Diversity & Inclusion

Study shows need to address unintended consequences of diversity efforts

For years now, employers have focused on the benefits of workplace diversity. They can point to studies showing how work groups in which men and women of all ages, races and ethnicities often outperform less diverse groups.  AA affects perception of women and minorities

Sometimes the quest for diversity stems from a desire to capitalize on the talents of all kinds of employees. Other times it’s a legal compliance issue, since government contractors are required by law to devise affirmative action plans aimed at increasing the representation of women and minorities.

Regardless of whether action is required or discretionary, employers are devoting time and money to their efforts. Now a new study is pointing to some downsides to those efforts. Management professors from New York University, the University of Michigan, and George Mason University published research in the August issue of Academy of Management Journal showing that people hired as a result of affirmative action efforts often suffer the effects of stigmatization.

But the authors also stress that employers can take steps to counter the damage.

Hazards to avoid

Management professors Lisa M. Leslie of New York University, David Mayer of the University of Michigan, and David A. Kravitz of George Mason University studied the findings of 45 previous studies on affirmative action efforts that included 6,432 individuals.

The researchers wrote that even as women and minorities continue to face employment discrimination, diversity efforts have increased their numbers in managerial positions. Despite that progress, those efforts can have unintended consequences because they “can stimulate backlash among non-beneficiaries who may feel unfairly disadvantaged by these policies,” the research report says.

Often diversity efforts “can cause the very employees they are intended to benefit to be stigmatized as incompetent” by others and themselves, the report says. Just the presence of an affirmative action plan (AAP) “raises the possibility that members of the groups the AAP targets were hired or promoted due to their demographics, not their qualifications,” according to the report. Such perceptions also cause AAP targets to doubt their own competence.

In addition, people targeted by AAPs are often seen as less warm and less likeable, according to the research. “We tend to make negative attributions about people we compete with,” Leslie told the Wall Street Journal. The perceptions of others may keep targets of AAPs from achieving top performance.

What to do

The study authors advise employers to fight the downsides to affirmative action by emphasizing the qualifications of the people hired or promoted. Also, staff should understand In addition, the staff should be given the opportunity to get to know them as people. Also, staff should understand that hiring to meet a quota rather than because of qualification is mostly illegal.

“People have all kinds of assumptions about what affirmative action means,” Mayer said after the study was released. “A lot of people assume it’s about hiring people less qualified because they are a member of a protected group, even though that’s illegal. Will it be a case where protected status is used as a tiebreaker? Or is it outreach and recruitment, which is a totally different animal that few object to? Be transparent.”

Employers also should point out that affirmative action and broader diversity efforts are intended to benefit all, not just targeted groups. Commenting on the findings, Leslie said that by pointing out how diversity benefits the organization as a whole, they can fight the perception that affirmative action and other diversity initiatives work against whites and men.

The authors suggest that employers need to keep possible problems associated with affirmative action plans and other diversity efforts in mind so they can devise solutions that will be effective in their workplaces.

“A more comprehensive understanding of the unintended consequences of AAPs is useful for developing strategies to prevent the negative effects of AAPs on their intended beneficiaries and thus facilitate social justice in the workplace and in the society at large,” the report concludes.

2 thoughts on “Study shows need to address unintended consequences of diversity efforts”

  1. I am retired now and the muzzle is off.

    Affirmative action sucks.

    I am white. I am Male. I am straight. I am a man of faith.

    Throughout a 30-year career in government, I have competed with “minorities” for promotions, assignments, training opportunities, and so forth. Qualifications for promotions, assignments, training, etc. were NOT based on merit. A point system was devised whereas the “minorities” were given points based on their “diversity” and points were deleted from me because I didn’t fall into one of their categories.

    Besides myself, my family suffered from my reduced promotional and financial prospects solely because I am a WASP.

    Assuredly, I resented this greatly. Given what office politics may be, I never passed on an opportunity to covertly screw over these ‘minorities’. In fact, I now mentor WASPs on how to covertly cause as much damage to those privileged minorities as they can.

    It’s all about survival. Given the fact that straight WASPs are in fact the new minority, this is the way it has to be.

    There is another ‘minority’ class demanding far more than they deserve, so-called religious types who demand special accommodation to the detriment of all other employees be those others white, black, brown, female, mixed gender, or whatever. I even wrote a book addressing this: RELIGION IN THE WORKPLACE is available on amazon and on kindle.

  2. Wow, a “man of faith” writing such mean spirited remarks is very disappointing. A man of faith (and remember the P in WASP stands for Protestant) intentionally covertly screwing over minorities? And if he succeeds in that is also bringing harm to his employer.

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