Constructive Organizational Cultures May Reduce Perceived Discrimination in the Workplace

Blatant discrimination is now a much rarer phenomenon in the workplace than it used to be. Since the introduction of modern legislative policies (i.e., affirmative action in the USA and the Employment Equity Act in Canada), along with the increased awareness of social justice, issues pertaining to systematic or blatant discrimination in the workplace have decreased in the last decades.1

While legislation often determines what constitutes blatant discrimination and reduces the likelihood of its occurrence, discrimination in more subtle forms is still experienced in organizations. That is, the perception of discrimination is still a prevalent issue, as many employees continue to believe that they are receiving unfair treatment due to their demographic characteristics, such as ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or any other physical features.

Perceptions of discrimination in the workplace have organization-wide repercussions as they can lead to variety of negative outcomes, such as lower levels of psychological well-being, decreased job satisfaction and commitment, reduced job performance and productivity, and increased turnover intention.2,3,4 More importantly, these perceptions are not confined only to those who feel that they are the target of discrimination, but affect all employees in an organization where these perceptions exist.

As our research indicates, both minority and non-minority members perceive discrimination in the workplace—and this can have adverse impacts on both groups of members. Note that this research was broadly inclusive with respect to how “minority” was defined, as the term was not limited to ethnic background but also inclusive of other minority groups, such as gender, age, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation.

Perceptions of discrimination in the workplace have organization-wide repercussions as they can lead to variety of negative outcomes, such as lower levels of psychological well-being …

Research we conducted with 153 American full-time employees of organizations in various industries using the Organizational Culture Inventory®5 has demonstrated the positive impact of Constructive organizational culture norms in a diverse workforce. Specifically, Constructive norms were found to lead to lower levels of perceived organizational discrimination, while Aggressive/Defensive organizational culture norms were found to lead to the highest level of perceived organizational discrimination.

Research by Sherif,6 carried out as far back as the 1950s, demonstrated that prejudice and discrimination can be reduced or even eliminated by creating new group boundaries that are inclusive of all.7 When all members of an organization feel a part of a superordinate group, in-group membership is based on organizational membership rather than demographic characteristics.

In other words, organizations that highlight and emphasize Constructive organizational norms encourage members to create positive interactions within the community, build meaningful relationships with others, and approach various tasks in order to meet the collective goals of the organization. These supportive and encouraging interactions, which are based on collective goals, create a sense of community or in-group membership within the organization. The perception of discrimination, consequently, decreases as demographic characteristics – such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion – become less salient through meaningful and positive relationships that are established in the pursuit of common goals.

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Harris, M., Lievens, F., & Van Hoye, G. (2004). “I Think They Discriminated Against Me”: Using Prototype Theory and Organizational Justice Theory for Understanding Perceived Discrimination in Selection and Promotion Situations. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 12(1-2), 54-65.

Triana, M., Jayasinghe, M., & Pieper, J. (2015). Perceived workplace racial discrimination and its correlates: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(4), 491-513.

Connor, J. & Miller, A. (2014). Occupational stress and adaptation of immigrant nurses from the Philippines. Journal of Research In Nursing, 19(6), 504-515.

Goldman, B., Gutek, B., Stein, J., & Lewis, K. (2006). Employment Discrimination in Organizations: Antecedents and Consequences. Journal of Management, 32(6), 786-830.

Cooke, R.A. & Lafferty, J.C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics

Sherif, M. (1958). Superordinate Goals in the Reduction of Intergroup Conflict. American Journal Of Sociology, 63(4), 349-356.

Cooke, R. A., & Szumal, J. L. (1993). Measuring normative beliefs and shared behavioral expectations in organizations: The reliability and validity of the Organizational Culture Inventory. Psychological Reports, 72 (3), 1299-1330

About the Author

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Arief Kartolo

Arief Kartolo is a 3rd year PhD student in the Applied Social Psychology program, with a specialization in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at the University of Windsor. His research focuses on intergroup conflicts and resolutions in the workplace; specifically, with conflicts stemming from cultural and demographic diversity, such as stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. He is a graduate research member at the Centre for Culture and Organizational Research, and a liaison for the Canadian Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.