Women and People Of Color Face Repercussions For Trying To Increase Workplace Diversity, Study Finds. Great.

As more and more companies face criticism for the overrepresentation of white men in their ranks, more and more companies have started saying they are "committed to diversity." But despite this, research indicates that women and people of color face repercussions for pushing diversity in their companies. So "committed to diversity" might really mean something closer to "we think this is important, just not important to support people who try to do anything about it."

The researchers behind this latest study were in fact surprised by how unsupportive company culture seems to be of people who make diversity a priority in practice, rather than just rhetoric. They first surveyed 350 working executives about the culture of their workplaces. Executives were asked whether gender, racial, and cultural differences were respected, and also whether efforts to make workplaces more demographically balanced were seen as a positive. Given the recent emphasis on diversity many companies have trumpeted, they assumed it would be. And yet just the opposite seemed to be true.

“Much to our surprise, we found that engaging in diversity-valuing behaviors did not benefit any of the executives in terms of how their bosses rated their competence or performance,” Johnson and Hekman wrote in a piece for Harvard Business Review. “Even more striking, we found that women and nonwhite executives who were reported as frequently engaging in these behaviors were rated much worse by their bosses, in terms of competence and performance ratings, than their female and nonwhite counterparts who did not actively promote balance.”

To see if the executives' impressions were accurate reflections of the resistance to diversity, the researchers decided to test things further. They asked 307 working adults to review a hiring decision by a fictional hiring manager. Participants were given a description of the hiring decision, and shown pictures of both the manager and new employee which made clear their gender and race.

For managers who were portrayed as white men, participants were consistent in how they rated their hiring decisions, regardless of the new employee's race or gender. For hiring managers who were women, people of color, or both, on the other hand, participants consistently rated their decisions less favorably when they hired anyone who wasn't a white man.

And this isn't even the first study to reach these same types of conclusions.

So... yeah.

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So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, it's a pretty clear sign that even if companies have decided that championing diversity is a good policy, when it comes to actually doing that, people aren't as on board.

It also makes clear that you can't just expect that women and people of color who join a company will act as trailblazers, clearing the way for everyone to come after them. Instead, we seem to have gotten used to having a certain number of not-white-men around, but people still have an idea of just how "diverse" a workplace should be — kind of like how, even when men outnumber women in a given room, men still often perceive the numbers as being equal. Our perceptions of balance aren't based on demographic realities, so much as what looks right to us. And when you're used to everything looking imbalanced, balance looks weird.

And overall, this makes pretty clear that institutional bias is not something that you can overcome just by talking about commitment to diversity. Institutional problems run a lot deeper than that.

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