Diversity Backlash: Women & Minorities Frowned On When They Encourage Diversity

July 30, 2014  |  

People tend to hire people who look like them. It is one of the reasons experts say Silicon Valley continues to be mainly white, Asian and male. But according to a  new study, when women and minorities encourage diversity for corporate leadership positions, they often receive lower evaluations from their bosses and colleagues.

The study, done by the researchers at the University of Colorado and University of Texas, was based on two experiments. During the first experiment, researchers examined the performance evaluations of 362 high-level executives. What they found was that “women and minorities who received high marks for valuing diversity — such as understanding different cultural backgrounds and effectively managing workers with different backgrounds — got lower scores in their reviews than women and minority colleagues who didn’t appear to value diversity as much,” reports The Huffington Post.

Ironically, white males didn’t suffer in their performance ratings if they valued diversity.

In the second experiment, 395 students viewed trained actors playing human resources professionals looking  to hire certain candidates. Some wanted the non-white-male candidates and stressed diversity in their pitch. Others urged for the hiring of the white male candidates.

The students reacted negatively when women and minority actors pushed for diverse candidates. In fact, female students in the audience “winced” when there was a female HR professional pushing for another woman to get the job, according to David Hekman, the lead author of the study and a management professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

“They were like, ‘This is terrible, you’re hurting all of us, it makes us all look like we’re incompetent and weak, like we can’t do this ourselves,’” Hekman said.

The pitches for hiring white males got positive reactions, especially when women and non-white actors were the ones  pitching.

According to Hekman, the way around this would be to frame diversity differently. “’Diversity’ is a loaded term,” he said. “It’s used as a euphemism for ‘You like to promote non-whites and women.’”

He says companies should urge leaders to be “demographically unselfish” — hire and promote people who are unlike themselves.

Another move he suggests would be to put white men in charge of promoting diversity at companies. Many companies place women or minorities into such positions as  “chief diversity officer,” and this says Hekman reinforces the negative stereotypes about them. Sixty-five percent of the CDOs at he Fortune 500 have CDOs who are women, and 37 percent are African-American, according to a 2012 Wall Street Journal report.

“Almost all of diversity offices are run by non-whites and women, but I think that further ghettoizes diversity itself and makes it so it’s not taken seriously,” Hekman said. “Nobody can attack a white man for being selfish if he’s promoting diversity.”

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