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European Management Journal (2013) 31, 124– 136

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Diversity attitudes and group knowledge processing in multicultural organizations Jakob Lauring, Jan Selmer

Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, Denmark

KEYWORDS Openness to diversity; Diversity attitudes; Knowledge sharing; Multicultural organizations; Cultural diversity; Groups; Linguistic diversity; Language diversity


The ability to locate, share, and use knowledge is vital for effective functioning of organizations. However, such knowledge processing can be complicated by increasing cultural diversity. Recent studies have suggested that a groupÕs diversity attitudes may increase group outcomes. In this study, based on a sample consisting of 489 members of multicultural academic departments, we set out to investigate the relationship between openness to diversity (linguistic, social category, value, and informational) and group knowledge processing (knowledge location, knowledge needed, bring knowledge to bear, and personal knowledge). We found openness to linguistic and informational diversity to have positive associations with all group knowledge processing variables. Openness to value diversity was positively associated with most group knowledge processing variables, while openness to social category diversity only had a positive effect on personal knowledge. ª 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

In the knowledge-based economy organizations have come to rely increasingly on intangible resources (Østergaard, Timmermans, & Kristinsson, 2011; Teece, Pisano, & Shuen, 1997). In consequence, an organizationÕs knowledge base, in the form of human capital, has become even more important for its performance. Add to this, the capability to locate, share, and use the groupÕs knowledge is an important source of competitive advantage (Tsoukas & Mylonopoulos, 2004). In this regard, it has been argued that employee diversity could be a valuable source for knowledge creation. If diverse members interact and thereby integrate previously * Corresponding author. Address: Department of Business Administration, Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, Denmark. Tel.: +45 89 48 66 88; fax: +45 89 48 61 25. E-mail address: (J. Selmer).

disconnected information they provide access to greater knowledge resources (De Dreu & West, 2001; van Knippenberg et al., 2004). This conception is supported by social network theories arguing that unique knowledge sources can be more valuable than those shared by everyone (Burt, 2004; Granovetter, 1973). Also, it has been argued that the extent to which the group includes conflicting perspectives increases its membersÕ ability to resist pressure for conformity (Cummings, 2004; Nemeth, 1986). Finally, if individuals in a group use a variety of perspectives it may lead to conceptual differentiation and more divergent thinking groups (De Dreu & West, 2001; Gruenfeld, Thomas-Hunt, & Kim, 1998). Consequently, there could be some value in diverse teams for organizations dealing with knowledge as an important organizational asset. Nonetheless, a number of studies suggest that the existence of diversity in itself may not be sufficient for ensuring that existing knowledge resources are utilized (Jehn, Neale,

0263-2373/$ - see front matter ª 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Diversity attitudes and group knowledge processing in multicultural organizations & Northcraft, 1999; Mitchell, Nicholas, & Boyle, 2009; Stasser & Titus, 2003). This is particularly true when speaking of multicultural organizations where value-related, behavioral, and linguistic variations could function as barriers for locating and sharing new insights and perspective (Hambrick, Davison, Snell, & Snow, 1998; Von Glinow, Shapiro, & Brett, 2004). Some studies, however, indicate that barriers to positive group...
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