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Journal of Business and Psychology, Vol. 17, No.

3, Spring 2003 (2003)

CONSEQUENCES OF FEELING DISSIMILAR


FROM OTHERS IN A WORK TEAM
Elizabeth V. Hobman
Prashant Bordia
Cynthia Gallois
University of Queensland

ABSTRACT: This study extended the current literature on group diversity by


examining the moderating influence of perceived group openness to diversity on
the relationships between perceived individual visible, informational, and value
dissimilarity; individual task and relationship conflict; and work group involvement. A survey was administered to 129 public service employees who worked
in intact teams. Results revealed that value dissimilarity had a positive association with task and relationship conflict and a negative association with work
group involvement. Perceived group openness to diversity moderated the associations between visible and informational dissimilarity and work group involvement, and between value dissimilarity and task conflict. These results highlight
the importance of managing differences by introducing norms promoting diversity and the involvement of all team members.
KEY WORDS: perceived dissimilarity; work teams.

The globalization of business, increased presence of women and minorities in the workforce and the use of teamwork has instigated a significant interest in the effects of work team diversity for a variety of
outcomes (Milliken & Martins, 1996). Some outcomes that have been
examined include: conflict (Jehn, 1994; Jehn, Chadwick & Thatcher,
1997; Jehn, Northcraft & Neale, 1999; Pelled, 1996a; Pelled, Eisenhardt & Xin, 1999; Pelled, Xin & Weiss, 2001); communication (AnThe research reported in this article was supported by a grant from the Australian
Research Council held by V. Callan, C. Gallois, E. Jones, and P. Bordia, and an Australian
Postgraduate Award Scholarship held by the first author. This research was part of the
first authors dissertation research.
Address correspondence to Prashant Bordia, School of Psychology, University of
Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland, 4067, Australia; prashant@psy.uq.edu.au.
301
0889-3268/03/0300-0301/0 2003 Human Sciences Press, Inc.

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cona & Caldwell, 1992; Zenger & Lawrence, 1989); and social cohesion
(OReilly, Caldwell & Barnett, 1998; Harrison, Price & Bell, 1998). This
research has examined work team diversity at the group level of analysis
and/or the individual level of analysis (Pelled, 1996a). At the group level,
the term group diversity is used to refer to the amount of heterogeneity
within a group or unit on certain characteristics such as informational
(e.g., professional background), visible (e.g., age) or value (e.g., work motivation) differences. At the individual level, the term individual dissimilarity is used to refer to the amount of relative difference between an
individual and other team members on these same characteristics (Jackson, May & Whitney, 1995). Thus, individual dissimilarity is similar to
group diversity in that it measures differences on the same characteristics, but different in that it measures an individuals distance from other
group members, rather than the amount of diversity within the group.
Although individual level analysis offers more insight into an individuals experience of being different from team members, research on
individual dissimilarity in teams is still in an early and developing
stage (Riordan & Shore, 1997, p. 343) compared to research on group
diversity. For example, research has only recently examined the influence of individual dissimilarity on individual involvement in conflict
(Pelled, Xin & Weiss, 2001) despite findings showing that individual dissimilarity (e.g., Jehn, 1994; Jehn et al., 1997; Pelled, 1996a) and group
diversity (e.g., Jehn et al., 1999, Pelled et al., 1999) are strongly related
to perceived group conflict. Similarly, group diversity research has examined the impact of various moderators (e.g., task type, time, debate) on
the effects of diversity (e.g., Harrison et al., 1998; Jehn et al., 1999;
Pelled et al., 1999; Simons, Pelled & Smith, 1999; Timmerman, 2000).
Meanwhile, individual dissimilarity research has neglected to examine
moderators (e.g., Jackson et al., 1991; Kirchmeyer, 1993, 1995; Riordan & Shore, 1997; Zenger & Lawrence, 1989). Thus, it appears that the
research into individual dissimilarity has lagged behind the research
into group diversity. Consequently, the current study aimed to extend
the dissimilarity literature by examining the individual-level consequences (conflict and work group involvement) of perceived individual
dissimilarity in teams, and potential moderators of these relationships.

PERCEIVED DISSIMILARITY
Dissimilarity refers to the degree to which two individuals share
common attributes or the degree to which an individuals attributes are
shared by other team members (Jackson, Stone & Alvarez, 1992). In
the current study, we examined individual dissimilarity to the team on
the following dimensions: informational, visible and values. Informational dissimilarity refers to being different from other group members

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on characteristics such as profession, tenure, and work experience; visible dissimilarity refers to being different on visible attributes such as
age, gender and ethnicity; and value dissimilarity refers to differences
in work ethic, work values and motivations when approaching tasks.
Researchers have examined the consequences of these three different
categories of dissimilarity (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Baugh & Graen,
1997; Bochner & Hesketh, 1994; Harrison et al., 1998; Jehn, 1994; Jehn
et al., 1997, 1999; Pelled, 1996a; Pelled et al., 1999, 2001; Tsui et al.,
1992).
Recently, researchers have discussed the importance of perceived
dissimilarity in explaining diversity outcomes (Hartel & Fujimoto, 1999;
Harrison, Price, Gavin & Florey, 2000). Perceived dissimilarity is a subjective measure of dissimilarity where individuals rate how different
they think they are from other team members, in terms of various characteristics. Research using objective measures of dissimilarity assumes
that differences are recognised by team members, and that these objective differences impact upon team processes (Harrison et al., 2000). However, objective assessments of dissimilarity can fail to incorporate all
components of difference and certain characteristics may be more or less
salient to an individual. Thus, using a subjective measure of dissimilarity ensures that all recognisable differences are included.
Support for examining perceptions of dissimilarity is obtained from
a recent study by Randel (2000). She proposed that although there are
numerous social categories and associated identities than can affect behaviour, the identity or group that is most salient has the strongest impact on behaviour. She examined the categories that individuals used to
describe their work group (e.g., I think of my work group in terms of
women and men) and found that the more salient gender was to a group
member, the more relationship conflict was reported in the group. Her
results suggest that diversity calculated in terms of objective measures
is not identical to what is perceived by group members.
The importance of perceived dissimilarity has been further articulated in a few studies of team diversity and supervisor/subordinate dyad
differences. Harrison et al. (2000) found that perceived diversity mediated the impact of objective diversity upon social integration. In addition,
in an earlier study, Harrison and colleagues (1998) found support for the
link between objective and perceived diversity measures. Research into
supervisor/subordinate dyad differences have also demonstrated the positive association between objective dissimilarity and perceived dissimilarity (Strauss, Barrick & Connerley, 2001; Wayne & Liden, 1995), and
that the effects of perceived dissimilarity are stronger than the effects of
objective dissimilarity (Orpen, 1984; Turban & Jones, 1988; Strauss et
al., 2001). Further, in classic studies of the similarity-attraction and dissimilarity-repulsion hypotheses (Rosenbaum, 1986a, 1986b), Singh and
Tan (1992) and Hoyle (1993) confirmed the proposed mediating role of

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perceived similarity on the relationship between attitudinal similarity


and attraction.

ASSOCIATION BETWEEN PERCEIVED DISSIMILARITY


AND CONFLICT
As previously mentioned, only one study has examined the impact
of individual dissimilarity on individual involvement in conflict (Pelled
et al., 2001). Other research examining individual dissimilarity has measured perception of group conflict (Jehn, 1994; Jehn et al., 1997; Pelled,
1996a). The current study extended this individual-level research by focusing on individuals perceptions of dissimilarity and their involvement
in conflict. As the research linking diversity or dissimilarity and conflict
has been well reviewed elsewhere (see Jehn et al., 1999; Pelled, 1996b),
only a brief review is presented here.
Jehn et al. (1997), Pelled (1996a) and Pelled et al. (2001) have shown
that relationship conflict (i.e., conflict based on the groups interpersonal
relations) in a team is triggered by visible dissimilarity. The social identity perspective (Social Identity Theory: Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner,
1979, Self-Categorization Theory: Turner, 1982, 1984; Turner, Hogg,
Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987) can explain this association. This perspective proposes that individuals classify themselves and others into
social categories using salient or prototypical features of the category
(Hogg & Terry, 2000). Prototypical features are those attributes that
characterise and distinguish the group from other groups. When an individual is more prototypical of the group, they are more socially attractive
and are more likely to be categorised as in-group members (Brewer &
Gardner, 1996). In contrast, less prototypical individuals are less socially
attractive, and are more likely to be categorised as out-group members
(Hogg & Williams, 2000). Social categorisation is associated with ingroup favouritism which can lead to the derogation of outgroup members
such as perceiving that outgroup members are less trustworthy, honest
and co-operative than members within the ingroup (Brewer, 1979). As
visible demographic variables (e.g., age, gender, ethnic background) are
likely to be used in social categorisation processes (Pelled, 1996a; Tsui,
Egan & OReilly, 1992), individuals that are visibly dissimilar in a work
team may be classified as outgroup members based on their being visibly
non-prototypical. This categorisation process increases the likelihood of
negative interpersonal exchanges such as relationship conflict with visibly different individuals (Pelled, 1996b).
Informational dissimilarity has been found to bring about taskrelated conflict (i.e., conflict based on the substance of the task; Jehn et
al., 1997). Consistent with the information/decision-making perspective,

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305

people of different professional backgrounds and experiences are likely


to have different skills, knowledge bases, abilities, talents, perspectives
and interests (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Bantel & Jackson, 1989). Thus,
in an inter-group context, when an individual identifies with their professional background, it is likely that the expressed conflict will parallel
their professional opinions. Based on previous research, it appears that
informationally dissimilar individuals engage in task conflict. For example, Jehn et al. (1997) found that difference in educational background
was positively associated with task debates in the teams.
The final form of dissimilarity, work value dissimilarity, was predicted to be positively associated with task and relationship conflict.
Jehn and colleagues (1994, 1997) investigated this variable and noted
the strong positive influence of value diversity upon both types of conflict
in teams. Recent findings by Jehn et al. (1999) have confirmed the positive influence of (perceived) value diversity upon perceived group conflict. Similarity attraction processes can be used to explain the outcomes
of value and attitudinal diversity (Byrne, 1971; Harrison et al., 1998).
When an individual has different values to other team members, there
will be less personal attraction between the individual and other team
members. In addition, because members core values and beliefs about
their work are threatened and members are less able to predict each
others behaviour (Kluckhohn, 1951), there will be increased role ambiguity and interpersonal friction (Schneider, 1983). Individuals with different values may also have different cognitive processing aspects (Meglino, Ravlin & Adkins, 1989), and therefore perceive tasks differently
which can contribute to members having different goals and opinions
about what and how things should be done in the group (i.e., task conflict).
Previous research examining dissimilarity and conflict has typically
measured perceptions of group conflict. In this study, we extended past
research by examining how dissimilarity affects individuals involvement
in conflict, and predicted similar associations to that found for perceived
group conflict.
Hypothesis 1: Perceived visible dissimilarity is positively related to
relationship conflict
Hypothesis 2: Perceived informational dissimilarity is positively related to task conflict
Hypothesis 3: Perceived value dissimilarity is positively related to
task conflict

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Hypothesis 4: Perceived value dissimilarity is positively related to


relationship conflict

ASSOCIATION BETWEEN PERCEIVED DISSIMILARITY


AND WORK GROUP INVOLVEMENT
It has been noted that diversity can lead to higher performance
when members understand each other, combine and build on each others ideas (Maznevski, 1994). This suggests that interaction processes
within a diverse team are crucial to the integration of diverse viewpoints.
For example, Abramson (1992, as cited in Maznevski, 1994) found that
organizations that had teams with high diversity and integration had
the best performance, compared to organizations that had teams with
high diversity and low integration levels. Similarly, Watson, Kumar and
Michaelson (1993) found that diverse groups overcame initial process
difficulties to become more effective than homogeneous groups in identifying problem perspectives and generating solutions. In their study, they
provided process and performance feedback at the end of the groups assignments that helped the group improve their interaction processes. It
may be that this type of evaluative activity helped the group to develop
high levels of integration.
Research has examined the influence of diversity upon social integration, but we are interested in a more task-oriented type of interactionwork group involvementas it is a necessary precondition to developing effective performance procedures (Shaw & Barrett-Power, 1998).
Social integration is affective in nature, referring to the degree to which
an individual is psychologically linked to other members (OReilly, Caldwell & Barnett, 1989; Shaw & Barrett-Power, 1998). In contrast, work
group involvement relates to more task-related processes such as the
degree of information exchange, collaborative decision-making in the
group, and how much individuals feel respected and listened to. Work
group involvement-related constructs have been discussed and examined
by a variety of researchers (e.g., behavioral integration: Shaw & BarrettPower, 1998; instrumental or task-related exchange: Elsass & Graves,
1997; work group fit: Kirchmeyer, 1995; team integration: Lichtenstein,
Alexander, Jinnett & Ullman, 1997; teamwork: Baugh & Graen, 1997).
Mor-Barak and Cherin (1998) argued that work group involvement
may be a bridge between dissimilarity and a persons ability to work
effectively. They noted that dissimilarity is likely to be negatively related
to work group involvement, because dissimilar people are often excluded
from important networks of information and opportunity (MorBarak & Cherin, 1998, p. 50). Due to social identification and similarityattraction processes, dissimilar individuals may perceive the group as

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less attractive (Tsui et al., 1992) which may result in their attempting
to leave the group psychologically or in terms of membership (Turner et
al., 1987). Also, other team members may have negative perceptions of
the dissimilar individual, and may ignore their contributions to the team
(Elsass & Graves, 1997).
Although researchers have identified work group involvement as an
important facet of successful diverse teams, there has been little empirical examination of it in the context of diversity. Three studies have examined work group involvement-related constructs in the context of
team diversity (Baugh & Graen, 1997; Kirchmeyer, 1995; Lichtenstein et
al., 1997). Lichtenstein et al. (1997) found that individuals within teams
diverse on age reported less participation in decision-making. Similarly,
Baugh and Graen (1997) found that individuals in teams heterogeneous
in gender reported less effective teamwork (which included items measuring willingness to share critical information and involvement in the
project among group members). Kirchmeyer (1995) also found that perceived age, education and lifestyle dissimilarity were associated with
poorer work group fita construct similar to work group involvement, as
it relates to an individuals integration with the work group, including
access to informal sources of information.
Research into other consequences of dissimilarity and minority status
also provides support for the negative relationship between dissimilarity
and work group involvement. Research has found that demographically
dissimilar or minority individuals have lower group or organisational
commitment (Riordan & Shore, 1997; Tsui et al., 1992), lower task contributions (Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992; Kirchmeyer, 1993), less frequent
communication (Zenger & Lawrence, 1989), lower perceptions of organizational fairness and inclusiveness (Mor-Barak, Cherin & Berkman,
1998) and have fewer organizational contacts (Ibarra, 1995) than similar
or majority individuals. In terms of value (attitudes, cultural and work
values) differences, research has found that value differences are associated with lower group cohesiveness (Terborg, Castore & CeNinno, 1976;
Harrison et al., 1998), lower number of conversation exchanges (Oetzel,
1998), higher perceptions of discrimination (Bochner & Hesketh, 1994),
lower group and job satisfaction and performance, intent to remain in
the group, and commitment to the organisation and group (Jehn, 1994;
Jehn et al., 1997; Jehn et al., 1999; Meglino et al., 1989).
The research reviewed suggests that all types of dissimilarity are
associated with more negative attitudinal and behavioral outcomes.
Even though previous research has identified team integration as an
important factor of successful diverse teams, there has been no specific
test of the relationship between dissimilarity and level of work group
involvement. Thus, in the current study, we directly tested the association between the three categories of dissimilarity and individuals work

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group involvement. It was expected that individuals who were visibly,


informationally or value dissimilar would report less involvement in
work team processes.
Hypothesis 5: Visible dissimilarity is negatively related to work
group involvement
Hypothesis 6: Informational dissimilarity is negatively related to
work group involvement
Hypothesis 7: Value dissimilarity is negatively related to work group
involvement

MODERATING EFFECT OF PERCEIVED GROUP OPENNESS


TO DIVERSITY
The need to overcome stereotypes and prejudices toward dissimilar
others has led to an interest in developing organisational climates that
support diversity. For this climate change to be successful, members
need to be open to dissimilarity; that is, to perceive dissimilarity in an
unprejudicial way and value it; view difference as positive, be open to
learn from dissimilar others, and make an effort to see dissimilar others
viewpoints (Hartel & Fujimoto, 1999). This openness to difference indicates how supportive an individual is of equal opportunity for all individuals (Vecchio & Bullis, 2001). Researchers have also suggested that a
positive organisational diversity climate may emerge when there is sufficient attention given to promoting a positive team diversity climate, as
this is where members interact with dissimilar individuals and therefore
develop their perceptions of the diversity climate (Kossek et al., 1996;
Mor-Barak et al., 1998).
In the current study, we examined the effects of an individuals perception of group openness to diversity. For ease of reference, we labelled
this construct perceived group openness to diversity and categorised it
into openness towards each type of diversity: visible differences, informational differences and value differences. Individuals in teams with an
open diversity climate are more likely to engage in discussions and constructive conflict and to contribute to the team, compared to individuals
in teams with a less open diversity climate (Ely & Thomas, 2001; Church,
1995; Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992). Openness to diversity is proposed to
facilitate open communication and a higher level of integration within
groups.
Support for the positive moderating role of perceived group openness
to diversity is obtained from Kirchmeyer and Cohens (1992) examina-

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309

tion of the moderating impact of constructive conflict. The constructive


conflict approach encourages the active involvement of all team members
in terms of exploring ideas, sharing information, and being openness to
differences and challenges (Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992). Thus, the constructive conflict approach may be positively associated with openness
to diversity. Kirchmeyer and Cohen (1992) found that ethnic minorities
performance and relative contribution to decisions improved with increasing perceptions of the use of constructive conflict in the group. In
addition, Church (1995) found that when individuals perceived their
team to have an open diversity climate, they reported greater feelings of
individual participation and contribution. Thus, the degree to which an
individual perceives their group values diversity may contribute to the
effective integration of dissimilar individuals in a work team.
Groups with low openness to diversity may fail to regard and effectively encourage the diversity of human talent available, creating a situation where there is little understanding of diversity issues. This may
lead to confusion and interpersonal conflicts and the inability to manage
task conflicts effectively. In contrast, groups with high openness to diversity may utilise and encourage the diversity present in the group. In this
way, differences in points of views and opinions are respected, which
should lead to more involvement, less conflict and higher quality and
more innovative group products.
Thus, it is predicted that perceived group openness to diversity will
moderate the associations between dissimilarity and involvement in conflict, and between dissimilarity and work group involvement.
Hypothesis 8: The positive relationship between perceived dissimilarity (visible, value and informational) and conflict (task and relationship) is weaker when individuals perceive high group openness
to diversity, and stronger when individuals perceive low group openness to diversity.
Hypothesis 9: The negative relationship between perceived dissimilarity (visible, value and informational) and work group involvement
is weaker when individuals perceive high group openness to diversity, and stronger when individuals perceive low group openness to
diversity.
METHOD
Participants and Procedure
Two hundred and sixty-three employees from a range of service areas
(e.g., finance, planning and strategic management, policy and research, cli-

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ent services, corporate and executive services) and professional levels within
a large public sector organization were randomly selected and mailed a survey package. Participants were requested to fill them in and return them
within 1 week in a pre-paid envelope. A reminder letter was posted to all
potential participants a week later. One hundred and twenty-nine employees returned completed questionnaires leading to a 49% useable response
rate. The final sample consisted of 76 females and 53 males, with an average age of 38.74 years and 6.5 years working in the organization.
The public sector organization provided essential services to the
community and employed team-based work such that all employees worked
in a defined team on a daily or weekly basis. Teams were characterized
by a high degree of task interdependence, and moderate levels of distributed expertise (Salas, Dickinson, Converse, & Tannenbaum, 1992). There
was little status difference among team members, and team members
had defined roles and different expertise. Tasks were divided based on
members roles yet members were required to interact with each other
to achieve a common goal (Baker & Salas, 1997; Salas et al., 1992), and
the teams final decision was made by the team leader (Phillips, 2001).
Measures
A survey was developed to measure all variables of interest. The
measures were extensively pilot-tested to ensure applicability to the organizations work environment and comprehensibility. This pilot testing
involved interviewing 20 employees from the organization and asking
them to complete various sections of the survey. Interviewees provided
feedback and offered suggestions for improvement.
Two items were developed for each type of perceived dissimilarity,
which were all measured on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5
(strongly agree). A factor analysis (principal components extraction with
varimax rotation) was conducted and supported the three factor structure of the scale (see Table 1). Cronbach alphas for perceived visible,
informational and value dissimilarity were .79, .80 and .87, respectively.
We also developed items to measure individual involvement in task and
relationship conflict. These were based on the Intragroup Conflict Scale
(Jehn, 1995) which measures perceived group conflict. All questions were
anchored by 1 (never) and 5 (a lot). A factor analysis (principal components extraction with varimax rotation) was conducted and supported
the two factor structure of the scale (see Table 2). Cronbach alphas for
task and relationship conflict were .78 and .82, respectively.
The items measuring perceived group openness to visible, informational and value diversity were adapted from an existing measure of
openness to diversity by Edison, Nora, Hagedorn and Terenzini (1996)
and were also based on Hartel and Fujimotos (1999) definition of open-

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311

ness to perceived dissimilarity, which highlights the concepts of being


open to learn from dissimilar others and being willing to make an effort
to see dissimilar others viewpoints. These items were anchored by 1
(strongly disagree) and 5 (strongly agree). A factor analysis (principal
components extraction with varimax rotation) was conducted (see Table
3). Although there were cases of split loadings (e.g., Openness to value
diversity, item 3), the larger value always loaded on the correct factor.
Thus, the results of the factor analyses supported the construct independence of these related clusters of variables. Cronbach alphas for perceived
group openness to visible diversity, informational diversity and value diversity were .91, .92 and .90, respectively.
We used Mor-Barak and Cherins (1998) six-item measure of work
group involvement. Example items include, I feel part of informal discussions in the team, My judgment is respected by members of the
team and Team members make me feel a part of decisions. These
questions were anchored by 1 (strongly disagree) and 5 (strongly agree).
Cronbach alpha for work group involvement was .87.

RESULTS
Table 4 shows the means, standard deviations and correlations between the variables. Means showed that levels of dissimilarity and conflict were at the midpoint of the scale, and levels of openness to diversity
and work group involvement were above the midpoint of the scale. Most
of the correlations were in the predicted direction.
Further testing of the hypothesized relationships between variables
was conducted using Multiple Regression. Main effects were entered in
the first step and interaction terms (to test the hypotheses on moderation) in the second step. Following Aiken and Wests (1991) procedures
for conducting moderated multiple regression, the variables were meancentered and the interactions that had significant effects were plotted.

Association Between Perceived Dissimilarity and Conflict


Table 5 shows the hierarchical regression analyses that tested the
predicted associations between dissimilarity and conflict, and the moderating effect of perceived group openness to diversity and Figure 1, 2 and
3 presents significant interactions.
In step 1, dissimilarity and perceived group openness explained a
significant amount of variance in task conflict, R2 = .18, F(6, 122) = 4.55,
p < .001, and relationship conflict, R2 = .21, F(6, 122) = 5.28, p < .001.
Value dissimilarity was positively related to relationship conflict, = .23,

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Table 1
Factor Analysis of Perceived Dissimilarity Scale Items

I feel I am professionally and/or educationally dissimilar to other


group members
In terms of functional background (e.g., professional background
and/or work experiences) I think I am different from other group
members
I feel I am visibly dissimilar to other group members
In terms of visible characteristics (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity) I
think I am different from other group members
I feel my work values and/or motivations are dissimilar to other
group members
In terms of principles that guide my work (e.g., detail-oriented, reward-driven) I think I am different from other group members
Eigenvalue
% variance explained
Cumulative % variance explained

IND

VSD

VLD

.85

.36

.16

.81
.36

.17
.78

.36
.27

.17

.89

.19

.43

.22

.80

.16

.25

.92

1.74 1.66 1.76


29.06 27.69 29.28
29.06 56.75 86.03

Note. IND = informational dissimilarity; VSD = visible dissimilarity; VLD = value dissimilarity. Italicized statistics represent the highest loadings on that factor.

p < .05, and task conflict, = .38, p < .001, supporting Hypothesis 3 and
4. Hypotheses 1 and 2 were not supported.
When the interaction terms were added in step 2, the increase in
variance was significant for task conflict, R2change = .04, Fchange = 2.28, p =
.08, but not for relationship conflict, R2change = .02, Fchange = .96, ns. A significant interaction between value dissimilarity and perceived group openness to value diversity was found for task conflict, = .22, p < .05. Providing partial support for Hypothesis 8, this interaction showed that the
positive association between value dissimilarity and task conflict was
significant when individuals perceived low group openness to value diversity, t(54) = 4.08, p < .001, but not significant when individuals perceived
high group openness to value diversity, t(54) = 1.22, ns (see Figure 1).
Association Between Perceived Dissimilarity
and Work Group Involvement
Table 5 also shows the hierarchical regression analyses that tested
the associations between dissimilarity and work group involvement,
along with the moderating impact of perceived group openness. Dissimilarity and perceived group openness explained a significant amount of
variance in work group involvement, R2 = .37, F(6, 122) = 11.85, p < .001.
Perceived value dissimilarity was negatively related to work group

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Table 2
Factor Analysis of Perceived Group Openness to Diversity Scale Items
Members . . .
enjoy doing jobs with people whose work values and/or motivations are different
make an extra effort to listen to people who hold different work
values and/or motivations
are keen to learn from people who have different work values
and/or motivations
enjoy doing jobs with people of different ethnicity, gender, and/or
age
make an extra effort to listen to people of different ethnicity, gender, and/or age
are keen to learn from people who are of different ethnicity, gender, and/or age
enjoy doing jobs with people from different professional backgrounds and/or work experiences
make an extra effort to listen to people who are from different professional backgrounds and/or work experiences
are keen to learn from people who are from different professional
backgrounds and/or work experiences
Eigenvalue
% variance explained
Cumulative % variance explained

OVLD OVSD OIND

.89

.19

.22

.74

.34

.45

.64

.31

.55

.16

.85

.26

.26

.85

.28

.28

.83

.33

.38

.32

.76

.31

.34

.82

.25

.30

.85

2.71
30.09
30.09

2.20
24.45
54.54

2.82
31.28
85.82

Note. OVLD = openness to value diversity; OVSD = openness to visible diversity;


OIND = openness to informational diversity. Italicized statistics represent the highest
loadings on that factor.

involvement, = .25, p < .05, supporting hypothesis 7. Hypotheses 5


and 6 were not supported.
When the interaction terms were added in step 2, there was a significant increment in the variance accounted for, R2change = .04, Fchange = 3.00,
p < .05. Two significant interactions contributed to this increase in variance. Visible dissimilarity interacted with perceived group openness to
visible diversity, = .21, p < .05, partially supporting Hypothesis 9 (see
figure 2a). Informational dissimilarity interacted with perceived group
openness to informational diversity, = 22, p < .05, but was not in the
direction hypothesized by Hypothesis 9 (see figure 2b).
Visible dissimilarity was positively related to work group involvement when individuals perceived high group openness to visible diversity, t(54) = 1.78, p < .10, and there was a negative trend of association
when individuals perceived low group openness to visible diversity, t(54) =
1.29, ns. In contrast to the direction predicted by Hypothesis 9, informational dissimilarity was negatively related to work group involvement
when individuals perceived high group openness to informational diver-

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Table 3
Factor Analysis of Conflict Scale Items
Task
Relationship
Conflict
Conflict
I have been involved in disagreements over how to do tasks with
other group members
I have found that my ideas over task procedure are different
from those of other group members
I have been involved in task disagreements with other group
members
I have found that my task ideas are different from those of other
group members
I have been involved in interpersonal disagreements with other
group members
I have found that my personality conflicts with those of other
group members
Eigenvalue
% variance explained
Cumulative % variance explained

.63

.53

.76

.29

.77

.23

.77

.01

.26

.87

.09

.91

2.24
37.31
37.31

1.99
33.21
70.51

Note. Italicized statistics represent the highest loadings on that factor.

sity, t(54) = 2.41, p < .05, but was not significantly related to work group
involvement when individuals perceived low group openness to informational diversity, t(54) = .60, ns.

DISCUSSION
This study aimed to extend the diversity literature by investigating
the impact of perceived dissimilarity upon involvement in conflict and
work group involvement, as well as the moderating role of perceived
group openness to diversity. Results provided support for the associations between dissimilarity and individual involvement in conflict and
group task processes. Further, we found some support for the moderating influence of perceived group openness to diversity. These results provide insight into how to improve the experiences of dissimilar employees.
Overall we found that: 1) the higher individuals dissimilarity in values,
the more involved they were with task and relationship conflict, and the
less involved they were in the group; 2) individuals dissimilarity in values interacted with openness to value diversity to predict task conflict;
and 3) individuals visible and informational dissimilarity both interacted with perceived group openness to diversity to predict work group
involvement. These associations are discussed in more detail below.

.80
.84
.87
.88
.74
.75

3.48
3.54
3.26
2.03
2.90
3.94

(.91)

.34*** .43***
.68*** (.92)
.30*** .40***
.64***
.78*** (.90)
.21*
.34*** .32*** .36*** .23**
(.82)
.17
.38*** .13
.28*** .17
.49*** (.78)
.40*** .48***
.45***
.51***
.47*** .39*** .25** (.87)

.21*
.17
.24**
.20*
.28**

.31*** .30***

.18*

(.87)

(.80)
.62***

(.79)a
.59***
.55***

Note. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.


a
Internal consistency alphas are in parentheses along the diagonal.

1.12
1.14
1.07

2.38
2.68
2.70

1. Visible dissimilarity
2. Informational dissimilarity
3. Value dissimilarity
4. Perceived group openness to visible
diversity
5. Perceived group openness to informational
diversity
6. Perceived group openness to value diversity
7. Relationship conflict
8. Task conflict
9. Work group involvement

SD

Mean

Variable

Table 4
Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations Among the Study Variables

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Table 5
Hierarchical Regression Analyses Predicting Conflict
and Work Group Involvement

Task Conflict

Relationship
Conflict

Work Group
Involvement

Variable

Step 1

Step 2

Step 1

Step 2

Step 1

Step 2

PVSD
PIND
PVLD
OVSD
OIND
OVLD

.05
.13
.38***
.07
.31*
.14

.07
.16
.37**
.07
.30*
.21

.10
.10
.23*
.18
.31*
.20

.08
.10
.26*
.13
.35*
.17

.01
.12
.25*
.15
.19
.09

.04
.11
.29**
.06
.25*
.15

PVSD OVSD
PIND OIND
PVLD OVLD
R2
R2
Adjusted R2

.04
.17
.22*
.18***
.14

.04
.23***
.17

.14
.13
.07
.21***
.17

.02
.23***
.17

.21*
.22*
.09
.37***
.34

.04*
.41***
.37

Note. The values for the main effects and interaction terms are the standardised beta
() coefficients.
p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

Figure 1
Regression Slopes for Value Dissimilarity Predicting Task Conflict

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317

Figure 2a
Regression Slopes for Visible Dissimilarity Predicting Work Group Involvement

Figure 2b
Regression Slopes for Informational Dissimilarity Predicting
Work Group Involvement

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Consequences of Perceived Dissimilarity


Consistent with our hypotheses, we found significant positive associations between perceived value dissimilarity and both types of conflict.
In addition, value dissimilarity was negatively related to work group
involvement. However, in contrast to predictions, there was no significant direct effect of perceived visible dissimilarity or perceived informational dissimilarity upon conflict or work group involvement. Inspection
of the bivariate correlations showed that perceived visible and informational dissimilarity were positively related to task and relationship conflict, and negatively related to work group involvement. However, these
effects were not strong enough to retain significance in the regression
analyses. This pattern of results suggests that visible and informational
dissimilarity are useful in predicting individual outcomes, but their predictive capacity is not as strong as that of value dissimilarity. This result
is consistent with previous findings that value diversity (Jehn et al.,
1999) or dissimilarity (Jehn et al., 1997) has a stronger influence upon
conflict than other types of difference. For example, Jehn (1999) found
that value diversity had a consistent and pervasive positive effect upon
both task and relationship conflict, whereas the effects of visible and
informational diversity were weaker and limited to relationship and task
conflict.
Value dissimilarity also led to less work group involvement. Value
dissimilar members may have been excluded deliberately by other team
members (Mor-Barak & Cherin, 1998) or may have chosen to leave by
psychologically withdrawing from the group (Turner et al., 1987). These
results associating value dissimilarity with heightened conflict and reduced work group involvement are consistent with social categorization
processes, where individuals with different work values may be perceived as non-prototypical of the team, especially if the work value is an
important and distinctive characteristic of the team. Consequently,
value dissimilar individuals were less socially attractive to other team
members and consequently, experienced negative interactions because of
their categorization as outgroup members in the team (Brewer & Gardner, 1996).

Moderating Role of Perceived Group Openness to Diversity


As discussed, we did not find a significant main effect of perceived
visible or informational dissimilarity upon conflict or work group involvement; rather, perceived group openness to diversity interacted with these
variables in the prediction of work group involvement. These interaction
results showed that demographically dissimilar members were more involved in groups that enjoyed working with professionally and visibly

E. V. HOBMAN, P. BORDIA, AND C. GALLOIS

319

diverse members, compared to groups that discouraged informational


and visible diversity.
The moderating effect of perceived group openness to visible diversity on the association between visible dissimilarity and work group
involvement supported the hypothesised interaction pattern. We found
that when individuals perceived low group openness to visible diversity
there was a negative association between visible dissimilarity and work
group involvement, whereas when individuals perceived high group
openness to visible diversity the relationship was positive. This pattern
of results indicated that visibly dissimilar individuals felt less involved,
compared to similar members if they perceived that the group was not
open to visible diversity. In contrast, visibly dissimilar individuals were
more likely to be involved in group processes and information exchange,
compared to members who felt similar, if they were in a group that they
thought encouraged visible differences. These relationships highlight the
importance of introducing norms that value visible differences among
members and encourage the involvement of visibly different others in
group processes and information exchange.
Another significant interaction was found between openness to informational diversity and informational dissimilarity predicting work
group involvement. When individuals perceived high group openness to
informational diversity there was a significant negative association between informational dissimilarity and work group involvement, whereas
when individuals perceived low group openness to informational diversity there was no association between informational dissimilarity and
work group involvement. This result suggests that it may be difficult for
groups with informational dissimilar members to involve all members
within group processes, even if the group is committed to valuing informational diversity. For example, a group with one dissimilar person may
not stop a discussion to explain a certain professional term. Thus, the
dissimilar individual may feel left out of the discussion, compared to similar members who understand the terminology. Notably, the level of
work group involvement for individuals in groups perceived to discourage informational diversity was lower overall. This indicates that groups
that were not open to informational diversity inhibited all forms of information sharing, regardless of professional differences.
Value dissimilarity also interacted with perceived group openness to
diversity in the prediction of task conflict. As predicted, when individuals
perceived low group openness to value diversity, there was a significant
positive relationship between value dissimilarity and task conflict,
whereas when individuals perceived high group openness to value diversity there was no association. Thus, when individuals perceived that
their group was open to discussions with people who have different values, value dissimilar individuals were likely to be as involved in task

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conflicts as value similar individuals. In contrast, when individuals perceived that their group was not open to talking with people with different
values, dissimilar individuals were more likely to be engaged in task
conflict compared to similar members. Although the level of task conflict
experienced by these value dissimilar individuals was not high, the positive association between dissimilarity and conflict indicated a disproportionate amount of task debate arising from value dissimilar individuals.
Such a situation could be detrimental, as similar individuals did not discuss their own opinions, which could stifle creativity and lead to groupthink (Janis, 1972, 1982). When individuals perceived that the group
was open to value diversity, the amount of conflict experienced by dissimilar and similar individuals was equivalent. Thus, openness to value
diversity may help to create a climate of fairness and openness to task
discussion within a team.
The positive influence of perceived group openness on the associations between dissimilarity and work group involvement and conflict indicates that group openness to diversity has a strong impact on individuals in terms of their interactions within the group. These results support
previous discussions on the importance of developing supportive diversity climates. Groups with high openness to diversity facilitate communication that is more open, fair and explorative, and involve dissimilar
individuals in team processes, thereby effectively using the diversity
available in the team (Cox, 1991; Elsass & Graves, 1997; Ely & Thomas,
2001; Larkey, 1996).
Limitations and Future Research
This study included a sample of 129 participants. This is a relatively
small sample size compared to the number of variables estimated in our
model. A larger, more comprehensive study is warranted to confirm our
findings and explore other relationships between the variables. The
study also used an explicit self-reported openness to diversity measure.
Previous research on explicit and implicit measures of prejudicial attitudes has shown that social behavior often operates in an implicit or
unconscious fashion (for a review see Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). For
example, people who explicitly object to prejudice have been found to
display discrimination (e.g., Gaertner & McLaughlin, 1983). In the current study, given the political nature of diversity, our explicit measure
of openness to diversity may have failed to capture the groups openness
to diversity adequately. Because we were asking individuals to rate their
group, it is likely that our measure was more accurate in its measurement of actual behavior, compared to measures that ask individuals to
rate their own behavior. Nevertheless, research in the area of social cognition has called for the increased use of indirect measures; thus, future

E. V. HOBMAN, P. BORDIA, AND C. GALLOIS

321

research should include an objective or implicit measure of openness to


diversity in order to gain a more accurate measure of this aspect of team
climate.
The results of this study should be interpreted with caution because
all of the measures were included in a single survey. Such data are vulnerable to common method variance which can inflate the observed relationships between variables. However, the observed complex interactions
between variables cannot easily be explained by common method variance (Brown, Ganesan & Challagala, 2001). Thus, common method variance concerns are mitigated to some extent by the interactions. As the
data were collected at one time, inferences are limited to references to
associations between variables. Future research exploring the consequences of perceived dissimilarity could usefully utilize a longitudinal
design or use multiple methods of data measurement to reduce the impact of common method variance and improve our understanding of the
causal relationships between variables.
Conclusion and Practical Implications
The findings from this study build on the current body of research
into group diversity and individual dissimilarity. By taking an individual
level view on diversity, we found that perceived dissimilarity had a significant influence upon the amount of conflict that individuals experience, and their level of involvement in group tasks. These results suggest
that we need to consider perceptions of difference when managing diversity at work.
In particular, our results highlight the importance of managing perceived value dissimilarity. Value dissimilarity was associated with higher
levels of potentially beneficial task conflict, but it was also related to
negative processes such as relationship conflict and lower work group
involvement. This trade-off implies that value differences need to be
carefully managed. Effective management could include highlighting a
common goal (Schneider & Northcraft, 1999), while acknowledging that
each team member has different methods of achieving the goal. In this
way, although there would still be differences in work values, tensions
between individuals would be minimised as team members would understand that everyone is committed to working towards the common goal
and shares the team value. Group members also need to be aware that
value differences can create miscommunication, and therefore they need
to ensure that all members understand important group actions and decisions (Gelfand, Kuhn & Radhakrishnan, 1996).
This study has also highlighted the importance of perceived group
openness to diversity in the management of diversity. For example, openness to visible diversity helped to increase visibly dissimilar members

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involvement in the team. Thus, organizations should encourage norms


that encourage interaction with all individuals regardless of dissimilarity (Kossek et al., 1996). This could be achieved by introducing formal
procedures, such as all members contributing equally to decision-making,
open knowledge sharing and partnering different members to work on
certain projects, rewarding the achievement of superordinate team goals
(Schneider & Northcraft, 1999), and encouraging the use of devils advocates and critical evaluation processes (Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992;
Turner & Pratkanis, 1994). Such easily implemented methods are likely
to be effective in ensuring that members feel part of the team and share
information with each other (Karakowsky & McBey, 2001; Cox, 1991).
Findings from this and future field research can provide managers with
practical skills when handling diversity, so that the potential of diversity
can be realized.
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