Release year: 1993)

Author: Taylor Cox, Jr., Ph.D.

Link to my handwritten notes

Buy this book (note: affiliate link)


Cultural diversity is a subject I am very passionate about. It is an issue that seems to come up everywhere I look, not only in my personal life, but also at work, and in the media. People in power feel threatened by difference. People in out-groups want in and don’t see a reason why they should be left out. Why do we seem stuck in this eternal struggle, and how can we all get along? How can we become more than the sum of our parts?

When I stumbled on Cultural Diversity in Organizations from author Taylor Cox, Jr., Ph.D. at Renaissance for $3.25, it felt like providence. The universe wanted me to read this book, it seems. I had all sorts of expectations about what I would learn from this read. The author, who is himself part of a minority group, was surely about to blow my mind. However, being published over 30 years ago in 1993, the year I was born (!), would this book stand the test of time?

Yes. Of course it did! Culture issues have been an ongoing struggle in human organizations for thousands of years. A mere 30 years is not enough to dampen the impact of Cox’s deep reflections on how cultures meld or repulse each other.

I should warn the reader that this is not a light read. The sentences are often long and technical, so bring out your highlighter and take notes, and make sure you are not in a hurry. I read from one of the reviews on Amazon that a reader got this book for a masters class in Organizational Behavior!

The book often revolves around the themes of racism, sexism, agism and the like, but what I really admired is how the proposed solutions to these problems also apply to any cultural differences. For example, a portfolio company that bought 5 start-ups and needs to merge them together might be merging 5 White-male dominated groups, and yet the same in-group vs out-group dynamics would play out. Despite all of our identity differences, we are all the same, and we are all subject to these mysterious forces that put us into conflict.

There is a way out. One of my favorite quotes from the book came at the very end: “A breakthrough for many organizations will be achieved by the simple mechanism of bringing discussion about group differences out in the open.” So simple, yet so rare. Building a multicultural organization is a balancing act that requires everyone to align on core values that will push us towards integrating each other in the group. It’s hard, but it can be done. The reward is worth it.

I believe I’ve got everything I hoped for out of this book, and more. I particularly enjoyed learning about the 5 stages of identity development among Black people (see star quotes below, #32). This was eye-opening for me.

In the heartfelt words of Toto Laraque who sings Non au racisme , “Nous sommes tous pareil!” We are all the same.


Félix rating:

⭐ Star quotes

  1. (p. 15) Behavior is driven by perceptions of reality. Therefore, what people believe about their opportunities in the work environment is of vital important regardless of whether or not these beliefs are consistent with the facts.
  2. (p. 28) In their recruiting efforts, companies such as Merck, Xerox, Syntex, and Hoffman-LaRoche have been aggressively using publicity they have received as good places for women and/or racioethnic minorities to work. The recognition they have received is boosting recruiting efforts.
  3. (p. 32) To adapt successfully to its external environment, a system must incorporate all the variety found in that environment.
  4. (p. 32) Creativity thrives on diversity.
  5. (p. 36) If organizations are successful in overcoming resistance to change in the especially difficult area of accepting diversity, they should be well positioned to deal with resistance to other types of organization change.
  6. (p. 59) People are at their best when they can be themselves.
  7. (p. 65) It has been shown that persons who are high producers in brainstorming tasks are more tolerant of ambiguity than low producers.
  8. (p. 76) Sexual harassment exists when:
    • sexual activity is explicitly or implicitly made a condition for employment (“quid pro quo”)
    • sexual conduct has the effect of interfering with a person’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment (“hostile environment”)
  9. (p. 79) Where harassment is ignored, it eventually worsens.
  10. (p. 91) One of the challenges for organization and individual change in diverse organizations is to create the ability to acknowledge differences in positive or neutral terms.
  11. (p. 93) Stereotyping occurs as an overreaction to behaviors that do not match our expectations.
  12. (p. 116) If the norm to compete is strong, people will often engage in competitive behavior even when the structure of the task makes it irrational to do so.
  13. (p. 118) Locus of control (LOC) refers to beliefs about the causation of life events. Persons with an external LOC believe that the primary determinants of life events are external, often uncontrollable forces, whereas persons with an internal LOC tend to believe that they themselves are the primary cause of events in their lives.
  14. (p. 119) It seems logical that members of racioethnic minority groups (and other low-power groups) may have a more external LOC than majority group members because they are much more sensitive to the influence of racioethnicity on life events.
  15. (p. 124) A classic asymmetry in communication between women and men is that women often communicate problems in an effort to obtain support and a sharing of ideas, while men often interpret the mention of a problem as a request for them to solve it.
  16. (p. 126) Members of minority groups are more likely to feel that they must think ideas through fully and be sure before they speak. This hinders psychological safety.
  17. (p. 143) Majority group members often see incidents of racioethnic injustice as “isolated occurrences” while many minorities see them as single events in an overall pattern of oppression that is embedded in the social system itself.
  18. (p. 146) Majority members are less favorable toward minorities when their numbers are relatively large. Majority members perceive minority members as a serious threat to their established power.
  19. (p. 161) Organization culture is defined as the underlying values, beliefs and principles that serve as a foundation for the organization’s management system, as well as the set of management practices and behaviors that both exemplify and reinforce those principles.
  20. (p. 162) Culture strength is a combination of the extent to which norms and values are clearly defined and the extent to which they are rigorously enforced. A strong culture is one in which everyone construes a situation similarly; thus the situation induces uniform expectancies and a uniform response.
  21. (p. 163) When organizational culture is weak, people invoke their own identities for modes of behaving. The extreme of weak culture is organizational chaos.
  22. (p. 163) Organizations can be described and compared on the four dimensions of:
    • predictability – spontaneity
    • internal focus – external focus
    • order – flexibility
    • long-term focus – short-term focus
  23. (p. 165) ⭐ Intimate knowledge about getting along in an organization (the unspoken, unwritten and sometimes most critical information) is transmitted in ongoing small-scale socialization, particularly when the newcomer:
    • acquires organizationally appropriate attitudes and behaviors
    • resolves intra- and interorganizational conflicts
    • begins to individualize their organizational role transmitted
  24. (p. 165) Acculturation refers to the process for resolving cultural differences and of cultural change and adaptation between groups, especially when one group is being merged into a larger, more dominant group.
  25. (p. 166) Pluralism refers to a two-way learning and adaptation process in which both the organization and entering members from various cultural backgrounds change to some degree to reflect the cultural norms and values of the other(s).
  26. (p. 166) Pluralism emphasizes interdependence and mutual appreciation among cultures and the importance of preservation of microculture group identity. It is an acculturation process in which the entering members assimilate a limited number of core behaviors and values while preserving important differences along other dimensions.
  27. (p. 168) An organizationsl culture with a high tolerance for ambiguity will exert less pressure for convergence and will tolerate more divergence. Thus these organizations might be more inclined to favor pluralism as an acculturation mode.
  28. (p. 168) In organizations with high tolerance for ambiguity, sociocultural conflicts would be viewed as normal and potentially useful rather than as dysfunctional and to be avoided.
  29. (p. 176) In transitional assimilationist-oriented organizations, cultural distance will be inversely related to positive member career outcomes.
  30. (p. 178) When a group has held a dominant position in a social system over a long period of time, members of the group experience psychological discomfort when the percentage of minority group members exceeds about 20%.
  31. (p. 193) For minorities in predominantly majority settings, the time and energy that is used to establish legitimacy could be more productively used to solve organizational problems.
  32. (p. 51) Identity development among Black people has five stages:
    1. Preencounter: Black people reject Black heritage and define themselves in terms of White culture
    2. Encounter: Black people seek identification with Black culture
    3. Immersion/emersion: Black people have complete identification with Black culture and hostility toward Whites
    4. Internalization: Black people become comfortable with Black identity; anger leaves and racism is transcended
    5. Internationalization/commitment: Black people become behaviorally active in fighting racism.
  33. (p. 213) On a practical level, standardization in the bureaucratic sense often translates into an inflexible system that responds unfavorably to anything beyond the ordinary. It is rooted in the bureaucratic principles of:
    • division of labor
    • impersonality
    • separation of job and jobholder
    • emphasis on written rules and regulation
  34. (p. 229) ⭐ An organization which simply contains many different culture groups is a plural organization. An organization is multicultural only if it values this diversity.
  35. (p. 237) Most experts agree that education is a crucial first step; however, it is important to recognize that it has limitations as an organization change tool and should not be used in isolation. It is also important to approach training as an ongoing education process rather than a one-shot seminar.
  36. (p. 241) To measure the impact of diversity and its management in organization, apply a stage model to evaluation:
    • Stage 1: Affective outcomes of individuals should be evaluated:
      • career satisfaction
      • job involvement
      • organizational commitment
      • attitude changes
    • Stage 2: Individual achievement measures should be measured:
      • intergroup differences in performance ratings
      • promotion rates
      • compensation
    • Stage 3: Organizational performance indicators should be addressed:
      • work quality
      • turnover
      • productivity
      • absenteeism
    • Stage 4: Market share and profitability should be examined as long-term measures of effectiveness.
  37. (p. 243) Tools for organizational transformation
  38. (p. 249) View affirmative action as a method to address the disadvantages that members of out-groups have due to a combination of ethnocentrism and unequal power distribution. It compensates for the existing discrimination.
  39. (p. 250) Affirmative action in practice fundamentally means the explicit use of a person’s group identity as a criterion in making selection decisions. Candidates of underrepresented groups are selected in preference to those from overrepresented groups.
  40. (p. 251) ⭐ Redefine the concept of equal opportunity to consider the total life history of a person as relevant in defining opportunity, rather than just the moment at hand.
  41. (p. 252) Affirmative action has a downside for both majority and minority group members:
    • Majority group members have to sacrifice some opportunities due to the current imbalance of opportunity
    • Members of minority groups must overcome the assumption by many that they were selected only because of their identity and not because of their talent.
  42. (p. 258) Experts on conflict management have noted that a certain amount of interpersonal conflict is inevitable and perhaps even healthy in organizations. However, conflict becomes destructive when it is excessive, not well managed, or rooted in struggles for power rather than the differentiation of ideas.
  43. (p. 260) ⭐ A breakthrough for many organizations will be achieved by the simple mechanism of bringing discussion about group differences out in the open.