The extensiveness of diversity theory

In the course “Seminar in HRS” in my masters year I had to write with three other team members an essay about different themes, this one is from the theoretical perspective. “Introduction” is the part I solely wrote for the essay.

Introduction

Contemporary societies have become increasingly diverse and organisations rely on cross-functional teams to challenge complex issues (van Dijk, van Engen & van Knippenberg, 2012). Work group diversity insinuated a positive influence on work group performance which in turn could dispute these issues, however, it has become clear that diversity is a double-edged sword (Milliken & Martins, 1996). So far, the research on the relationship between team diversity and team performance is inconclusive (Harrison & Klein, 2007; Meyer, in press; van Dijk et al., 2012; van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). Diversity concerns the perception of dissimilarities on any attribute between other individuals and the self (e.g., Jackson, 1992; Triandis et al., 1994; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). In the last two decades the research on diversity has drawn on the theory of social categorisation perspective and the information/decision-making perspective to give answers to the questions why and how diversity influences team performance (Milliken & Martins, 1996; van Knippenberg, De Dreu, & Homan, 2004; Williams & O’reilly, 1998). Social categorisation is functional diversity (i.e. sex, age) and information/decision-making perspectives is deep-level diversity (i.e. educational background) (McGrath, Berdahl & Arrow, 1996). The former holds that (dis)similarities are used for categorizing others into in- or out-groups (Brewer, 1979; Turner & Tajfel, 1986; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). According to Williams & O’Reilly (1998) employees are more positive towards in-group members than out-group members and trust them more. Consequently, more homogenous groups trust each other more and perform better (Simons, Pelled, & Smith, 1999). The latter holds that diversified groups should outperform homogeneous groups since it has access to a larger pool of task-relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities (van Knippenberg et al., 2004).

In this essay we want to elaborate that diversity performance relationship is a complex matter. Social categorisation and information/decision-making perspectives are combined in the Categorization–Elaboration Model (CEM) with the intent to further clarify the moderators in this relationship (van Knippenberg et al., 2004).

The Categorisation-Elaboration Model

Previous research has not been able to properly address both the positive and negative effects diversity can have on performance (Knippenberg et al., 2004). Since the social categorisation perspective and the information/decision-making perspective have not yet been combined in a satisfactory way, these are combined in the CEM. Furthermore, van Knippenberg et al. (2004) argues that multiple moderators are missing within this perspective. Therefore, new moderators have been added in the CEM.

First, we will discuss the moderators which are added to the social categorisation section of the CEM (see Appendix A). Second, we will examine the moderators that have been added to the information/decision-making section of the CEM.

Moderators of the social categorisation section. To start, three additional factors are added regarding the social categorisation section; the cognitive accessibility, the normative fit and the comparative fit of categorisation (van Knippenberg et al., 2004). Cognitive accessibility assigns the degree of ease of observing the characteristics which the employee uses to categorise in- and out-groups. The more accessible the characteristics, the more the characteristic is used to categorise. Normative fit, which is the degree of subjective sense of the categorisation of group members by the employee, increases social categorisation if the employee thinks differences between others are meaningful (van Knippenberg et al., 2004). Comparative fit is the degree of similarity within in-groups and the degree of differences between in- and out-groups. Self-categorisation theory states that all three factors are needed for social categorisation to become salient (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). However, the interactions between all three factors are not yet been investigated (van Knippenberg et al., 2004).

Furthermore, identity threat is added as a moderator to the social categorisation section, since threats to the value of identity influence the process of social categorisation. By categorising others in members of ones’ own in-group and out-groups, employees value a positive and distinguished group identity (Brewer, 1991). When the value of group identity is threatened, categorisation becomes even more salient (van Knippenberg et al., 2004).

Social categorisation negatively influences the relationship between diversity and performance (van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). Employees trust their in-group members and therefore will approach in-group members instead of out-group members for information sharing (van Knippenberg, 1999; Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999). Because the in-group members are more homogeneous they will have less innovative and creative ideas (van Knippenberg et al., 2004). Nonetheless in above researches social categorisation is not measured, therefore results must be perceived with caution (van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007).

Moderators of the information/decision-making section. The first moderator of the information/decision-making section that will be discussed is task informational and decision requirements. By having access to a larger pool of task-relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities, diverse groups outperform more homogeneous groups. Diverse groups may emphasise more on the promotion of task-relevant information, which results in more creative ideas, problem solving, and decision making (Stewart & Barrick, 2000; Van de Ven, Delbecq, & Koenig, 1976). Jehn et al. (1999) found that when a task was complex, informational diversity was positively related to performance. In contrast, elaboration of task information in routine tasks may result in conflicting ideas about work procedures and may lead to counterproductive behaviour (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003b; Schwenk, 1990). In addition, Bowers, Pharmer and Salas (2000) researched that homogeneous groups can outperform divers groups on the more simple tasks.

Task motivation and task ability are referred to as the second and third moderator in the information/decision-making section. However, task motivation and ability are rather neglected within the research of diversity. Motivation and ability are included within the CEM since they are seen as key predictors of deep-level processing of information (Chaiken & Trope, 1999). Nevertheless, the lack of research evidence of these moderating effects makes it hard to draw proper conclusions.

Generally, the information/decision-making perspective shows positive influences on the relationship between diversity and performance (van Knippenberg et al., 2004). However, the different moderators added to information/decision-making section may show, depending on the context, both positive and negative influences on the relationship between diversity and performance.

Operationalisation

Every researcher has to make certain decisions regarding the operationalisation of the variables included in their research (White, 2005) which will affect the results. As explained above, two important diversity dimensions arise from research; social category diversity and informational/functional diversity (Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999; Tsui, Egan, & O’Reilly, 1992). Social category diversity is seen to have a negative effect on performance, while informational/functional diversity is seen to have a positive effect on performance (Jehn et al., 1999). In addition, different operationalisations within these diversity dimensions can be made. For example, age can be divided into two age groups (young and old) or five age groups (child, adolescent, adult, middle age, and old). Furthermore, the effect of diversity will be different for different operationalisations of performance. Van Knippenberg et al. (2004) operationalised performance as group performance. However, Randel & Jaussi (2003) researched the effect of diversity on individual performance. These different operationalisations of the (in)dependent variables all have different consequences for research, which adds complexity to the relationship between diversity and performance.

Conclusion

Understanding diversity is paramount as elaborated in the aforementioned, moderators of the relationship between diversity and performance make this relationship hard to grasp. In addition the choices made regarding operationalisation of the research variables adds to the complexity of this research field. The research in CEM has tried to give insight into the complexity of this relationship by combining social categorisation perspective and information/decision-making perspective. CEM is criticised on multiple aspects, for example by recent subgroup theory (Carton & Cummings, 2012). Another criticism is that CEM is not exhaustive and shortfalls other moderating forces, therefore, research on this relationship has continued to be inconclusive (Harrison & Klein, 2007; Meyer, in press; van Dijk et al., 2012; van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). One can conclude by this that the contemporary research on diversity theory is still open for debate and an alluring research field for scholars.

The categorization-elaboration model of work group diversity and group performance

Appendix A: The categorization-elaboration model of work group diversity and group performance. Van Knippenberg, De Dreu, & Homan. (2004).

 

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