Successful diversity management requires a thorough understanding of the forms of diversity present and possible disadvantages, as well as an understanding of the factors that determine change processes in an organization (Genkova et al., 2021). In this regard, in science and higher education research, different disciplines have different approaches that prevent the emergence of a unified theoretical basis (Linde & Auferkorte-Michaelis, 2018). Due to the increasing speed at which societal change is taking place, however, there is widespread consensus that the ability of higher education institutions to engage in independent and reflective organizational development is a central requirement that should have a positive impact on dealing with diversity in the medium term (Linde & Auferkorte-Michaelis, 2018; Schwarz & Lilienthal, 2020).
For German and European private universities, there are no results on conditions for success of this development. Within the U.S. private education sector, which is more significant in the national education system and more researched, the implementation of a strategic plan for embedding diversity in the higher education profile by the higher education leadership was shown to be a key predictor of successfully addressing diversity (Henderson, 2020; Rosinger et al., 2019). Furthermore, allocation of resources to diversity management, commitment of administration and leadership staff, and operationalization of success criteria emerged as important predictors (Henderson, 2020). These factors should impact the uptake and processing of information (motivation and ability), as well as profile development.
Currently, there is a research gap to what extent the relevance of these factors from the field of action structure is comparable at German private universities. Findings as well as theoretical considerations suggest that diversity management at private universities should indeed be understood as a pure top-down process, but one that takes into account the loosely coupled organizational structure (Buß & Stratmann, 2017). The creation and implementation of a strategic plan requires knowledge about the status quo of disadvantage and potential at universities, as well as knowledge among decision-makers about the possibilities for implementing development, innovation drivers, responsibilities, and organizational weak points (Szczyrba, 2017). Thus, successful development is only possible with the consideration and participation of all groups of actors. Auferkorte-Michaelis and Linde (2022) as well as Gaisch et al. (2020) underline the necessity of a development of universities towards a learning organization. In both the business world (Genkova & Schreiber, 2019) and at a public university (Schwarz & Lilienthal, 2020), however, previous research projects have shown that only limited information is available on how diversity is actually handled in the organization. Barriers, challenges, and opportunities are usually not recognized as such by decision-makers. Alongside the control of behavior through structures and rules, it is thus necessary to further develop the attitudes, skills and norms of organizational members. This concerns the field of action of personnel development (Auferkorte-Michaelis & Linde, 2016).
Establishing positive norms toward diversity has been shown to be a relevant predictor of attitudes toward diversity outside of the educational context (prejudice, diversity beliefs, attitudes toward ethnic minority assimilation, and multiculturalism; Guimond et al., 2013; Guimond et al., 2014; Lee, 2002). Especially when identification with an organization is strong, people tend to align their own attitudes with existing organizational norms (Genkova & Schreiber, 2021b). In this context, dealing with one's own and others' diversity is demanding for all parties involved (Genkova et al., 2022). For that reason, it is necessary to support members of higher education institutions by teaching them competencies.
Diversity attitudes and competencies among faculty (Aguilar et al., 2020; Cotton et al., 2007) and students (Genkova & Schreiber, 2021a; Kauff et al., 2019) have been partially examined in empirical studies in different cultural contexts, but the generalizability of these findings is unresolved. No findings are currently available on the diversity attitudes and competencies of administrators and university leaders. The transferability of existing approaches and recommendations for action is also unclear because underlying conditions differ between types of higher education. In conclusion, there is a deficit of scientific evidence on the practices, perspectives, structures, actors, challenges and opportunities of diversity management at private universities in Germany.