Value Systems : Diversity That is More Than Skin-Deep

BarryBarry Doublestein is President of the newly-formed Institute for Leadership in Medicine. As a not-for-profit institution, their purpose is to train qualified physician-leaders for the medicine.

Barry is President of the Osteopathic Institute of the South, an organization dedicated to the training of medical students and Chairman of the Board of Masterworks Foundation, an arts-related institution, focused on training artists from a distinctively-Christian worldview.

Barry is aIso a doctoral student in the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.


Diversity That is More Than Skin-Deep


There is no question that the topic of diversity within the workplace has become one of the leading issues today. With the growing world economy and the need to expand markets, the dramatic increase of third-world immigration into western countries, and the pressure on managers to boost productivity, quality and customer service, all while reducing costs, makes this issue very relevant. In order to confront these issues, leaders must create positive work environments where people feel valued and appreciated.1 Here is where a diversity-focused leader is supposed to find the ‘holy grail’ that will solve all problems. Unfortunately, most organizational diversity programs miss the mark for they focus on characteristics that are only skin-deep.


In fact, a review of diversity literature and a Google search will support the notion that diversity issues in Corporate America are only skin deep. It is believed that merely adding a mix of races, genders, cultures, creeds and physical handicaps will automatically produce a vibrant, productive, quality-oriented, world-class organization. But something is missing from the mix, for looking only skin-deep might meet artificial ‘standards’ for openness, but it does not ensure excellence in the marketplace. What is necessary to take an organization to the pinnacle of success is to infuse itself with workers of diverse knowledge and experiences.


Engaging diverse thinkers should be the goal of every organization for in doing so, it releases the organization to seek solutions that rise above the norm without cultural or social limitations. Organizations need to dig deeper by focusing on knowledge diversity for this is the cauldron in which creativity and success are brewed or fostered.


Of course, people with diverse knowledge and experiences come from varying races, cultures, creeds and physical conditions, and this is a good place to start, but, organizations should not be satisfied with stopping there. From among these diverse groups, leaders must cultivate diverse thinkers. It is a given that if you organization does not have workers from differing cultures, races or genders, you do not have the foundation upon which diverse thinkers can be fostered.


Social, Informational and Value Diversity


At this point, it is necessary to define diversity in the workplace to ensure that we are all on the same page as we move through this discussion. Different kinds of diversity exist; social (differences in gender, ethnicity or nationality), informational (unique knowledge base), and value (differences in what individuals find important).2 Social diversity has been categorized as superficial, while informational and value diversity are ‘deep-level.’ Superficial diversity is often that which receives the most attention in diversity discussions. It is easy to identify and categorize individuals according to these superficial characteristics and it is easy to meet hiring quotas because one can clearly see the results. On the other hand, deeper-level diversity must deal with people of differing knowledge (they might know something that others don’t), experiences (different experiences foster different responses) and values (personal, as to how they view the world as compared to corporate values). It is important to note that there must be congruence between a worker’s personal values and that of their organization, for it is through these shared values and norms that an organization’s goals are met.3


Diversity of core values within an organization, however, is counter-productive. Studies have shown that for a team to be effective, members should have high information diversity and low value diversity. For a team to be efficient, members should have low value diversity. For a team to have high morale, or to perceive itself as effective, it should be composed of participants with low value diversity.4 What these studies show is that certain types of similarity are dramatically more important than others even when it is believed that people generally strive for similarity among those with whom they interact.5 Regardless, increasing amounts of interaction between individuals reduces the importance of superficial diversity and increases the importance of deep-level diversity.6


Promoting Deeper Diversity


Putting superficial diversity aside, how does an organization promote this deeper diversity? The larger an organization becomes, specific job duties become more specialized making it more difficult for ‘line-workers’ to understand how their work systems affect others. As organizations increase in size, it is more critical to push communication and operational evaluation to the lowest level within an organization, for it is here that system problems are identified and corrected. There must be communication between these differing teams and an overall organization-wide fostering of diverse thinking to solve problems.


While a manager at a student-loan processing center, I realized how independently each of our departments were operating, yet were entirely dependent upon the operations of each other. I pulled the other managers together and suggested that we discuss each of our problems and work together, from our diverse perspectives, to solve glitches that were being magnified further down in the processing system. We dropped all pretensions and individual pride and discussed how each of our department systems was affecting the others. If a problem was found, we fixed it. Having similar thinking-groups on all levels of an organization will bring a success seldom found in most businesses.


One cannot ignore the value of experience diversity to an organization as well.  It has been said that experience comes with age. Although true on one level, technological developments are offering younger and younger workers differing experiences, each of great value to the organization. So one cannot simply say that an older workforce brings greater experiences, rather it merely brings different ones. Technological advancements offer opportunities for applications unknown in the past. Managers would do well to identify potential workers with variety in their experience and recruit them to join their teams.


Finding Diverse Thinkers and Experience


So how does an organization find diverse thinkers? First and foremost, it needs to look internally. Leaders need to get to know the uniqueness of thinking and experiences brought to the workplace by their employees. These same individuals may be sources of referrals if they know what the leader is seeking. Additionally, leaders must foster an open environment that encourages input from employees based upon their vast knowledge and experiences. But, before this happens in any organization, there must be a sincere commitment from the leadership that employee input is valued. Employees of all types want to be valued within their organizations. They want to be able to use their skills and gifts to move the organization forward; to know that their efforts have resulted in the betterment of individuals and society as a whole. True leadership commitment will be noticed by workers, for it is something that cannot be faked.


Analyzing Organizational Diversity


How does an organization analyze its diversity quotient? It is easy to sit down with a checklist of the various superficial characteristics and assess whether your organization meets diversity standards. What is more difficult to assess is whether your organization is diverse beyond skin-deep. The first ‘method’ of analyzing deep-level diversity is to assess the involvement of ‘down-line’ employees in team communication. Are these lower-level employees providing input into how others might be affecting their job, or how jobs might become more streamlined? If not, leaders need to encourage their involvement.


Second, analyzing requires that the organization get to know their employees and the vast experience that they bring to the job. Leaders need to encourage them to bring this experience to their present job whether it is positive or negative, for these experiences encourage leadership to consider new ways of approaching old ideas. Does leadership within your organization know their employees?


Third, organizations need periodic ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking sessions. Does your organization take time to imagine what might be? Do you, as a leader, take time to go off with your employees to ‘vision’ for your organization? If not, you are not taking advantage of your most important organizational asset, diverse thinkers.


Lastly, organizations need periodic assessment sessions in which they analyze every component of the organization against market trends and competition. Everyone within an organization has something to add to these valuable sessions. How well is your organization doing this?


If you find, as a result of your analysis, a need to change your thinking with respect to diversity-issues, there is no better time than now to go greater than skin-deep. No organization of ‘like thinkers’ will long survive. Either recruit diverse thinkers or create them from within.




1.         Kreitner, R., Kinicki, A. (1998). Organizational Behavior: 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill. pg. 32.


2.         Jehn, K., Northoraft, G., Neale, M. (1999). Why Differences Make a Difference: A Field Study of Diversity, Conflict, and Performance in Workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly. Dec.


3.         Kreitner, R., Kinicki, A. (1998). Organizational Behavior: 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill.  pg. 44.


4.         Jehn, K., Northoraft, G., Neale, M. (1999). Why Differences Make a Difference: A Field Study of Diversity, Conflict, and Performance in Workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly. Dec.


5.         Byrne, D. (1971). The Attraction Paradigm. New York, NY: Academic Press.


6.         Jehn, K., Northoraft, G., Neale, M. (1999). Why Differences Make a Difference: A Field Study of Diversity, Conflict, and Performance in Workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly. Dec.


Copyright 2006 Barry Doublestein

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