Organizational Barriers to Diversity in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite the proliferation of research on discrimination, the value of diversity and multiculturalism in organizations, the literature fails to address the more serious dimensions of difference in organizations. In particular, we suggest that more attention must be paid to some common dilemmas of diversity, such as the backlash against any commitment to multiculturalism, the continuing anger and disappointment of women and minorities, and the systematic institutional resistance within organizations to difference (Prasad & Mills, 1997, p. 3).

Throughout the past decade, many organizations have grappled with issues surrounding workplace diversity (Chemers, Oskamp, & Costanzo, 1995; Cox, 1994; Prasad & Mills, 1997; Thomas 1991, 1995). Much of the response was triggered by the Hudson Institute report, Workforce 2000 (Johnston & Packer, 1987), which indicated that the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the workforce would experience accelerated growth rates in the years ahead. For example, by the year 2000, 85 percent of the market entrants will be female, while only 45 percent of the total workforce will be white males. As a result of these dynamic changes, some organizations have willingly become more inclusive, integrating women, people of color, gays/lesbians, and individuals with disabilities into their workforce at all levels (Cornwell & Kellough, 1994; Pettigrew & Martin, 1989). Other organizations and agencies have been drawn into court and penalized because of blatantly discriminatory, exclusionary policies and practices.

The political potency and controversy surrounding diversity issues in today's society makes it difficult for agencies to know how to create appropriate and meaningful responses to diversity. Social and political discussions of diversity efforts and programs have become increasingly value-loaded and value-laden. Terms and phrases such as "political correctness," "quotas," "reverse discrimination," and "affirmative action programs" take on levels of symbolic and political meaning in the workplace that can, by their very nature, create barriers in the form of resentment and non-responsiveness toward "people of difference." Individuals who are thought to benefit from such programs are frequently stereotyped and diminished in capability. This leads to increased resentment at all levels of the organization.

Most organizations, despite their stated belief in equal opportunity policies, have practices that range between inclusion and blatant discrimination. These agencies subsequently struggle with issues of gender, ethnic/racial difference, disability, and the sexual orientation of their employees (James, 1996; Minors, 1996). Many agencies, sometimes knowingly, but often unknowingly, develop institutional/organizational barriers that limit the access to services for their clientele and inhibit employment opportunities for their employees.

Substantial research within the leisure field identifies constraints and barriers to individual recreational participation. This research provides important insights into the nature of the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural participation constraints (Crawford & Godbey, 1987; Crawford, Jackson, & Godbey, 1991; Hultsman, 1995; Jackson, Crawford, & Godbey, 1993; Raymore, Godbey, & Crawford, 1994). Moreover, gender (Harrington & Dawson, 1995; Jackson & Henderson, 1995) and race (Philipp, 1995) have been shown to be important factors in understanding recreational participation patterns. Although this research provides important insights into "the obstacles that inhibit people's ability to participate in leisure activities" (Jackson & Henderson, 1995), almost no research to date identifies the ways in which recreation agencies themselves produce institutional barriers that inhibit individual opportunities for both employees and constituents.

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