All Male Panel

Women and minorities are punished for promoting workplace diversity, study says

A new study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that managers love to hear about workplace diversity—so long as it’s not coming from women or people of color.

Professors Stefanie K. Johnson and David R. Hekman from the University of Colorado surveyed 350 working executives about, as Fusion explains, how cultural, racial, and gender differences were respected and how much diversity was considered a valuable part of their day to day work. Much to their surprise and despite the importance that many organizations publicly place on corporate diversity, they 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.” Instead, as they write in the Harvard Business Review:

[Johnson and Hekman] found that women and nonwhite executives who were reported as frequently engaging in [diversity-valuing] 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. 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, and nonwhite and female executives actually get punished for it [emphasis added].

What’s worse is that they conducted a second study, asking 307 working adults to review a hiring decision made by fictitious managers. After giving these adults details that revealed both the race and gender of the fictitious managers and their new hires, the professors found that all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who looked like them, unless they were a white male. In other words, women or people of color hiring other women or people of color was seen as “hiring their own” and heavily penalized.

In a world where 85% of corporate executives and board members are white men and where these white men don’t seem especially inspired to change that number, this has serious implications. It means it is especially risky for marginalized folks to hire other marginalized folks — making it difficult for women and people of color to be hired by the few people who might be most inclined to hire them. As the authors of the study write:

The harsh reality discussed here highlights the importance of putting appropriate structures and processes in place to guarantee the fair evaluation of women and minorities. The challenge of creating equality should not be placed on the shoulders of individuals who are at greater risk of being crushed by the weight of this goal.

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Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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