Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

The Influence of Cultural Empathy and Gender on Perceptions of Diversity Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

The Influence of Cultural Empathy and Gender on Perceptions of Diversity Programs

Article excerpt

Because of changes in demography and the emphasis on diversity programming, organizational leaders need to understand how employees' empathy toward diverse groups affects diversity program perceptions. This study examines whether individual ethnic/cultural empathy toward diverse groups relates to intentions to attend and interest in diversity initiatives. The sample consisted of 294 college students at a moderate sized Midwestern University. There were moderate significant relationships found. Women and those higher in ethnic/cultural empathy reported higher behavioral intentions to attend and positive perceptions of diversity programs. Managers and human resource personnel could use these findings to assess the diversity climate of their organization allowing for better targeted interventions based on current workforce attitudes and levels of cultural empathy.

Keywords: leadership; diversity; empathy; gender; behavioral intentions


Change, which is a multifaceted constant in organizations, challenges managers to be creative when it comes to leading employees. One of the most relevant changes in our time is the shifting demographics of the workforce. This change is pertinent not only for companies located in the United States but for organizations around the world. Plain and simple, diversity in the workforce is becoming an organizational reality and can be highly beneficial if managed correctly (Thomas, 2004; Jayne & Dipboye, 2004). Unfortunately, diversity programs have been known to be expensive and often unsuccessful (Aghazadeh, 2004; Davidson, 1999; Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006). Many organizational leaders, however, believe that diversity training is a necessary component to a diversity initiative (Cox, 1991; Davidson & Ferdman, 2002; Meyerson & Fletcher, 2000; Wiethoff, 2004). The popularity and cost of such programs indicate the need and attention that is required from managers and program developers to incorporate appropriate and effective initiatives (Agars & Kottke, 2004; Anand & Winters, 2008; Bell & Kravitz, 2008; Cox, 2001; Kulik & Roberson, 2008; Thomas & Ely, 1996; Wiethoff, 2004). Furthermore, Mathieu, Tannenbaum, and Salas (1992) and Rosset and Bickham (1994) contended that the causes of diversity program failures need to be examined as the need for increased acceptance of diversity is unquestionable. Consequently, successful diversity programs are a necessity in today's workforce due to globalization and demographic shifts, and managers should treat them as a priority as we delve into the next century.

Cooperation by employees toward organizational goals is an essential element for success (Li & Hambrick, 2005). However, when diversity factors are highlighted through diversity awareness programs differences between groups are often focused on, which has the potential to lead to conflict (Dovidio, Gaertner, & Validzic, 1998). Furthermore, diversity faultlines, apparent differences between groups on diversity characteristics and traits, are a possible cause of diversity programs failure. For instance, Li and Hambrick (2005) found that large diversity faultlines increase emotional and task conflicts in corporations. In their study, emotional conflict also related to behavioral disintegration, which had tangible effects on an organization through the loss of productivity (Li & Hambrick, 2005). Consequently, organizational management needs to counter potential conflict due to diversity factors.

The rise of women's breaking the glass ceiling and gaining leadership positions within organizations also contributes to the change in workforce demographics (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Managers need to address the potential impacts on their organizations' culture and diversity climate related to the imminent changing nature of workplace leadership gender demographics. For example, Wang et al. (2003) along with Cundiff and Komarraju (2008) found that women tend to possess more empathy across cultures than men do. …

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