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Monday, January 30, 2023

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Beth Chung, management professor at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University (SDSU) Beth Chung, management professor at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University (SDSU)

SDSU Management Professor Takes a Hard Look at Inclusion in the Workplace

Beth Chung and her team of researchers have developed a model to measure work group inclusion.
By Suzanne Finch

For the past 40 years, the concepts of diversity and equity have been commonplace throughout U.S. corporations and organizations. However, the concept of inclusion — defined as the degree to which an individual perceives that they are a valued member of a group — has gained traction within workplace and organizational settings in recent years. 

Beth Chung, management professor at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University, has studied organizational behavior, leadership, diversity and inclusion for over 25 years and is a recognized expert in the field.  Chung was one of the early academic researchers who sought to understand how organizational leaders incorporated inclusion into the workplace, and if inclusion was effective in building constructive work environments and improved corporate outcomes.

Chung and Lynn Shore, professor of management at Colorado State University, formed the Institute for Inclusiveness and Diversity in Organizations (IIDO) in 2007 to provide guidance and resources for businesses and organizations seeking to incorporate these principles into their work environment. 

According to their 2021 research, employee inclusiveness starts with organizational leadership in which “minority members voice their opinions, share their knowledge, and make suggestions for improvement.” 

“Marginalized employees have backgrounds and experiences that are quite different than those who have privileged social identities, and the expectation that majority member norms should be adhered to is both unrealistic and unfair,” said Chung. “Implementing equitable practices by recognizing that not everyone has the same advantages, opportunities, or experiences, a leader can ensure a more welcoming and inclusive environment that facilitates the experience of being an insider for all members of the group.”  

Valuing Employee’s Unique Attributes
Early in her research on inclusion, Chung and her colleagues (Shore, Amy Randel, Michelle Dean, Karen Ehrhart and Gangaram Singh, all of SDSU at the time) found employees “want to feel a sense of belonging, as well as feeling valued, for their unique attributes.” 

They give the example of an employee who is older than the other members of the work group who may have institutional or industry knowledge that is potentially valuable to the group. 

“If treated as an insider with highly valued knowledge, the older employee will have a strong sense of inclusion and the group will benefit through improved performance,” they said in their published research.   

The professors followed up on this research by developing a model to measure work group inclusion, which received the best quantitative paper award by the Group & Organization Management journal. 

How Inclusion Improves Organizational Performance
In June 2020, Chung, Dean and Ehrhart published research that found that managers valued inclusiveness as a “nice-to-have,” but not every organization put forth the effort to implement this practice. Those that do, however, may find increased employee morale and intellectual capital assets. 

The researchers surveyed managers in 79 separate life sciences and biotechnology companies and found that businesses with more inclusive values and practices were better able to attract and retain employees, and  were more likely to report a higher level in the development and quality of their products and services.  

The survey indicated this was especially true when organizations had lower intellectual capital (defined as the “sum of all knowledge an organization is able to leverage in the process of conducting business to gain a competitive advantage”). 

Inclusive organizations facing lower intellectual capital tended to overcome those shortcomings “by encouraging employees to help one another to the organization’s benefit,” which led managers to report higher innovation and organizational performance among their staff. 

Understanding the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion
Chung expanded on this concept of diversity by adding that — unlike inclusivity — diversity management focuses on legal compliance and the enhancement of a fully representative workforce. 

“Leaders need to understand how to perform their roles in ways that not only take advantage of diversity and maximize the performance of their work groups, but that also realizes these goals through behaviors that are inclusionary of all group members,” she said.

According to Chung, legislation has helped with the advancement of diversity, and inclusion initiatives such that overt racism, sexism, religious and other biases have declined over the years, but has not disappeared entirely. 

“Covert, subversive and unconscious racism/sexism/religious bias is still around,” she said. “I think that people just aren’t willing to tolerate it anymore, and it finally came to a head during the summer of 2020. Now the country and the world are finally facing issues that have been hidden for a long time and companies, governments, and universities now need to come together to understand how to truly embrace diversity and inclusion.”