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Student Research Projects

A Meta-Analysis of Diversity Programs in American Organizations

Student Kaitlin Allison
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Management, Business and Economics


It is a well-known fact that discrimination is illegal in this country. Not hiring someone based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or religion is illegal in America. More recently, however, managers have been looking at diversity within the workplace in a different light. Business managers and human resources have the notion that hiring a more diverse workforce will increase morale, increase effectiveness and productivity, and allow the company to enter new segments of the market (Ely and Thomas).

Even with good intentions to create a more diverse workplace, some companies have failed to meet the ideal intentions of a diverse workforce. In some instances, the tensions between employees have worsened which has resulted in loss of production and lowered company performance. When managing a diverse organization, David A. Thomas and Robin J. Ely, authors of the article “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm For Managing Diversity,” believe that there are three typical paradigms that companies use in order to manage diversity within a business.

According to Thomas and Ely, the first two paradigms, discrimination-and-fairness paradigm and the access-and-legitimacy paradigm, are the most common practices to date for an organization. The discrimination-and-fairness paradigm follows the basic idea that the company needs equal opportunity – in compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity requirements – fair treatment, equal opportunity, and recruitment. In essence, the company focuses on bringing in people from diverse backgrounds and focuses on not treating anyone differently. The ultimate goal is to bring up numbers for minorities and retention of employees; they do not focus on the quality and progress of their diversity programs or encourage the use of their diverse programs on the work within the company.

That authors state that the access-and-legitimacy paradigm takes the aspects that the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm left out. The access-and-legitimacy paradigm focuses on the skills, ideas, and attitudes of the different employees. They see their consumer market as being more diverse, and in compliance for the demand for multilingual employees and new ideas based on different cultures, companies have hired employees to make up their diverse workplace. Since this paradigm has a more consumer based idealism, it has led to more minorities and women coming up to the higher management ranks. However, using the access-and-legitimacy paradigm has brought limitations to the company in terms of creating a specialized product and not been able to take a competitive advantage over its competitors.

Finally, the third paradigm that Thomas and Ely introduce in their article, and refer to as the “Emerging Paradigm,” is the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm. Organizations that have used the discrimination-and-fairness paradigm and the access-and-legitimacy paradigm have found its potential limited. These organizations have started to use the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm to manage their diverse organizations. The idea is to infuse the ideas of the employees to increase productivity by rethinking the basics of the company, redefining the market, products, business strategies, the mission, etc. By redesigning the company in general the company is able to rethink its structure and use the diverse workforce to its true benefits.
This paper attempts to explain why diversity initiatives in American organizations may not be fulfilling their ideal promise or may not be as effective as intended. In order to test this notion we will investigate/study a selective sample of fifty organizational websites who have diversity programs. Those diversity programs will be compared with the principles of the three afore-mentioned paradigms in order to determine how many are subscribing to each paradigm. Ideally, we would like to see that the majority of the organizations under investigation are adhering to the learning-and-effectiveness paradigm.


VWC Undergraduate Research Travel Grant


Salek, E. and K. Allison. 2008. A Meta-Analysis of Diversity Programs in American Organizations. Society for Advancement of Management (SAM) International Business Conference in Arlington, VA, April 3-6 2008.

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