Learning from Diversity: A Theoretical Exploration


  • Erica Gabrielle Foldy

    1. Erica Gabrielle Foldy is an assistant professor of public and nonprofit management at the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. Her research interests include identity and diversity in organizations, organizational learning and reflective practice, and the interaction of individual, organizational, and social change. She has published articles in several journals and edited volumes and co-edited the Reader in Gender, Work, and Organization (Blackwell, 2003). E-mail: Erica.foldy@nyu.edu.
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Public-sector organizations tend to be more racially and ethnically diverse than private-sector organizations, leading to the challenge of enhancing heterogeneous work group effectiveness. Recent work suggests that a group's “diversity perspective,” or set of beliefs about the role of cultural diversity, moderates diverse group performance. One perspective, the integration and learning perspective, argues that heterogeneous groups function better when they believe that cultural identities can be tapped as sources of new ideas and experiences about work. However, simply holding the integration and learning perspective may not be sufficient. Research on general group learning has shown that it requires particular behaviors and cognitive frames. This article integrates recent work on diversity perspectives with long-standing research on team learning to propose a conceptual model of learning in culturally diverse groups. It suggests that both the integration and learning perspective and more generic learning frames and skills must be present.