The Influence Of Diversity Factors On Individual Behavior
Length: 1420 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)
There are numerous influences that affect individual and group behavior in the workplace. A great many of these are external to the workplace, and include the influences of pervasive social forces that shape an individual's behavior from early childhood, such as religion, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status; physiological influences that impose both opportunities and constraints, such as age and gender; and the influences from life choices that individuals make, such as occupation and geographic location. The general question of "how does influence X affect behavior?" is too broad to address. This paper will examine four specific examples of the impact of gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation on behavior in the workplace, with the objective of illustrating the profound scope and influence of the elements of diversity.
Forming teams to solve specific problems inside of a company is common practice. What impact does the gender-diversity of the team have on its performance? Socialization of gender roles begins at very early ages, with men and women experiencing different socialization processes that result in different patterns of behavior. Girls are commonly taught to respect male authority, to act in a communal fashion, and to resist expressing aggressive or assertive behaviors. Conversely, boys are socialized to be aggressive and competitive. There are certainly modern trends away from these stereotypes, but there is still a common level of perception that the socialized behaviors from childhood persist in the workplace for adults (Karakowsky, McBey & Chuang, 2004). These early patterns of socialization and expectation setting have long-lasting impacts on the behaviors of adult team members.
Research shows that when the gender-orientation of a task is congruent with the gender of the performer, the perception of competence and the expectation of success are higher than when the task's orientation is not congruent (Dovidio, 1988). To some degree, this influence extends to the entire team; a team with a majority of women will expect to perform well on tasks with a "female" gender orientation (a heavily-social event, for example), whereas a male-dominated team will expect to perform well on a technical task. This has impact on team formation strategies, and may even act as a predictor of poor team results if a team's objective is not gender-congruent.
Religion is an enormously powerful and pervasive social force. Christianity, for example, places a strong emphasis on values, ethics, moral character, and charity. One manifestation of these attributes in the workplace is an employee's willingness to engage in organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB). OCB "are workplace activities that exceed the formal job requirements and contribute to the effective functioning of the organization" (Finkelstein & Penner, 2004, p 1). An employee who mentors a new employee while maintaining his or her own workload would be exhibiting OCB. Similarly, an employee who coordinates a company picnic without being paid extra for his or her services is also engaging in OCB. A study by Rauch (2002) examined the statistical correlation between Christian religious faith and OCB within the confines of a buffet restaurant chain in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Curiously, the results of the study did not show a significant correlation between Christian religious faith and organizational citizenship behaviors, even when carefully controlled for gender, age, and income level. Although it was not specifically a hypothesis of the study, an additional variable of the survey did show a statistically significant correlation between religious faith and job satisfaction.
By 2010, more than 51 percent of the US workforce is expected to be 40 or older (Microsoft, 2005). What impact does age have on the adoption and sustained usage of technology in the workplace? A 5-month study was done in the summer of 2000 among 118 workers who were being introduced to a new software system (Morris & Venkatesh, 2000). The results are unsurprising. Compared to older workers, younger workers found it easier to adopt and sustain usage of new technology. Research shows that as basic physiological processes decline with age, older workers are less effective at performing complex information processing tasks. There was also support for the idea that older workers have a more difficult time adapting to technological changes in the work environment, and seek refuge in more familiar approaches. Younger workers tend to be more focused on job-related outcomes and explicit rewards, and view technology as simply a means to achieving a desirable outcome. With technology becoming an increasingly important factor in gaining or maintaining competitive advantage, the impact of an aging workforce may have a medium-term negative impact on the US economy.
One of the last pervasive human behaviors that is still unprotected by federal anti-discrimination legislation is sexual orientation. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employees who have not disclosed their sexual orientation face significant challenges in the workplace, where a question as seemingly simple as "What did you do over the weekend?" can be embarrassing and uncomfortable to answer. A GLBT employee who is still "in the closet" may spend time and energy worrying about such conversations rather than focusing on work, may be seen as evasive by co-workers, and may have difficulty bonding into work teams (Turner, 2004).
Disclosure carries its own set of impacts. According to Blanford (1999) openly gay and bisexual men earn 22-32% less than heterosexual men; while curiously, openly lesbian and bisexual women earn 17%-38% more than heterosexual women. No causal explanation was suggested, though some correlations with the effects of labor-market strategies by lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers was noted.
This paper briefly surveyed four diversity factors gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation covering only a very small and specific example of how each factor impacts behaviors in the workplace. Even from this small sample, though, it should be clear that all of the elements of diversity, whether originating from social, physiological, or individual choice origins can have profound impacts on individual and group behavior. What should also be clear is that outcomes of such impacts are not always intuitive. It is tempting to predict, for example, that the impact of Christian religious faith on an individual would lead to engagement in organizational citizenship behaviors that is, in charitable actions in the workplace. It is tempting to conclude that since openly gay men earn materially less than their heterosexual counterparts, the same handicap applies to openly gay women. Neither of these conclusions is supported by the data.
We are all shaped by a myriad of powerful influences that impact our individual behaviors. Gaining an understanding these influences, and resisting drawing "obvious" conclusions from only a surface understanding of each factor will make each of us a more effective manager and leader.
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Dovidio, J.F., Brown, C.E., Heltman, K., Ellyson, S.L. and Keating, C.F. (1988). Power displays between women and men in discussions of gender-linked tasks: a multi-channel study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 580-587. Retrieved January 30, 2006 from http://columbia.edu/~rmk7/HC/HC_Readings/Dovidio.pdf.
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