Diversity Hires Punished For Valuing Diversity

Rachel Feintzeig flags a recent study that “found that women and non-whites executives who push for women and non-whites to be hired and promoted suffer when it comes to their own performance reviews”:

A woman who shepherds women up the ranks, for example, is perceived as less warm, while a non-white who promotes diversity is perceived as less competent. Both end up being rated less highly by their bosses, according to the paper, which is set to be presented at an Academy of Management conference next month. … Often, having women or minorities atop a company is perceived as a marker of progress for diversity efforts, but [David] Hekman’s research suggests their presence might not have a large impact on the rest of the organization. If they believe it’s too risky to advocate for their own groups, it makes sense that successful women and non-white leaders would end up surrounded by white males in the executive suite, he said.

The study also discovered that “White men, on the other hand, actually got a bump in their performance review scores from valuing diversity.” Amanda Hess considers why “white male managers who promote women and people of color aren’t penalized”:

Perhaps that’s because, when a white man recruits a diverse group of people to work beneath him, he’s improving the company’s optics without disrupting the composition of its upper rungs. But when a woman or person of color does it, she’s threatening the system. As the authors put it: “Minority and women leaders’ engagement in diversity-valuing behavior may be viewed as selfishly advancing the social standing of their own low-status demographic groups.”

This is why “token” female and minority managers are particularly valuable to their companies—they allow executives to point to their commitment to promoting women and people of color (or rather, a woman and a person of color) without actually fostering widespread diversity in the ranks. Women and people of color who succeed in being seen as warm or competent (by disavowing a commitment to diversity) are then coded by their companies as what the researchers call “social outsiders” from their gender and race. Most of the bosses included in the study were white men (no duh), but female and minority bosses surveyed rated their diversity-minded colleagues similarly—perhaps because reinforcing the status quo is a requirement for cracking the glass ceiling.

Bryce Covert connects the study to related research:

The research could also help explain why some countries that have rules in place to increase gender diversity haven’t seen it trickle outward. Norway passed a quota requiring company boards to be 40 percent female, and women now make up 41 percent of public company boards. But 32 of the largest companies don’t have a female CEO and just 5.8 percent of general managers at public companies are women, suggesting the board quota hasn’t led to the hiring of more female executives. Other Nordic countries with board quotas also have small shares of big companies with female CEOs. Another study of Norway’s system found that the increase of women on boards hasn’t meant anything for women working below the C-suite level.

If white men could be counted on to be champions of diversity, the numbers might change faster. But unfortunately while today’s discrimination doesn’t look like outright exclusion or hostility, it takes the form of favoring people who are similar to you.