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Communication Diversity and a Hostile Work EnvironmentResearch Paper

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Organizational success depends on effective communication, as well as the ability to adapt organizational culture and environment to a changing workforce. The establishment of values that support diversity can be challenging in large organizations with entrenched cultures resistant to change. Research in communications and organizational psychology can help guide organizational leaders to create a more harmonious, supportive, and inclusive workplace. Organizations within heterogeneous and homogenous societies alike may struggle to meet the diverse needs of employees, and can mitigate diversity-related challenges with commitment and a comprehensive evidence-based plan of action.

Diversity is an all-encompassing word that refers to a heterogeneous workplace environment. Ideally, an organization's ethical principles include a commitment to diversity as a core value. Diversity may be pursued for purely business goals such as measurable performance or profit outcomes; but any organization interested in long-range success and brand stability will continually reflect on its culture to ensure that all employees thrive. It is important to remember that diversity does not refer only to racial, ethnic, religious, and gender diversity, but also to diversity of ability, communication style, learning style, and cognitive orientation.

Problem Statement

Not all organizations are addressing diversity as a core value, instead opting for short-range goals that perpetuate stereotypes and therefore tacitly condone hostile work environments. In fact, few companies can afford to ignore diversity as even in traditionally static societies, workplaces are becoming more diverse even if along parameters of age, gender, or disability. An increasingly enmeshed global society and rapidly changing patterns of population migration necessitate a conscious and conscientious effort to embed communication and diversity ethics into a company's mission statement. Organizations need to develop programs and protocols that promote and sustain diversity consciousness, with an outcome goal of creating a supportive work environment. Diversity can be viewed not as an obstacle but as an added value to a workplace culture, and an enhanced workplace culture creates net benefits within an organization and its environment. Because there is no one formula that works for every organization, a set of guiding principles can help with diversity planning and diversity management.

Literature Review

Decades of published studies, both qualitative and quantitative, reveal the importance of applying communications studies to diversity. The three primary goals of communication in organizational environments include goals that are related to task performance or completion (instrumental goals), goals that negotiate conflict or maintain harmony (relational goals), and goals related to identity creation or identity management (Barak, 2013, p. 187). Ignoring the unique complexities of a diverse workplace can impede any one of these goals. Diversity competence, on the other hand, can greatly enhance communication in the workplace (Martin & Nakayama, 2015).

Discrimination leads to hostile cultures and hostile work environments. A comprehensive synthesis of prior literature by Okechukwu, et al. (2013) "links workplace injustice to poor psychological and physical health, and a smaller body of evidence links workplace injustice to unhealthy behaviors," (p. 573). Okechukwu, et al. (2013) also found that hostile work environments have spillover effects onto the target employees' family and personal lives. Therefore, human resources managers need to remember that discrimination after hiring is as important as discrimination that occurs during the hiring process. In other words, it is important to create a supportive work environment and not just to manufacture a diverse workforce on paper. Retaining that diverse workforce is the key to an organization's ethical integrity and long-term success.

One of the most pervasive types of discrimination in the workplace, which contributes to a hostile work environment, is stereotyping. As Heilman (2012) points out, stereotypes can be descriptive (such as men/women are a certain way), and prescriptive (such as men/women should be or behave in a certain way). Both descriptive and prescriptive types of stereotypes can be harmful and contributes to a hostile work environment, leading to effects like negative performance expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies related to negative performance outcomes (Heilman, 2012).

Literature specifically focusing on gender stereotypes shows that gender stereotypes "give rise to biased judgments and decisions, impeding women's advancement," (Heilman, 2012, p. 113). Specifically, there may be a negative "perception that there is a poor fit between what women are like and the attributes believed necessary for successful performance in male gender-typed positions and roles," (Heilman, 2012, p. 113). Those negative perceptions create and sustain glass ceilings and other structural impediments to empowering typically subordinate groups. Power structures in organizations are directly related to diversity consciousness; when those power structures become immutable and entrenched by a status quo, the organization as a whole suffers.

Recent literature has tended to focus increasingly on age-related discrimination and stereotyping in the workplace, because around the world, organizations contend with a substantial number of employees who are aging. Posthuma & Guerrero (2013) point out that age discrimination can be found in organizations around the world, substantiated in international literature on organizational communication and gerontology. For example, research on Thai organizations reveal both negative and positive stereotypes about aging, with young Thai workers admitting to "positive stereotype items that older workers are absent less, have a better attitude toward work, and have a higher level of commitment to the organization than younger workers," (McCann & Keaton, 2013, p. 326). The researchers also found that young Thai workers perceive older workers as more prone to mistakes, less willing to adapt to change or new technologies, and more avoidant in their communication style. Thus, research reveals that both positive and negative beliefs about a certain cohort, whether gender, race, or age-related, create a hostile work environment because these beliefs signal disrespect and in some cases, dehumanization. Stereotypes -- even those considered "positive," lead to discrimination and can create an uncomfortable, even hostile work environment that inhibits creativity, productivity, and retention.

Research consistently shows why diversity is important for organizational success. As Miller (2014) suggestions, the "business case for diversity" or "value-in perspective" focuses on bottom line benefits but this point-of-view can be problematic because it ignores the social justice and ethical issues. It is imperative for contemporary and future-oriented human resources professionals in future-oriented organizations to shift their culture and values and not just focus on the bottom line in their practices. Nine cultural attributes identified in research as signaling diversity include performance orientation, assertiveness, future orientation, human orientation, institutional collectivism, in-group collectivism, gender egalitarianism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance (Barak, 2013, p. 185). Human resources personnel need to understand these various components related to diversity, to create a diversity policy that most closely aligns with organizational goals.

Furthermore, communications and organizational psychology research highlights the significance of psychological safety in the workplace. Psychological safety is a "principal motivator of employee performance behaviours in a racially diverse work setting," (Singh, Winkel & Selvarajan, 2013, p. 242). One of the biggest known impediments to psychological safety is workplace bullying, which can be subtle and pervasive and noticeable only to its direct victims. In fact, much workplace bullying can be unconscious, which is why strong educational and trainign programs can be designed to prevent workplace bullying. Workplace bullying "affects nearly half of working adults and has devastating results on employee well-being and organizational productivity," (Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2011, p. 3).

Developing effective human resources policies that promote psychological safety and diversity can include an evidence-based practice based on what has worked for model companies. Organizations assessed by Diversity Inc. and cited for their admirable diversity policies shared several features, policies, or programs in common including "corporate diversity council, diversity training programs, supplier diversity, employee networking and mentoring, cultural awareness, support for women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender network programs and same-sex benefits. The result of these policies is a highly diverse workforce and relatively diverse management in the sample firms," (Madera, 2013, p. 124). Consistently, research shows that the creation of a "psychological safe" work environment, "where employees feel confident in expressing their true selves without fear of being judged as inferior or incompetent," promotes success (Singh, Winkel & Selvarajan, 2013, p. 242).

It is important to focus on overall context and organizational culture than on anything specific when designing a diversity program because of the different types of diversity that might be manifest in the individual organization; moreover, there are different situational and personal variables at stake (Singh, Winkel & Selvarajan, 2013). A communications approach works best because its fundamental theories can best explain "the toxic complexity of workplace bullying as it is condoned through societal discourses, sustained by receptive workplace cultures, and perpetuated through local interaction," (Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2011, p. 3). It may be best to examine different levels of communications, at the macro, meso, micro (Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2011, p. 3). For example, Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy (2011) find that it is important for diversity managers to understand "(a) how abuse manifests, (b) how employees respond, (c) why it is so harmful, (d) why resolution is so difficult, and (e) how it might be resolved," (p. 3).

Explicit information about cultural differences and even travel can enhance cross-cultural competence among employees who have shown a history of discrimination… [END OF PREVIEW]

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