Study Finds Diversity Toll

Rachel Feintzeig, Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2014

Dedication to diversity can be a liability in the workplace, according to a study at the University of Colorado.

Researchers there found that women and nonwhite executives who push for women and nonwhites 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 nonwhite 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.

“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,” said David Hekman, an author of the study and an assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

Often, having women or minorities atop a company is perceived as a marker of progress for diversity efforts, but Dr. 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 nonwhite leaders would end up surrounded by white males in the executive suite, he said.

Dr. Hekman and two colleagues examined a pool of 362 executives, including CEOs, vice presidents and directors from industries such as banking, consumer products and food. They found that executives who ranked in the top 15% on a scale of dedication to diversity received an average performance rating of 3.76. Moving down on the pro-diversity behavior scale correlated to an increase in performance review ratings. A woman who ranked at the average of the diversity scale yielded a performance rating of 3.98, while scoring in the bottom 15% on the diversity scale pushed the performance rating to 4.15, a 10% increase from those who ranked at the top of the diversity scale, according to Dr. Hekman.

White men, on the other hand, actually got a bump in their performance review scores from valuing diversity, he added.

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