New study shows why getting majority members on board of D&I work pays off

Many Diversity programmes are tailored for members of specific minority groups such as LGBT employees, employees from different cultures, religious groups or people with a disability. Does this approach effectively demonstrate the value of differences or is it a reminiscent of Affirmative Action that, at times, leads to exclusion and reinforced stereotypes? A recently published Dutch study provides additional evidence that all-inclusive Diversity approaches which focus both on minority and majority groups are, in many respects, more effective than isolated programmes.

A one-sided focus of D&I programmes may lead majority members to perceive diversity to be “only for minorities”, while at the same time the effectiveness of Diversity measures is largely dependent on the receptiveness of majority members. However, some research has already shown that the dominant group(s), as they should actually be called, may be less interested in working for organisations that indicate to value diversity. In this context, the research studied “whether majority members’ perceived lack of inclusion and their resistance to organizational diversity efforts can be attenuated by explicitly including the majority group in the organization’s diversity approach“.

In a first experiment, visitors to a job fair were handed a brochure of a fictional firm, randomly assigned either in a “minority-only”-form or emphasizing all-inclusive multiculturalism, and were asked to complete a questionnaire concerning their impression of the company. There was no general effect of the diversity approach manipulation on the extent to which majority members anticipated to be included in the company. However, the study did find an effect for majority members with a high need to belong, i.e. for those with a strong desire to be included into groups.For those individuals, the explicit inclusion of their (majority) cultural group into Diversity communication proved to be important.

For the second experiment students of Dutch university were asked to evaluate the (manipulated) internationalisation vision of their university. They were handed a brochure with this vision that was again distributed in two different forms: with minority-only focus and all-inclusive multiculturalism. This time, for organisational members, explicitly including the majority group in an organisation’s diversity approach resulted in a higher level of perceived inclusion, irrespective of their need to belong. Furthermore, the perceived inclusion was positively related to majority members’ support for organisational diversity efforts and that, as a consequence, explicitly including the majority group into D&I communication increased their support for internationalisation through higher levels of perceived inclusion.

“Inclusiveness not only refers to minorities”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments, “In order to develop the values and implicit norms of an organisational culture, the change must be driven by the dominant group as well”. The paradigm shift from women programmes to gender, from 50plus to generations and from disabled to mixed abilities are but a few examples of how this was implemented over the past ten years.

The study named „Being part of diversity ­– The effects of an all-inclusive multicultural diversity approach on majority members’ perceived inclusion and support for organizational diversity efforts“ was published in the peer-reviewed journal „Group Processes & Intergroup Relations“ by Dutch researchers Wiebren S. Jansen, Sabine Otten and Karen I. van der Zee.