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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


MCCALLAGHAN, Sean  and  HEYNS, Marita. Investigating the relationship between trust and the diversity climate of a South African tertiary institution. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.1071-1088. ISSN 2224-7912.

This study targeted permanently employed staff of a specific business unit (campus) of a South African university to explore the relationship between employees 'perceived levels of trust in their immediate line manager/supervisor and the overall perceptions of the diversity climate within the business unit. South Africa recently celebrated 20 years of democracy. Although racism and discrimination should have no place in our democracy, current widespread unrest on university campuses suggests that big and enduring challenges of transformation are not easily resolved. Clearly, much still remains to be done in order to accelerate transformation in our higher education system. A critical question that arises is how change can be brought about in a cost effective and sustainable way. In view of steadily growing incidents of often violent unrest on university campuses, it therefore seems appropriate that researchers should evaluate how far South Africa has really come by considering the extent to which different business units of universities have been able to contribute towards the creation of a prejudice-free and inclusive society and what factors might have an influence within such an environment. Similar to other organisations, a university's diversity climate is a barometer of the extent to which the university has been able to establish an academic environment free of both prejudice and discrimination. A diversity climate of an institution reflects the psychological perceptions, attitudes and beliefs of individuals that also translate into how different groups - which may include but are not limited to gender, age, racial and ethnic groups - interact within a specific organisational context. These psychological and behavioural indicators of a diversity climate affect both individual and organisational performance in a dramatic way and can be either positive or negative in nature. Some previous research studies in the international arena suggest that, to address the challenge of change, organisations should develop quality relationships -- interpersonally, organisationally and inter-organisationally - and that these can be enhanced by building and developing trust. This is, however, more easily said than done - especially since the historical context is one where trust between diverse groups has repeatedly been fractured and destroyed over time. Despite the fact that effective diversity management to create prejudice-free and inclusive workplace environments is becoming a growing concern, empirical research on diversity climate is still limited. Even fewer studies have examined the possible relationship between diversity climate and trust. In fact, within a South African context, research on the relationship between various forms of trust and its potential influence on the diversity climate of an organisation is extremely rare. This study took on a quantitative approach to explore the relationship between dyadic trust and the diversity climate. A cross-sectional survey (N = 350) was used to collect data. The questionnaire used in the study was a combination of three previously validated instruments. Diversity climate was defined as the employees 'perceptions of the policies and practices that communicate the extent to which fostering diversity and eliminating discrimination are a priority in the organisation. The diversity climate was measured through a previously validated diversity climate assessment instrument that consisted of nine items. The study employed a definition of trust that is widely accepted across disciplines and according to which trust is defined as the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another person based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trusting party, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party. Because trust is a multi-dimensional, interrelated and complex concept, the dimensions used to measure trust included predictors of trust as well as evidence of actual risk-taking expressed as trusting behaviours. Two previously validated measures of trust were combined in order to measure the trust component in a comprehensive manner. Predictors included eight items to measure the trusting party's propensity, also known as the innate, generalised inclination to trust others, and 16 items were employed to measure perceived trustworthiness as derived from indications of the trusted party's perceived ability (6 items), benevolence (4 items) and integrity (6 items). Trust itself was also measured (4 items) and confirmed by indicators of trusting behaviours such as the willingness to rely on (5 items) and disclose information (5 items) to the trusted party despite the lack of guarantees that one's trust will not be abused. Prior to its operationalisation, the measurement instrument had been translated from English to Afrikaans and Sesotho. Possible errors had been identified and corrected by an independent, professional translator who is fluent in all three languages. Study results indicated that the majority of the employees perceive the diversity climate to be positive and agree that the organisation is committed towards diversity management and eliminating discrimination. A correlation analysis between the dimensions of trust and diversity climate revealed that all of the trust dimensions, except for the propensity towards trust, have some sort of relationship with diversity climate. The results further indicated that the group of employees that only have an education up to matric/grade 12 indicated a higher propensity towards trust compared to the group that has either a diploma or a post-graduate degree. Propensity towards trust and disclosure-based trust dimensions revealed the only noticeable differences between the black and white groups. There was no practical significance within the diversity climate construct for the gender, education, ethnic, employment status or level of employment groups and this should be regarded as a positive result for the institution. The paper concluded with recommendations for future research.

Keywords : Trust; diversity climate; university campus; organisational behaviour; South Africa.

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