Diversity, inclusion, and engagement in the workplace

Diversity, inclusion, and engagement in the workplace

Anthony Schulzetenberg

Joe Colihan


It's happening.  Large movements are growing and bringing awareness to the inequalities marginalized populations are experiencing.  From Black Lives Matter to #MeToo, the United States is experiencing an uproar of voices that have been silenced for far too long.  NPR recently interviewed Johnny Taylor, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, who stated, without hyperbole, that of the HR professionals he recently interviewed, all of them reported dealing with MeToo-related complaints (Noguchi, 2018).  The sexual harassment movement has sparked a deluge of other worker complaints such as pay inequality, discrimination, and bullying.  As discussed in “Employee well-being – Engage - Make it so” (Colihan, 2018) these complaints should be seen as the gifts that they are:  opportunities to make things right.  Decades of research shows that addressing issues of respect, fairness, equality, and safety in the workplace increases both the well-being of employees and the success of the organization. 

Employees are more engaged when they perceive their role as psychologically meaningful, believe it is a safe environment to perform, and feel effective in performing their role.  So, what does the research show about engagement among marginalized populations?  A disturbing trend in modern organizations is the relative low job satisfaction and high voluntary turnover among ethnic or cultural minorities (Hofhuis, Van Der Zee, & Otten, 2012).  Many employers are reporting that although they have policies and practices in place to hire talent from diverse racial demographics, ethnic and cultural minority employees are voluntarily staying in jobs for shorter periods of time and reporting they are less happy with their job when compared to employees from racial and cultural majorities (Paolacci & Chandler, 2014). 

Hicks-Clarke and Iles (2000) suggested that perceptions of workplace climate, social interactions, and feeling welcomed within an organization can vary depending on one’s self-defined racial group membership.  In a large meta-analysis exploring the differences in perceptions of workplace mistreatment between sexes and races, McCord, Joseph, Dhanani, and Beus (2018) found that racial minorities perceive more race-based mistreatment in the workplace than white employees, and women perceive more sex-based mistreatment than men.   

Employee turnover can be caused by many different factors, however, job dissatisfaction has been identified as the main predictor (Hom & Kinicki, 2001), suggesting that minorities are not satisfied with one or multiple domains of their job (e.g., colleagues, benefits, work content, career development, or supervisors).  The reasons for this might come from external factors (e.g., discrimination, unfair practices, hostile work environments), internal factors (e.g., value incongruence, differences in expectations) or some combination of the two.  These experiences could result in disengagement from the workplace or prevent any engagement from initially forming.

So, the perception of mistreatment in the workplace is not uncommon, and it has negative consequences for the target of the mistreatment as well as the observers.  Dhanani, Beus, & Joseph (2018) outlined many of these outcomes including health in a recent meta-analysis, and found that stress and perceived justice play a big role in how people react.    

What is a woke business leader to do?  First, be open to the feedback, and welcome it.  You want to encourage people to speak up.  Many organizations have been evolving in recent years from a focus on diversity (e.g., quotas and affirmative action) toward inclusion (ensuring that diverse people with diverse backgrounds and different points of view feel valued and included).  Involvement in decision-making is one key aspect of such inclusion.  Rattan and Dweck (2018) found that those exposed to or targeted by mistreatment were more likely to maintain positive attitudes toward an organization if they confronted it and held a growth mindset (belief that others can change).  Other efforts, such as diversity training, attempt to minimize stereotyping and prejudice.  Implicit bias training has helped provide a safe space for non-judgmental discussion.  In short, confronting issues and creating an atmosphere where people feel safe to speak up is key.

 “Make a career of humanity.  Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in” (King, 1959).


Colihan, J.  (2018).  Employee well-being: Engage: Make it so.  http://www.colihanconsulting.com.

Dhanani, L. Y., Beus, J. M., & Joseph, D. L.  (2018).  Workplace discrimination: A meta-analytic extension, critique, and future research agenda.  Personnel Psychology, 147-179.    

HicksClarke, D., & Iles, P. (2000). Climate for diversity and its effects on career and organisational attitudes and perceptions. Personnel Review, 29(3), 324–345. https://doi.org/10.1108/00483480010324689.

Hofhuis, J., Van Der Zee, K. I., & Otten, S. (2012). Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal Comparing antecedents of voluntary job turnover among majority and minority employees. An International Journal European Journal of Training and Development Journal of Economic Studies, 33(6), 735–749.  https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-09-2013-0071.

Hom, P. W., & Kinicki, A. J. (2001). Towards a greater understanding of how dissatisfaction drives employee turnover. Academy of Management Journal, 44(5), 975–987.  

McCord, M. A., Joseph, D. L., Dhanani, L. Y., & Beus, J. M. (2018). A meta-analysis of sex and race differences in perceived workplace mistreatment.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 137-165.

Noguchi, Y.  (2018).  #MeToo Complaints Swamp Human Resources Departments.  NPR, https://www.npr.org.

King, M. L.  (1959).  March for Integrated Schools, April 18, 1959.

Paolacci, G., & Chandler, J. (2014). Inside the Turk Understanding Mechanical Turk as a Participant Pool. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(3), 184–188. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721414531598

Rattan, A. & Dweck, C. S.  (2018).  What happens after prejudice is confronted in the workplace?  How mindsets affect minorities’ and women’s outlook on future social relations.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 676-687. 


Joe Colihan