Theories of Diversity within Organisation Studies: Debates and Future Trajectories
Maddy Janssens, Chris Steyaert
Economy and Society
Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano
Theories on diversity and diversity management within the field of Organisation Studies started to develop in the 80s, mainly under the influence of managerial reports pointing towards the increasing diversity of the future workforce. The purpose of this paper was to 1) review the existing studies on diversity identifying their main purposes, 2) identify the current debates in the field, and 3) point towards possible future directions. Studies on diversity seem to have a two-fold purpose. A first purpose is to identify discriminatory practices in the workplace. Several studies have examined the working experiences of minority groups, inducing our attention to phenomena such as the glass-ceiling effect (e.g. Cox & Nkomo, 1990; Wirth, 2001), wage differences (e.g. Ashraf, 1996; Blau & Beller, 1988), segregation (e.g. Anker, 1998; Ibarra, 1995). A second purpose is to examine the effects of diversity on work-related outcomes. For instance, studies (Milliken & Martins, 1996) have examined the relationship between value diversity and conflict, or between cognitive heterogeneity and problem-solving capabilities. The authors discussed these two strands of studies by summarising their main findings and conclusions.Wanting to achieve one (or both) of the two purposes, the domain has mainly focused on the consequences of diversity and seems to have neglected theoretical reflections on the notions of ‘diversity,’ ‘difference,’ or the ‘other.’ This need for theorising has been indicated by well-known scholars in the field (e.g. Cox, 1995; Nkomo, 1995; 2000; Nkomo & Cox, 1996), concerned about the continuation of the diversity domain. Within these current debates, the authors identified mainly four issues: a narrow or broad definition of diversity, a stable or dynamic conception of identity, the role of power, and the importance of the socio-historical context. With the discussion of these four issues, the authors indicated the implicit ‘theoretical’ choices prioritising the concept of ‘identity’, turning the issues of diversity into a managing of individuals and ‘their’ identities. They concluded by pointing towards possible future directions of theorising and researching diversity.