For Some, Fostering Diversity Comes at a Price
For Some, Fostering Diversity Comes at a Price
Business News Daily
By Chad Brooks
Published: July 15, 2014
>> For Some, Fostering Diversity Comes at a Price
Women and minorities don't shy away from hiring their peers out
of fear of the competitive threat they may pose, but rather out of
fear of the retribution they may incur, new research suggests.
The reason they are so reluctant to hire other women and ethnic
minorities is because they are often penalized by their bosses for
doing so, according to a study to be presented at next month's
annual meeting of the Academy of
"Nonwhite and women leaders who engage in
diversity-increasing behaviors in the highest organizational ranks
are systematically penalized with lower performance ratings for
doing so," the study's authors wrote in the research. "Our findings
suggest that nonwhite and women leaders may increase their own
chances of advancing up the corporate ladder by actually engaging
in a very low level of diversity-valuing behavior."
The researchers said by downplaying their
race and gender, these leaders may be viewed as worthy of being
promoted into the highest organizational echelons.
One of the study's authors, the University of Colorado's David
Hekman, said more people believe in ghosts than believe in racism,
and people in the upper ranks of management will not openly utter a
bad word against diversity.
"Yet, executives who are women or ethnic minorities are
penalized every day for doing what everyone says they ought to be
doing -- helping other members of their groups fulfill their
management potential," Hekman said in a statement. "It is a
revealing sign that the supposed death of longstanding biases has
been greatly exaggerated."
The findings emerge from an analysis of background data
collected from 362 executives taking a course at a major center for
leadership training. The managers, who were 14 percent nonwhite and
31 percent female, worked for organizations with a mean number of
about 4,700 employees, where they typically occupied positions high
in the corporate hierarchy.
Included in the data were assessments by an average of three to
four peers regarding the executives' commitment to diversity and
ratings by their bosses with respect to warmth, competence and
The researchers discovered that while women and nonwhites were
rated by their peers as significantly more valuing of diversity
than white males were, their efforts only earned them disfavor from
their bosses. The study revealed that for the entire sample of 362
executives, the majority of whom were white males, valuing
diversity gave a significant boost to ratings for warmth and
performance. However, for women execs, it was negatively
related to ratings for both variables, and for
ethnic minorities it turned bosses' thumbs down on
"Diversity-valuing behavior was negatively related only to
evaluations of leaders who were nonwhite or female -- leaders who
are thought to have the greatest potential to dismantle the glass
ceiling," the study's authors wrote. "This finding suggests that
minorities and women might be able to advance their own careers by
acting as tokens and engaging in a low level of diversity-valuing
To determine whether the low ratings received by the nonwhite
and female diversity-valuing managers reflect bosses' doubts about
these leaders' objectivity in
hiring and promoting individuals of their own gender or
race, rather than them simply being biased, researchers conducted a
behavioral experiment that enabled them to control key factors,
such as the quality of job candidates.
For the experiment, the study's authors divided 395 college
students in four groups, each of which viewed a presentation in
which a human resources manager presented photos and information
about four candidates for a position as project manager and
advocated for one. The four candidates, as well as the four HR
managers, were a white male, a while female, a nonwhite male and a
nonwhite female. The white male HR manager advocated for each of
the four candidates, each to a different audience.
The white female manager advocated for either the white male or
white female candidate, while the non-white male manager promoted
the white male or nonwhite male applicant. Additionally, the
nonwhite female manager advocated for either the white male or
nonwhite female candidate.
The study's authors found that, like the bosses in the field
study, the students penalized the minority and female presenters
for seeking to foster diversity.
To solve this problem, the authors suggest that white males be
recruited to play a larger role than they now do in diversifying
the workplace. Currently, women and minorities typically take on
this responsibility. While conceding the approach to be
counterintuitive, they cite the success of the United Parcel
Service, where the white male CEO serves as the leader of the
company's diversity council.
Another approach they said businesses should consider is to
simply measure and reward the degree to which people hire and
promote individuals who are demographically dissimilar from
"Because white men currently hold a clear numerical majority at
the highest organizational levels, rewarding such demographic
unselfishness would naturally correct the demographic imbalances
throughout organizations as members of demographic majorities would
tend to hire and promote members of demographic minorities," the
study's authors wrote in the research.
The study was co-authored by Maw Der Foo and Wei Yang of the
University of Colorado, Boulder.