Business Communication and Diversity in the Workplace: A Guest Editorial

By Thomas, Gail Fann | The Journal of Business Communication, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Business Communication and Diversity in the Workplace: A Guest Editorial


Thomas, Gail Fann, The Journal of Business Communication


In 1994 I chaired a panel, "Communication Related to Diversity in the Workplace," at the 59th Annual Convention of the Association for Business Communication held in San Diego, California. At that time I proposed a special issue of The Journal of Business Communication. The issue's goal was to summarize literature that related business communication and diversity in the workplace. A second goal was to offer emergent empirical and conceptual work. The final goal was to create a research agenda.

The call for papers encouraged diverse approaches that might appeal to the multidisciplinary nature of our constituents. Consistent with the topic of diversity, the papers submitted represented the diversity in our discipline including perspectives based in organizational behavior, organizational theory, speech communication, rhetoric, organizational communication, feminist theory, and critical theory.

What's the Relevance of the Diversity Movement to Business Communication?

Shaw (1993) calls business and managerial communication a "hybrid discipline" whose strength lies in multiple theoretical perspectives including rhetoric, communication, and management. According the Shaw, links between these perspectives lead to foci related to communication strategies, communication systems, and communication practices in the workplace.

Diversity in the workplace focuses on observable attributes such as race/ethnicity, nationality, age, and gender, as well as underlying attributes such as values, skills, knowledge, and cohort membership (Milliken & Martins, 1996). These attributes form our identity and influence our relationships in the workplace. Our identity and our relationships form and are formed by our communication with one another. Diversity promises to interject fundamental changes in the workplace. Communication will be at the bedrock of these changes (Barrett, Thomas, & Hocevar 1995). Our expertise in communication will allow us substantial opportunities for making contributions to issues related to diversity in the workplace.

Contributions in This Issue

This issue offers three empirical articles that examine communication and diversity in the workplace. Patricia Witherspoon and Kathy Wohlert's opening article, "An Approach to Developing Communication Strategies for Enhancing Organizational Diversity," evaluates an intervention in a statewide public transportation agency. Their article presents a strategy for communicating an organizational change designed to enhance diversity. Staged in the context of a federally mandated change, Witherspoon and Wohlert detail the goals of the change, their assessment of the situation, their recommended communication strategies, the intervention, and its outcome. Their rich description of the organization and its cultural context provides a backdrop for understanding the dilemmas associated with designing a communication strategy. Their multi-method data collection and analysis includes surveys, interviews, and archival documents.

In the second article, "Flexible Mentoring: Adaptations in Style for Women's Ways of Knowing," Kathryn Egan looks at mentoring relationships. Using interviews and surveys from a sample of American Women in Radio and Television, Egan categorizes "Women's Ways of Knowing" or epistemologies and relates them to various mentoring styles. Her article offers a perspective focused on interpersonal relationships and based in the feminist literature and communication theory.

Mary Vielhaber Hermon's article, "Building a Shared Understanding of Commitment to Managing Diversity," is grounded in the communications and management literature. Hermon's study takes place in a large service organization in the Midwest. Her research evaluates the positive and negative effects of three internal advisory groups -- Hispanic, Minority, and Women's Advisory Panels -- that have been in place in this organization for a number of years. …

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