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.


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.


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.


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).



Bowers, C., Pharmer, J. A., & Salas, E. (2000). When member homogeneity is needed in work teams: A meta-analysis. Small Group Research,31, 305–327.  doi:10.1177/104649640003100303

Brewer, M. B. (1979). In-group bias in the minimal intergroup situation: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological bulletin86(2), 307. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.86.2.307

Brewer, M. B. (1991). The social self: On being the same and different at the same time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 475–-482.

Brewer, M. B., & Brown, R. J. (1998). Intergroup relations. In D. T. Gilbert & S. T. Fiske (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology, (pp. 554 -594). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Chaiken, S., & Trope, Y. (1999). Dual process theories in social psychology. New York: Guilford Press.

Cook, T. D., Campbell, D. T., & Day, A. (1979). Quasi-experimentation: Design & analysis issues for field settings (Vol. 351). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Cronbach, L. J., & Meehl, P. E. (1955). Construct validity in psychological tests. Psychological bulletin52(4), 281. doi:10.1037/h0040957

De Dreu, C. K. W., & Weingart, L. R. (2003b). Task and relationship conflict, team performance, and team member satisfaction: A metaanalysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 741–749. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.4.741

Fiske, S. T. (1998). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, &   G. Lindzey (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology (pp. 357-411). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Harrison, D. A., & Klein, K. J. (2007). What’s the difference? Diversity constructs as separation, variety, or disparity in organizations. Academy of management review32(4), 1199-1228.

Hornsey, M. J., & Hogg, M. A. (2000). Assimilation and diversity: An integrative model of subgroup relations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 143-156. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0402_03

Jackson, S. E. (1992). Team composition in organizational settings: Issues in managing an increasingly diverse workforce. In S. Worchel, W. Wood, & J. A. Simpson (Ed.), Group processes and productivity (pp. 136 –180). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Jehn, K. A., Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1999). Why differences make a difference: A field study of diversity, conflict and performance in workgroups. Administrative science quarterly44(4), 741-763. doi:10.2307/2667054

Kalev, A., Dobbin, F., & Kelly, E. (2006). Best practices or best guesses? Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies. American sociological review71(4), 589-617. doi:10.1177/000312240607100404

McGrath, J. E., Berdahl, J. L., & Arrow, H. (1996). No one has it but all groups do: Diversity as a collective, complex, and dynamic property of groups. Diversity in work teams: Research paradigms for a changing world, 42-66.

Meyer, B. (in press). Team diversity: A review of the literature. In R. Rico (Ed.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of the psychology of teamwork and collaborative processes. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. (1996). Searching for common threads: Understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of management review21(2), 402-433. doi:10.5465/amr.1996.9605060217

Randel, A. E., & Jaussi, K. S. (2003). Functional background identity, diversity, and individual performance in cross-functional teams. Academy of Management Journal46(6), 763-774. doi:10.2307/30040667

Simons, T., Pelled, L. H., & Smith, K. A. (1999). Making use of difference: Diversity, debate, and decision comprehensiveness in top management teams. Academy of management journal42(6), 662-673. doi:10.2307/256987

Schwenk, C. R. (1990). Effects of devil’s advocacy and dialectical inquiry on decision making: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 47, 161–176. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(90)90051-A

Stewart, G. L., & Barrick, M. R. (2000). Team structure and performance: Assessing the mediating role of intrateam process and the moderating role of task type. Academy of Management Journal, 43, 135–148. doi: 10.2307/1556372

Triandis, H. C., Kurowski, L. L., & Gelfand, M. J. (1994). Workplace diversity. In H. C. Triandis, M. P. Dunnette, & L. M. Hough (Ed.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 769 – 827). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Tsui, A. S., Egan, T. D., & O’Reilly III, C. A. (1992). Being different: Relational demography and organizational attachment. Administrative science quarterly, 549-579. doi:10.2307/2393472

Turner, J. C., & Tajfel, H. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. Psychology of intergroup relations, 7-24. doi:10.1177/053901847401300204

Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Basil Blackwell.

Van Dijk, H., van Engen, M. L., & van Knippenberg, D. (2012). Defying conventional wisdom: A meta-analytical examination of the differences between demographic and job-related diversity relationships with performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 119 (1), 38-53. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.06.003

van Dijk, H., van Engen, M. L., & van Knippenberg, D. (2012). Defying conventional wisdom: A meta-analytical examination of the differences between demographic and job-related diversity relationships with performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes119(1), 38-53. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.06.003

van Dijk, H., van Engen, M., & Paauwe, J. (2012). Reframing the business case for diversity: A values and virtues perspective. Journal of Business Ethics111(1), 73-84. doi:10.1007/s10551-012-1434-z

Van Dijk, J. Meyer, B., Van Engen, M.L., & Lewis, D.L. (2017). Microdynamics in diverse teams: A review and integration of the diversity and stereotyping Literatures. Academy of Management Annals, (11), in press.

Van Knippenberg, A., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2000). Social categorization and stereotyping: A functional perspective. European Review of Social Psychology, 11, 105-144. doi:10.1080/14792772043000013

Van Knippenberg, D. (1999). Social identity and persuasion: reconsidering the role of group membership. In D. Abrams, & M. A. Hogg (Ed.), Social Identity and Social Cognition, (pp. 315-331). Oxford, England: Blackwell Sci.

Van Knippenberg, D., & Schippers, M. C. (2007). Work group diversity. Annu. Rev. Psychol.58, 515-541. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085546

Van Knippenberg, D., De Dreu, C. K. W., & Homan, A. C. (2004). Work group diversity and group performance: An integrative model and research agenda. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(6), 1008-1022. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.89.6.1008.

Van de Ven, A. H., Delbecq, A., & Koenig, R. H. (1976). Determinants of coordination modes within organizations. American Sociological Review,41, 322–338.

White, L. (2005). Writes of passage: Writing an empirical journal article. Journal of Marriage and Family67(4), 791-798. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00175.

Williams, K. Y., & O’Reilly, C. A. (1998). Demography and diversity in organizations: A review of 40 years of research. Research in Organizational Behavior, 20, 77–140.

Leave a Reply