When women and minority execs promote diversity, this is the surprising result

A CU-Boulder study found that female and nonwhite execs suffer as a result

Not only does the promotion of diversity in the workplace not help executives in their performance evaluations, it actually hurts women and nonwhite executives, a University of Colorado-Boulder study has found.

Women and nonwhites who favor and promote other women and nonwhites through hiring decisions, for example, receive much worse ratings from their bosses than those who follow the status quo, according to the paper, published online this month in the Academy of Management Journal.

“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,” said lead authors David Hekman and Stefanie Johnson in an article they contributed this month to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). “And nonwhite and female executives actually get punished for it."

Hekman is an associate professor and Johnson is an assistant professor, both of management and entrepreneurship at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

For the study, 350 executives took a survey gauging their own diversity-valuing behaviors, including whether they respect cultural, religious, gender and racial differences; value working with a diverse group of people; and feel comfortable managing people from different racial or cultural backgrounds. In a separate confidential survey, bosses and peers rated the same 350 executives on diversity-valuing behaviors, competence and performance.

Diversity-valuing behavior was negatively related only in the evaluations of the female and nonwhite executives.   

In addition, 307 working adults reviewed a hiring decision made by a fictitious manager for the study. The participants read a description of the hiring decision, saw a photo of the manager that revealed their race and gender, and completed a survey to rate the manager on competence and performance.

Participants rated nonwhite managers and female managers as less effective when they hired a nonwhite or female job candidate instead of a white male candidate.

The result has serious implications, said Hekman and Johnson in their HBR piece.

“Our set of studies suggests that it’s risky for low-status group members to help others like them,” Hekman and Johnson say. “And this can lead to women and minorities choosing not to advocate for other women and minorities once they reach positions of power, as they don’t want to be perceived as incompetent poor performers.”

Hekman and Johnson plan to present their research at the White House on April 12. The event, recognizing National Equal Pay Day and centered around discussion on how companies can change, will include other speakers, as well as Fortune 100 corporate executives, heads of chambers of commerce and organizations like the NAACP.

Maw-Der Foo, associate professor at the National University of Singapore, and Wei Yang, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, co-authored the paper. Foo was a faculty member and Yang was a doctoral student at the Leeds School at the time of the study.

Categories: Management & Leadership