Examples of Organizational Cultures Related to Diversity and Inclusiveness

David A. Thomas from the Harvard Business School and Robin J. Ely from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs have studied organizational culture in relation to diversity and inclusiveness. Their research has uncovered three types of organizational cultures:

  • Discrimination-and-Fairness Culture: Assimilation
  • Access-and-Legitimacy Culture: Differentiation 
  • Connecting Diversity to Work Perspectives: Integration

Thomas and Ely suggest that of the three types, only the third provides a model for maximizing the potential of a truly inclusive organization. (See Bibliography: Thomas and Ely)

The following illustrates the interrelationship between the core levels of organizational culture (surface-level culture, espoused values, and basic assumptions) and their expressions within the types of organizational cultures that relate to diversity and inclusiveness (assimilation, differentiation, or integration): 

SURFACE Assimilation Images in publications and around the facility are mostly homogeneous.

SURFACE Differentiation Images of people of color in publications and around the facility are generally found in specific places where people of color are most likely to view them (e.g., a brochure for a particular program targeted at communities of color).

SURFACE Integration Images in publications and around the facility are mostly heterogeneous.

ESPOUSED Assimilation The leader articulates a belief in a color-blind management approach and states that he or she doesn't see differences; encourages others in the organization to do the same.

ESPOUSED Differentiation The leader actively seeks diversity for the staff and board with the intent of having people of color work on programs, outreach, fundraising, etc., that are specifically targeted at communities of color.

ESPOUSED Integration The leader communicates and actualizes a clear vision of a diverse and inclusive organization where the needs, viewpoints, and assets of all people are valued and integrated into the organization.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS Assimilation Organizational culture reflects white dominant culture; norms go undiscussed or unchallenged; people from diverse backgrounds are expected to act like the dominant culture, e.g., women are expected to act like men and people are expected to act the same regardless of racial, ethnic, or cultural background.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS Differentiation Organizational culture values differences between groups, but the full contributions of people of color are undervalued except insofar as they provide access to communities of color.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS Integration Organizational culture values people from all backgrounds and encourages people of color to utilize their skills and knowledge to increase the organization's relevance to communities of color; and organization encourages people of color to be full participants in the work of the whole organization.

Thomas and Ely found the following components to be present in most of the successfully inclusive organizations they studied:

  • The leadership understands that a diverse workforce embodies different perspectives and approaches to work and truly values the variety of opinions and insights that people with different cultural backgrounds bring to the organization.
  • The leadership recognizes the opportunities and challenges that diversity presents to the organization, embraces those opportunities, and commits to finding healthy solutions to the challenges.
  • The organizational culture creates expectations of high standards of performance from everyone regardless of their racial or ethnic background.
  • The organizational culture is such that training and education programs nurture personal development, and carefully designed jobs maximize the potential of different staff people without relegating them to isolated niche areas within the organization.
  • The organizational culture encourages debate and constructive conflict.
  • Workers feel valued and are encouraged to apply their background and skills in creative ways to improve the work of the organization.
  • The mission and goals of the organization are well articulated and widely understood, which keeps discussions about differences focused on the organization's work.
  • The organizational culture and structure are relatively egalitarian and people are encouraged to be themselves, unencumbered by unnecessary bureaucratic systems that control and limit the activities of the people within the organization.

Complete Benefits of Having a More Inclusive Organizational Culture and Analyzing Information.


Overview: Organizational Culture

Examples of Organizational Cultures Related to Diversity and Inclusiveness

     Discrimination and Fairness Culture: Assimilation

     Connecting Diversity to Work Perspectives: Integration

Creating a More Inclusive Organizational Culture