Diversity, Perceptions of Equity, and Communicative Openness in the Workplace

By Wanguri, Deloris McGee | The Journal of Business Communication, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Diversity, Perceptions of Equity, and Communicative Openness in the Workplace


Wanguri, Deloris McGee, The Journal of Business Communication


This essay broadly explores the relationship between workforce diversity and resulting perceptions of inequity in the workplace, presenting communicative openness as a solution to many organizational problems associated with increasing diversity. More specifically, it documents communication and interpersonal problems commonly experienced by organizational members who are perceived as being dissimilar, and it supports a two-pronged approach to fostering a more equitable workplace. This approach suggests that organizations use mentoring programs solely as a long term strategy and that they use discreet and consistent supervisory disclosures of task-relevant information as a short-term strategy for achieving real equity and fairness in business communication.

"Diversity" is a buzzword in popular organizational literature. Articles

abound on how to manage and/or value heterogeneity among employees. . . .

Increased attention to diversity stems partially from a report (funded by

the U.S. Department of Labor) which predicts that by the turn of the century,

five-sixths of new workers in the United States will be women,

African-Americans, Hispanics, and immigrants.... In addition, population

projections indicate that by the year 2000, almost one in every three

persons in the U.S. will be African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or

Native-American. These dramatic changes in the composition of society and

the workforce will introduce tensions because "differences in cultural

norms and values among ethnic groups in the United States will manifest

themselves in different work-related behaviors." . . . Increasing diversity

in the workplace engenders practical as well as theoretical implications for

persons who study organizational communication. Practitioners need to

determine how communication contributes to the effective integration of a

diverse workforce and to develop communication strategies to promote both

integration and equality in the workplace. (Allen, 1995, p. 143)

In her essay, "`Diversity' and Organizational Communication," Brenda Allen (1995) addresses various topics related to the diversification of American organizations, predicts impending strains in these institutions, and introduces a number of theoretical/conceptual implications as well as methodological issues for scholars and practitioners. While she focuses on only one form of diversity (race-ethnicity), she and other scholars agree that diversity in today's society encompasses a number of additional variables, including culture, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, physical abilities, social class, age, socioeconomic status, and religion (Allen, 1995; Ferdman, 1995; Hopkins & Hopkins, 1994). While the focus of her essay is unidimensional and therefore limited, she at the same time isolates an important area -- the relationship between workforce diversity and the need for communication behaviors that advance equity in the workplace. This area applies to all dimensions of diversity.

Moving toward the 21st century and an ever increasing diversity in the workplace, managers cannot afford to continue to supervise and communicate with workers using techniques that seemed to work in the past. To become more effective and successful managers of this diverse workforce, they must meet two goals. First, they must sensitize themselves to communication problems commonly experienced by those who are "different" in organizations. Second, they must begin to examine and implement appropriate alternatives to old strategies for communicating with employees, alternatives that will in time lead to perceptions of communicative equity by all employees.

As organizations in the United States become even more diverse workplaces, it is essential that scholars and practitioners alike distinguish vehicles for improving the quality and quantity of communication as well as techniques for enhancing the perceived equity of such communication for all organizational members. …

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