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Demographic Differences in Organizations: Current Research and Future Directions.

Anne S. Tsui and Barbara A. Gutek. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 1999. 204 pp. $45.00.

Consistent with its title, Demographic Differences in Organizations aims to analyze the social psychology of demographic differences by drawing on relevant theories to explain when, how, and why individuals will respond to diversity. Simultaneously writing for a broad audience that includes researchers, scholars, consultants, and managers poses challenges in content coverage and writing style. Different sections of the book will therefore appeal to different audiences.

The book is divided into twelve chapters. Unfortunately, many excellent arguments that would orient readers to organizational demography are lost in the scattered and uneven structure of chapters 1, 3, and 4, but it is important for readers to persist. The book comes alive in chapters 5-9, where Tsui and Gutek examine demographic diversity at different levels of analysis and develop a framework to explain this diversity in organizations. This strength is maintained in chapters 10-12 when they examine diversity management and future research and draw conclusions.

Chapter 1 defines diversity and frames it as a problem set within the context of the United States' experiment with equal opportunity. The chapter convincingly shows increasing diversity in the U.S. workplace to be an inevitable consequence of changing population demographics and domestic labor markets. I would have preferred, however, that diversity had been framed more clearly from the beginning as a paradox, that is, as a potentially desirable end state and a substantial challenge. This approach might engage readers more forcefully and encourage them to focus more closely on the social psychology of diversity as they consider ways to meet the challenges that diversity introduces. Interesting but relatively well-understood detail about the demographic profile of the U.S. that is included in chapter 1 could be subordinated to a concise discussion of domestic and international labor markets. More fully examining the types and nature of social rather than numeric social categories as bases for demographic diff erences would strengthen the definitional section. Differences between diversity research and demographic research are explained in chapter 1 and then highlighted throughout the book. As boundary-spanning scientists integrate research on the social psychological dynamics of diversity with research on diversity policies and practices, the distinction is becoming blurred. Encouraging multi-perspective discourse should ultimately prove more effective than introducing even small barriers to conversations between two theoretical or diverse camps.

Chapter 2 succinctly summarizes three approaches to demographic analysis: (1) the categorical approach, (2) the compositional approach, and (3) the relational approach. A discussion of premises, insights, and limits of each helps to orient novice and experienced demographic researchers alike. Chapter 3 reviews empirical research on compositional and relational approaches to demography, including key studies in referred journals that have found effects for demography. A detailed discussion of operational definitions and measures of organizational demography is embedded in the chapter. The chapter concludes that demography is complex. Demographic attributes are multiple and interdependent and may mean different things to different people in different situations; results may vary between units of analysis; since organizations are dynamic social systems, cross-sectional studies may be misleading; and demographic effects must incorporate the influence of context in situ. Thus, there is a need for longitudinal and cross-level studies that examine different demographic dimensions and multidimensional patterns of demography. Tsui and Gutek conclude that, to date, most studies have focused on tenure, age, educational level, job level, functional background, and specialization. Gender and race were only included in nine of the 25 demographic studies reviewed. It is interesting to note that either gender or race or both were examined in four of the six studies published from 1995 to 1999, as compared with five of the 19 published from 1983 to 1994. New trends may be emerging. On a cautionary note, however, I suggest that published studies that have found no effects for demography also warrant attention. Determining, for example, why effects are found in one group and not in another when the two have identical demographic profiles can yield important insights.

Chapter 4 examines the multiple meanings of demography for individuals and groups. Tsui and Gutek clearly recognize that demography is both a source of information about others and a basis for self-identity. The ensuing discussion demonstrates why understanding demographic differences in organizations is important. Moving beyond status, to introduce power and influence and recognize more fully the potential power of identity-based politics in affecting individuals' reactions to their own and others' demographic dimensions, would strengthen this already strong discussion. Recognizing substantial debate about whether people are fundamentally motivated to develop and maintain positive versus accurate self-identities would similarly add value.

Chapters 5-8 provide an efficient, coherent, and thought-provoking discussion of demographic diversity at different levels of analysis, moving logically from dyads to groups to organizations and then bridging to the international arena in an intelligent discussion of China. Together, the chapters lead into the integrative framework of demographic diversity in organizations that the authors introduce in chapter 9. These chapters should appeal to lay and academic audiences alike. Consultants and managers may find chapter 5 on demography in vertical and horizontal pairs to be particularly appealing. The chapter moves quickly and adopts a more journalistic writing style than many of the others. I would have appreciated a more nuanced analysis of relations between specific demographic characteristics and effects at varying levels of analysis, the social psychological mechanisms involved, and the relation between diversity and conflict, in particular in chapters 5 and 6, which focus on dyads and groups. I realize, however, that Tsui and Gutek had to make choices about what to include and believe they deserve credit for the tough choices they made. Chapter 7 is particularly strong. It focuses on demography in organizations and reviews key literature. The chapter includes an excellent discussion linking outcomes associated with demographic diversity in dyads and groups to outcomes at the organizational level of analysis. The discussion of diversity in China in chapter 8 convincingly encourages international demographic research and introduces the challenge of considering context and countryrelevant bases for relational demography.

Chapter 9 introduces an integrative framework for understanding diversity across levels of analysis. This chapter may be especially useful for novices seeking an introduction to demographic research or for managers and consultants seeking to maximize the potential benefits of diversity. The chapter provides an interesting basis for discussion and has value if considered as a starting rather than as an ending point. Chapter 10 examines the challenges of and strategies for managing demographic diversity, arguing that diversity must be managed at every level in organizations. Two ways of managing diversity are recognized: (1) attending to the social psychological processes that mediate relations between demographic characteristics and social and performance outcomes and (2) managing the distribution of workers on the basis of demographic characteristics. Arguments logically follow from research reviewed in other chapters. The chapter could have been strengthened by explicitly discussing difficult conditions that make managing diversity challenging. It would be refreshing, for instance, to see an argument that explicitly discusses strategies for managing fear, hate, politicized diversity environments, or situations in which diversity is correlated with nonperformance. Similarly, an enhanced discussion of the social psychological dynamics of assimilation and multicultural strategies for managing diversity would add value.

Chapter 11 provides a straightforward overview of key questions for future research. In this penultimate chapter, Tsui and Gutek call for research that examines operating work groups and units, the effects of demographic distributions throughout the organization on individual employees' experiences and intergroup relations, how the demographic composition of an entire work group affects the quality of relationships between group members, category-specific effects versus those that generalize across categories, and how social categories become salient or important in organizations. They call for field research and action research that introduces, observes, and records the outcomes of interventions over time. The chapter includes a brief but intelligent overview of tradeoffs between widely used methods for conducting research on demography in organizations.

The final chapter is concise and compelling. Tsui and Gutek conclude that demographic diversity is associated with negative effects but also has the potential to improve problem solving and innovation. They also conclude that negative effects of demographic diversity can probably be overcome by structural and process interventions. Success depends on the ability of people in organizations to understand diversity and to take action to capitalize on the cognitive resources diversity introduces. I agree with the conclusion and truly believe that polite discourse about diversity has failed to capture its reality. We often discuss diversity in a relatively shallow but passionate, often political manner. Scientific inquiry has, in my view, been somewhat hampered by our inability to fully state and engage in meaningful debate about the difficult issues associated with diversity. Tsui and Gutek's book helps to raise awareness about these issues.
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Author:Milton, Laurie P.
Publication:Administrative Science Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Words:1470
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