Study Reveals Career Cost of Promoting Diversity, For Some

For women and minorities who advocate for other women and minorities in the workplace, the price of promoting diversity might come as a less favorable performance review, according to a new University of Colorado study.

Promoting diversity in the workplace is a hard-line goal in many organizations. But for some women and minorities, advocating for diversity by trying to advance the careers of other women and minorities is actually hurting them.

More people believe in ghosts than believe in racism.

This is according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, who found that when women and nonwhite executives promoted other women and minorities, they received lower performance ratings.

“Women can lean in and try to bridge the confidence gap all they want, but they’re going to be penalized for advocating for other women, just like nonwhites are,” David Hekman, coauthor of the study and an assistant professor of management at the Leeds School of Business, told The Wall Street Journal.

For example, among the 362 executives Hekman and his coauthors analyzed for the study, women who ranked average on a scale of dedication to diversity received a performance rating of 3.98, while women who ranked in the bottom 15 percent on the diversity scale got a rating of 4.15.

“This divergent effect of diversity-valuing behavior on performance ratings results from supervisors’ tendency to negatively stereotype diversity-valuing ethnic minority leaders as incompetent, and their tendency to negatively stereotype diversity-valuing female leaders as interpersonally cold,” the study noted.

Meanwhile, diversity-valuing men reported a bump in performance ratings.

The authors posited that these findings help explain why the glass ceiling remains intact: Women and minorities appear to increase their chances of climbing the corporate ladder by being less committed to diversity. The research also helps explain why few leaders are willing to advocate for women and minorities to be promoted, they said.

“More people believe in ghosts than believe in racism, and people in the upper ranks of management will not openly utter a bad word against diversity,” Hekman told the Academy of Management, which next week holds its annual meeting, where he and his coauthors will present their research. “Yet, executives who are women or ethnic minorities are penalized every day for doing what everyone says they ought to be doing—helping other members of their groups fulfill their management potential. It is a revealing sign that the supposed death of long-standing biases has been greatly exaggerated.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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