Diversity in complex organizations : the triangle of diversity management, change management and organizational culture from a system-theoretical perspective

Steuer-Dankert, Linda; Piller, Frank Thomas (Thesis advisor); Leicht-Scholten, Carmen (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2020, 2021)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2020


Especially in the economic context, workforce diversity is increasingly seen as a critical success factor. In addition to the potential which, according to studies, results from a diverse team, the challenges resulting from human diversity are also addressed and scientifically investigated. Both, the potential and the challenges result in the necessity of implementing an organization-specific diversity management, which supports the recruitment of new employees on the one hand and the management of existing diversity on the other hand. There are different definitions of diversity in the psychological, social and economic literature, which results in different perspectives on the process of implementing and designing a diversity management approach. Particularly against the background of the complexity of the organizational environment and the increasing demands on internal agility, there is a need to reflect diversity in organizations more strongly and to develop system-specific approaches. This requires the consideration of organization-specific structures and processes as well as the reflection of changes in organizational culture through the implementation of a diversity management approach that includes and can cope with the given complexity. Furthermore, the psychological effects of such changes on employees must be taken into account in order to avoid reactances and to enable a sustainable implementation of diversity management. In the absence of such approaches in the context of publicly funded complex research organizations, the aim of this dissertation is to develop and test a research design that links diversity and change management approaches to organizational culture by taking a systems-theoretical perspective. The research design is applied to a scientific organization. The basis for this is the examination of the current state of research from an interdisciplinary perspective and the accompanying comprehensive introduction to the field of research. In the course of this, the conceptual definition of diversity will be discussed in detail before the psychological concepts in the context of diversity form the transition to a differentiated examination of the concept of diversity management. Subsequently, the research design as well as the resulting research phases are derived. Part A thus provides the theoretical basis for the papers presented in Part B. Each essay examines the different research phases in chronological order. Research Paper I presents the six-step research approach and sheds light on the special conditions of the research object from a theoretical perspective. Following this, the results of the organizational analysis, which also represents phase I and II of the research concept, are presented. Based on these research results, Research Paper II focuses on the presentation of the results of research phase III, the survey of the management level. The survey focused on the perception of diversity and diversity management at management level, the linking of diversity with innovation, and the reflection of one's own management style. As a result of the survey, six types were identified which reflect the understanding of leadership in the context of diversity and, thus, represent the starting point for a top-down diversity management strategy. Building on this, research phase IV will focus on the employee level. The quantitative survey focused on the prevailing attitudes towards diversity and diversity management, the perception of diversity and the influence of management on the employee level. Research Paper III presents the first results of this study. The analysis points to a divergent weighting of different diversity categories with regard to the link to innovations and thus the reflection of the context between diversity and innovations. Comparable to the identified types on the management level, the analysis points to the existence of different degrees of reflection on the employee level. Based on this, Research Paper IV presents a closer examination of the degree of reflection on the employee level and combines the diversity management approach with elements of change management. As a conclusion of a theoretical analysis, special attention is paid to organizational culture as a central element in the development and introduction of a diversity management approach in a complex research organization in Germany. The analysis shows that the perception of diversity is initially detached from the individual background (in the context of this analysis the focus was on the diversity categories gender and origin). With regard to the appreciation of diversity, the picture is also heterogeneous. However, only 17% of employees agree that diversity categories such as gender, origin or age can add value. At the same time, this group considers the importance attached to this topic in the CoE to be sufficient. In summary, the following findings can be derived from this dissertation and, thus, serve as a basis for the development of a diversity management approach: (1) The development of a demand-oriented diversity management approach requires a system-theoretical process that takes into account both internal and external factors. The six-step research process developed within the research project has proven to be a suitable instrument for this purpose. (2) Three central factors can be identified in the context of public research institutions: the individual level of reflection, the organizational culture, and externally influenced organizational structures, processes, and systems.(3) Similar to private companies, the management level in scientific organizations has a high influence on the perception of diversity and, thus, on the implementation of a diversity management strategy. Therefore, a top-down approach for a sustainable implementation is necessary, also in the scientific context and due to the legal framework conditions of the university system in particular. (4) Diversity management is closely related to organizational change, which requires reflection from a psychological perspective on change processes and requires a combination of diversity and change management. Based on the central insights gained within the framework of the developed research concept, an approach will be developed that enables the derivation of theoretical implications as well as implications for management. Especially against the background of the reflection of the special framework conditions of publicly funded research institutions, political implications for action aimed at changing structural dimensions are derived.


  • Internet of Production [080067]
  • Gender and Diversity in Engineering Research Group [316420]
  • Chair of Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) [812710]