Women and nonwhites penalized on diversity
Friday, April 8, 2016
Posted by: Barb Francella
Women and people of color who promote workplace diversity
and inclusion are judged more harshly by their bosses than their white male
peers who engage in the same behavior, according to a new research.
Women and nonwhites who frequently promote gender and race
balance also are rated worse than their female and nonwhite colleagues who do
not actively promote diversity, according to Stefanie K. Johnson and David R.
Hekman of the University of Colorado, authors of the
study recently presented in Harvard Business Review.
"For all the talk about how important diversity is within
organizations, white and male executives aren’t rewarded, career-wise, for
engaging in diversity-valuing behavior, and nonwhite and female executives
actually get punished for it,” they said.
The researchers surveyed 350 executives on behaviors such as
whether they respected cultural, religious, gender and racial differences;
valued working with a diverse group of people; and felt comfortable managing
people from different racial or cultural backgrounds. Through 360 survey feedback,
they found women and nonwhites who frequently engage in these behaviors are
rated much worse by their bosses than male and white peers who promoted
In a second study, the researchers asked 307 working adults
to review a hiring decision made by a fictitious manager. The participants
rated female and nonwhite managers as less effective when they hired a female
or nonwhite job candidate rather than a white male candidate.
"It didn’t matter whether white male managers chose to hire
a white male, white female, nonwhite male or nonwhite female — there was no difference
in how participants rated their competence and performance,” the authors noted.
"All managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who looked like them,
unless they were a white male.”
Stereotypes in play
The workplace penalty women and non-whites face for
promoting diversity is rooted in the power and status gap between men and women
and between whites and nonwhites, the researchers said.
"High status groups, mainly white men, are given freedom to
deviate from the status quo because their competence is assumed based on their
membership in the high status group,” Johnson and Hekman wrote in the Harvard
Business Review. "In contrast, when women and nonwhite leaders advocate for
other women and nonwhites, it highlights their low-status demographics,
activating the stereotype of incompetence, and leads to worse performance
These career risks can prevent women and minorities from advocating
for other women and minorities when they reach positions of power. "As
organizations seek to reflect the broader societies in which they operate,
increasing racial and gender balance is becoming more urgent,” they wrote. "The
harsh reality [of this study] highlights the importance of putting appropriate
structures and processes in place to guarantee the fair evaluation of women and
"The challenge of creating equality should not be placed on
the shoulders of individuals who are at greater risk of being crushed by the
weight of this goal.”