cultures, has come to refer only to non-Western, nonwhite cultures....When does obsession
with differences begin to threaten the idea of an overarching American nationality? (p. 74)
To the extent that nonminorities experience identity threats from multicultural ini-
tiatives (Verkuyten, 2005), they are likely to engage in identity management strate-
gies, ranging from devaluing out-groups (i.e., resisting diversity) to reducing their
motivation to identify and affiliate with an organization that supports multicultural-
ism. Indeed, efforts to enhance workplace diversity through a multicultural approach
have generated significant backlash (Linnehan & Konrad, 1999). This backlash is
manifested at the individual level in biased language, discrimination, silence regard-
ing inequities, avoidance of difference, and discrediting of ideas and individuals and
at the organizational level in discriminatory human resource policies and practices,
cultures of silence, and delays in diversity initiatives (K. M. Thomas & Plaut, 2008).
Moreover, exposure to multicultural ideology is associated with cognitions and
behaviors that could further prevent organizations from realizing the potential of diver-
sity. For example, nonminorities exposed to a multicultural statement subsequently
show more activation of stereotypes associated with minorities and also are more
likely to use individuals’ category memberships, such as race, in making judgments
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 121
122 THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE March 2008
about them (e.g., Cox, 1993; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000). The multi-
cultural perspective seemingly triggers group-based processing among nonminorities,
which, if not properly managed, could exacerbate existing prejudices in the work-
place. Research also has shown that nonminorities support general equal employment
opportunity (EEO) policies but oppose affirmative action (AA) practices that focus on
specific demographic criteria, such as race, in human resources decision making
More recently, James and colleagues (2001) found that as potential job appli-
cants, nonminorities reported less positive attitudes toward promotion opportunities
and less attraction to an organization when policies were specifically framed as ben-
efiting minorities than when the policies were more generally framed. In a follow-
up study, these researchers surveyed employees in a large communications company
and found, once again, that nonminorities reported significantly less positive job-
related attitudes when exposed to EEO/AA policies benefiting minorities. This is in
stark comparison to the empirical research that shows consistent, positive relation-
ships between minority attraction to organizations and a variety of techniques used
by organizations to signal their value of diversity: recruiter characteristics, such as
race (e.g., K. M. Thomas & Wise, 1999); diversity-related information portrayed in
advertisements and brochures, such as EEO/AA policies (e.g., James et al., 2001);
the representation of minorities within the organization (e.g., Avery, 2003; Perkins,
Thomas, & Taylor, 2000); and the diversity initiative endorsed by the organization
(Plaut et al., 2007).
THE AIM APPROACH:
TOWARD AN ALL-INCLUSIVE WORKPLACE
Our review shows that organizations are faced with a serious challenge in respond-
ing to the increasingly diverse nature of the workforce: Neither the colorblind nor the
multicultural approach to organizational diversity is received by all employees as a
positive affirmation of their belongingness in the organization (see Baumeister &
Leary, 1995). Nonminorities feel excluded in organizations espousing a multicultural
approach and feel more comfortable with a colorblind approach. For these employ-
ees, who interpret multicultural initiatives as applying only to minority group
members, such initiatives pose a threat to their social identity (Verkuyten, 2005) and
may decrease their desire to affiliate with the organization. The reverse pattern
emerges among minorities, who experience exclusion in workplaces that espouse
colorblindness. For organizations to bring their positive core to the forefront, thus
stimulating positive change, they need an alternative approach to diversity that does
not face resistance from either nonminority or minority organizational members.
We propose that an AIM approach meets this need, emphasizing that diversity
includes all employees—that is, both minorities and nonminorities alike. On one hand,
the AIM approach recognizes the importance of differences and acknowledges such
differences, which is essential for gaining minority support. On the other hand, the
AIM approach explicitly acknowledges the important role that nonminorities play
in workplace diversity, addressing their concerns of exclusion and disadvantage.
Essentially, the AIM approach addresses deficiencies in the standard multicultural
ideology without reverting to colorblindness. Whereas AIM acknowledges that the
demographic groups to which people belong have important consequences for indi-
viduals, it also explicitly endorses this vision equally across members of all groups,
including nonminorities. Given the pervasiveness of American values of equality and
egalitarianism, which drive individualist ideology, this equal emphasis on groups is
less of a mismatch for nonminorities. Moreover, AIM lifts perceived threats to unity
that may form in reaction to multicultural policies (e.g., Schlesinger, 1992). Indeed,
the AIM approach is consistent with approaches to intergroup relations that foster
the maintenance of subgroup identities within the context of an overarching identity
(see Hogg & Terry, 2000).
There is emerging empirical evidence of the positive effects that can be gained
from this approach. For example, in our recent work, we and our colleagues (Plaut
et al., 2007) had 35 nonminority undergraduate students participating for partial
course credit (54% male; M age = 19.3 years) read a fictitious one-page newspaper
article titled Diversity Efforts Blanket Nation about the spread of multiculturalism in
corporations and universities across the United States. Participants randomly
assigned to the control condition read this article, whereas participants assigned to
the AIM condition read the same article with an additional paragraph describing
multiculturalism as inclusive of everyone, including European Americans. Participants
subsequently completed a computerized implicit association test (IAT) designed to
gauge the strength of association of multiculturalism (vs. colorblindness) with
exclusion (vs. inclusion). On the IAT, participants in the control condition showed
significantly faster reaction times (i.e., stronger implicit associations) pairing multi-
culturalism with exclusion than multiculturalism with inclusion. This association,
however, was absent for participants in the AIM condition. In short, by explicitly
affirming the inclusion of nonminorities within a general multiculturalism ideology,
the association of diversity with exclusion was significantly reduced. Notably, these
findings further show that the perception that whites are included in multicultural-
ism were significantly stronger in the AIM condition (61%) than in the control con-
dition (24%), but dropping participants who did not complete this manipulation
check as expected did not alter the results. In other words, the power of the AIM
manipulation operated implicitly, regardless of whether participants were able to
explicitly report inclusion of their group.
The findings that associations of multiculturalism with exclusion were attenuated
with the AIM model points to its potential to enhance, rather than impede, positive
intergroup relationships, as well as individual and organizational performance.
Previous research shows that social exclusion is linked to aggressive behavior and
decrements in intelligent thought (Baumeister, Twenge, & Nuss, 2002; Twenge,
Baumeister, Tice, & Stucke, 2001). Moreover, research on self-affirmation has
shown that affirming the self decreases defensiveness and prejudice (see Sherman &
Cohen, 2006). In terms of personal growth, workplaces that foster identity safety
may give individuals a better chance to flourish (Markus et al., 2000). We propose
that only an all-inclusive approach allows all groups to fully develop and maintain
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 123
identities that are either explicitly or implicitly important to them. To the extent that
AIM policy helps diminish perceptions of social exclusion and affirms individuals’
social identities, employee relationships with each other and with the organization
should be strengthened.
Proposition 1: Implementing an AIM approach will promote a sense of inclusion among all employees
and foster greater feelings of connectedness to one another, the organization, and its goals.
The AIM approach also helps organizations deal with the increasing complexity
of a diverse workforce, including the challenge of how employees within diverse
organizations interact with one another. Because organizations are increasingly
diverse, social categorizations—for instance, along the lines of gender and race—
become particularly salient in employees’ daily interactions (Hogg & Terry, 2000).
A key component in the creation of a truly inclusive climate is moving beyond
surface-level tactics that display an appreciation of diversity and inspiring individuals to
integrate diversity into their work lives through self- and other-appreciation within
their organizational context (e.g., Davidson & James, 2006; D. A. Thomas & Ely,
1996). The foundation for developing an all-inclusive organization is in focusing on
the formation of high-quality relationships among dissimilar others—that is, rela-
tionships that engender positive affect, encourage ongoing learning, are resilient,
have longevity, and create “the capacity for individuals to engage, challenge, and
support one another with clarity and confidence” (Davidson & James, 2006, p. 139).
With the AIM approach to diversity, employees are able to thrive and reach their
fullest potential because there is a climate that encourages open communication and
learning, affording individuals the opportunity to move past social categorizations and
build mutually supportive and resilient relationships (Spreitzer et al., 2005). Such rela-
tionships are precluded in organizations with colorblind and multicultural diversity
initiatives because of the feelings of exclusion engendered by each. Because the all-
inclusive organization recognizes—and celebrates—the contextually salient identities
of its employees, like race, opportunities for learning are created rather than squan-
dered. By fostering an environment where individual differences are not ignored, as
with the colorblind approach, or where feelings of inclusion are cultivated, in contrast
with the exclusion of nonminorities engendered by multiculturalism, employees can
engage each other in open, honest conversations about their differences. The AIM
approach, through its facilitation of learning, promotes the formation of authentic rela-
tionships among diverse individuals and eschews the prejudice and stereotyping typi-
cally associated with diversity (e.g., Davidson & James, 2006; Wolsko et al., 2000).
Proposition 2: High-quality relationships will emerge within organizations that implement the AIM
approach, as indicated by increased empathetic understanding of others, social and emotional
support, and sharing of information.
Practitioners and scholars alike have commonly espoused goals of greater diver-
sity, yet neither have been able to unlock its potential benefits without being stymied
124 THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE March 2008
by its major drawbacks. We propose AIM as a way to benefit from organizational
diversity as opposed to falling victim to its potential shortcomings, which has impli-
cations for practice and research. In this section, we address ways an AIM climate
can be fostered in organizations and how this approach to diversity will likely influ-
ence organizational functioning, as well as individuals within the organization. We
then suggest new avenues for research and theory building.
Communication and language. Creating an AIM workplace involves crafting
environments that are considered more inclusive by all employees. Developing a cli-
mate of inclusion in which minorities and nonminorities feel like they belong can
begin with communicating these changes to its internal and external constituents.
Drawing on our research manipulating the inclusiveness of multiculturalism in
newspaper articles (Plaut et al., 2007), we propose using AIM-based language in nar-
ratives about the organization’s stance on diversity. For example, word choices in an
organization’s diversity materials (e.g., mission statement, corporate brochures, etc.)
that communicate the inclusion of all employees in diversity initiatives indicate a
potential ideological stance that appeals to minorities and nonminorities alike. By
explicitly including nonminorities in the concept of diversity, this ideological per-
spective makes it clear that these groups will enjoy the same recognition and respect
as minority groups.
Another example of AIM-based communication involves avoiding language that
appears exclusive. Typically, soliciting employee participation for multicultural
activities involves asking them to submit ethnic recipes, suggest resources for learn-
ing about a particular culture, or simply attend and enjoy multicultural festivities. To
capitalize on an AIM approach, requests for participation might employ statements
of inclusion to increase nonminority acceptance of the initiative. For example, when
asking for recipes for a multicultural picnic or cookbook, the invitation might men-
tion interest in “family recipes from all employees” rather than “ethnic recipes
reflecting your heritage.” This avoids the trap of nonminorities feeling excluded on
the assumption that “ethnic” does not include them (e.g., Devos & Banaji, 2005).
Relatedly, organizations using an AIM approach could avoid using words like
diverse to refer to ethnic minorities and instead communicate that all employees are
included in the term diversity.
Building on work by James et al. (2001) on the effects of framing policies as
generally benefiting employees, we suggest that organizations use AIM when
communicating organizational policies related to hiring, promotion, mentoring, and
networking programs. In most cases, policies and initiatives can be framed as bene-
fiting everyone, as opposed to just one group of people (e.g., women, blacks, gays,
and lesbians). When a practice does not directly benefit everyone, employees can be
reminded that such practices promote professionalism and collegiality and are part
of a greater effort to create a far stronger workplace environment for everyone (see
K. M. Thomas, 2005).
Organizational structures and policies. Cultivating an all-inclusive, multicultural
workplace also requires organizations to “put their money where their mouth is”
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 125
and implement changes at the structural level (Kalev et al., 2006). For example,
fostering both minority and nonminority leadership and involvement in diversity
initiatives is fundamental to the AIM approach. Organizations can ensure that the
unit responsible for diversity demographically reflects the inclusion they claim to
promote. Diversity task forces, councils, and resource groups also should be com-
prised of minorities and nonminorities. Mentoring and social networking initiatives
can practice AIM by including cross-race groupings (e.g., see Ragins, 1997, for an
analysis of “diversified mentoring”). By-products of such efforts include not only
career development benefits for protégés but also increased intercultural compe-
tence. Finally, organizations using AIM can design policies that not only purport to
benefit all employees but actually do benefit all employees (see also Meyerson &
Proposed Benefits of AIM
We propose that through the facilitation of high-quality relationships across dif-
ference, an AIM approach allows organizations to realize promised benefits of diver-
sity. An AIM workplace approaches diversity in a way that decreases conflict and
resistance by allowing nonminorities to feel included and respected while simulta-
neously fostering minorities’ feelings of inclusion and respect. By encouraging
employees to feel included and valued, the AIM approach fosters organizational
commitment and trust, internal motivation, and satisfaction for both minorities and
nonminorities alike (Morrison & Milliken, 2000). It also allows individuals, freed
from concerns about inclusion, to innovate, flourish, and reach their fullest potential.
Furthermore, an environment of inclusion and receptiveness serves as a backdrop
against which employees subsequently interact with one another across demo-
graphic lines. Because no single demographic group is valued more than another—
leaving no group marginalized—employees are more freely able to engage and
challenge each other yet be supportive at the same time. In other words, an AIM
approach fosters positive intergroup relations that result in heightened engagement
and individual and organizational performance.
An AIM workplace also promises potential benefits for recruitment and retention.
The posturing of its diversity policies to appeal to the widest range of people par-
tially determines whether an organization attracts a talented, diverse workforce in
the first place. Candidates of all demographic backgrounds use the organization’s
diversity policies in deciding whether or not to join its workforce (Edwards, Watkins,
& Stevens, 2007; Rau & Hyland, 2003). How attractive an organization appears
based on its diversity policies may be a significant factor in whether a new employee
forms a strong identification with that organization (Dutton et al., 1994). An organi-
zation can increase its chances of attracting the most qualified candidates from all
backgrounds by adopting diversity messages that appeal to minorities while not
alienating nonminority candidates. Furthermore, because perceptions of an organi-
zation’s diversity climate affect retention (McKay et al., 2007), utilizing an AIM
approach to foster a truly inclusive climate should also result in retaining employees
across demographic backgrounds.
126 THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE March 2008
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 127
While many organizations have implemented diversity policies and initiatives,
few seem to have used AIM principles. A 2007 report on white male engagement
sponsored by Mattel suggests that only 41% of companies surveyed had white males
represented on diversity teams and only 3% included a white male resource or affin-
ity group (Diversity Best Practices, 2007). An example of an organization that has
successfully utilized aspects of the AIM approach is IBM. D. A. Thomas’s (2004)
case study of IBM’s diversity strategy highlights the formation of eight task forces
that analyzed personnel trends and market opportunities. Notably, the task force
groupings represented many social identity groups, including white males, and each
task force benefited from an executive sponsor who was not necessarily a constituent
of that group. Thus, IBM both included a group typically left out of diversity initia-
tives (i.e., nonminorities) and promoted cross-race interaction. As would be expected
of an AIM approach, the initiative resulted in development of cross-cultural compe-
tence, deeper knowledge of major markets, and attraction, development, and reten-
tion of employees.
Another company that illustrates an AIM approach to diversity is PepsiCo.
Similar to IBM, PepsiCo organized affinity groups sponsored by executive commit-
tee members typically from a different social identity group (e.g., a black male spon-
sor of a white male group and a white female sponsor of a women of color group).
PepsiCo also went a step further, charging sponsors with mentoring employees in
their group. PepsiCo has since been named on several “top companies” lists for
minorities including those of Fortune, Black Enterprise, and DiversityInc. In addi-
tion to gaining reputation as an employer, according to PepsiCo, the company has
also experienced substantial revenue growth, which it attributes in part to new prod-
ucts inspired by these and other diversity efforts (Hymowitz, 2005).
Implications of AIM for Research and Theory
The practical implications of an all-inclusive workplace abound, as do future
research questions regarding how AIM establishes a foundation for positive organi-
zational change. For example, we posit that an AIM approach requires careful atten-
tion to workplace characteristics such as interdependent work and diversity cues.
Furthermore, proper implementation of AIM entails recognition of important sym-
bolic interaction and sense-making processes.
Interdependent work and diversity cues. Interdependent work and diversity cues
are two mechanisms by which an AIM approach can positively influence organiza-
tional change. When employees must coordinate their activities because of highly
interdependent work (e.g., on diversity councils and task forces, in mentoring and
social networking programs, and in employees’ work roles), there is greater necessity
for interaction among demographically dissimilar individuals. According to Harrison
and colleagues (1998), with this increased interaction, individuals’ tendencies to cat-
egorize their coworkers based on demographic characteristics dissipate, and as deep-
level characteristics become more apparent, the value of diversity in facilitating
organizational processes such as decision making, creativity, and innovation becomes
evident (Chatman & Flynn, 2001; Earley & Mosakowski, 2000; Harrison et al.,
1998; Pelled et al., 1999).
In addition, the extent to which employees subscribe to and engage in an AIM
ideology depends on diversity cues that indicate the acceptance of employees’ social
identities (Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002). For example, the distribution of
diversity throughout the organization provides a signal to employees about the value
of diversity. For minorities in particular, seeing that they are underrepresented in
middle- and upper-management positions makes it more likely for them to discount
the principles of the diversity initiative and conclude that the organization does not
value people like themselves (e.g., Avery, 2003; Purdie-Vaughns et al., 2006). For
nonminorities, not seeing themselves represented in diversity and inclusion struc-
tures leads to the perception that they are not valued and included. Future theorizing
on diversity should therefore examine how to foster interdependent work and diver-
sity cues that contribute positively to individual and organizational functioning.
Symbolic interactions. Importantly, although contextual factors (e.g., wording of
diversity-related information) influence the development of an inclusive organiza-
tional environment, such objective features of the workplace are not the sole deter-
minants of such an environment. Following a symbolic interactionist perspective of
climate (Blumer, 1969; Schneider & Reichers, 1983), we posit that a climate for
diversity emerges from a process of collective sensemaking (Weick, 1995), whereby
employees together try to derive meaning about ways in which diversity is, or is not,
valued in their organization. From this perspective, the value of diversity is not a
“given,” nor can it be mandated from upper management; rather, this value arises
from interactions among the individuals within the organization (Ashforth, 1985;
Schneider, & Reichers, 1983). Importantly, individuals form beliefs both about the
value of diversity and about their organization’s stance on diversity (Mor Barak,
Cherin, & Berkman, 1998). Both play a role in individuals’ active construction of
diversity climate in an organization.
Future theorizing on diversity could therefore reveal how an organization’s climate
for diversity results from its social construction through employee interactions and
communication, which in turn can be a powerful determinant of behavior over and
above individual needs or motivational states (McKay et al., 2007; Schneider &
Reichers, 1983). Employees do not interact with their dissimilar coworkers in a vac-
uum. Rather, they take part in these interactions while making sense of their organi-
zational environment in an ongoing manner (Weick, 1995). As such, the consistency
of organizational messages concerning diversity, particularly those supporting the
AIM approach (e.g., through all-inclusive language), plays a large role in whether—
and to what extent—employees view the organization as truly valuing its diverse
workforce. In line with several properties of sensemaking (Weick, 1995), the social
context is integral in setting the stage for cues, such as diversity-related practices
(e.g., inclusion of all groups in diversity activities), to become salient and provide the
basis for sensemaking. It is against the backdrop of all-inclusive multiculturalism that
the organization can enact an environment conducive to positive organizational
change. Integral to fostering positive change is the affirmation of each employee’s
128 THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE March 2008
personal identity, comprised of his or her unique characteristics and attributes, upon
which the AIM approach is built.
Further examination of the role of individual differences in the all-inclusive work-
place is also needed. In an effort to understand employees’ reactions to diversity ini-
tiatives, other research (e.g., Plaut et al., 2007) has examined aspects of identity,
such as the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) and organizational identifi-
cation (Dutton et al., 1994). We strongly encourage the coupling of organizational
features with individual differences in future attempts to uncover mechanisms under-
lying employee reactions to diversity initiatives.
We have proposed that an AIM approach to diversity resolves problematic issues
with traditional colorblind and multicultural approaches to diversity in organizations
and increases perceptions of inclusiveness among employees. Our preliminary
research findings suggest that an AIM approach does indeed decrease the associa-
tion of multiculturalism with exclusion among nonminorities (Plaut et al., 2007).
The AIM approach therefore promises to enhance positive relationships across dif-
ference, resulting in heightened employee engagement and individual and organiza-
tional performance. Organizations can develop an AIM workplace environment by
infusing employee and prospective employee communication with all-inclusive lan-
guage and by including all groups in diversity structures and policies. By fostering
positive interdependent work and diversity cues and the construction of a positive
climate for diversity through symbolic interaction, organizations can shape an envi-
ronment conducive to positive organizational change.
In sum, taking small steps toward creating an AIM environment has the potential
to enable substantial positive, organization-wide change, particularly through the
development of feelings of inclusion and high-quality relationships across differ-
ence. In creating an all-inclusive, multicultural environment, organizations can cre-
ate workplaces in which employees feel safe to innovate, knowing that their unique
experiences and contributions are valued, and in which the generation of positive
human relationships is facilitated, especially across demographic lines. Such rela-
tionships create a host of positive outcomes for individuals, organizations, and even
the communities in which they are embedded (Cameron et al., 2003; Dutton &
Ragins, 2006; Gittell et al., 2006), such as higher levels of physical and psycholog-
ical well-being (Ryff & Singer, 2001), facility of the transfer of knowledge and coor-
dinated action (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998), and economic vitality (Cameron &
Caza, 2004; Dutton, 2003).
1. The U.S. workforce (generally ages 25 to 64) is in the midst of a sweeping demographic transfor-
mation. From 1980 to 2020, the white working-age population is projected to decline from 82% to 63%.
During the same period, the minority portion of the workforce is projected to double (from 18% to 37%),
Stevens et al. / ALL-INCLUSIVE MULTICULTURALISM 129
and the Hispanic/Latino portion is projected to almost triple (from 6% to 17%). Women are projected to
comprise 47% of the total labor force in 2014. They will also account for 51% of the increase in total
labor force growth from 2004 to 2014 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007).
2. Several different terms have been used in the literature to describe the concept of diversity
approaches: perspectives (Ely & Thomas, 2001), ideologies (Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000),
models (Plaut, 2002), and paradigms (D. A. Thomas & Ely, 1996). Although we will sometimes rely on
these terms somewhat interchangeably, we will favor the term approaches because of this article’s con-
cern with organizational approaches to managing change.
3. Our focus here is on the racial and ethnic minorities typically underrepresented in organizations,
such as blacks, Latinos, and Asians, although the arguments presented here have clear implications for
organizational diversity beyond racial and ethnic lines (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, etc.). We use race
and ethnicity jointly to reflect the U.S. Census Bureau’s designation of these demographic variables.
4. Perhaps the best-known example of organizational involvement in diversity issues are affirmative
action hiring practices, where demographic categories are considered in the hiring process and allow orga-
nizations to set goals for the fair representation of women and minorities (e.g., James, Brief, Dietz, &
Cohen, 2001). These practices can be informed by either multicultural or colorblind ideologies, depending
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