A new study finds that people love to hear about workplace diversity—just as long as it’s not coming from minorities or women. In fact, if you’re not a white male, you’re more likely to be punished for speaking up.

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An Academy of Management Journal study entitled “Does diversity-valuing behavior result in diminished performance ratings for nonwhite and female leaders?” explored who really gets to champion diversity without consequences. Stefanie K. Johnson and David R. Hekman, two University of Colorado professors, polled nearly 400 “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.“ The professors thought their subjects would tell them positive things about workplace inclusion, but received the opposite response. From a piece they wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

Much to our surprise, we 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. (We collected these ratings from their 360-degree feedback surveys.) Even more striking, we found that women and nonwhite executives who were reported as frequently engaging in these 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.

Struggling to believe this was the case, the pair re-examined their findings with 300 additional subjects who were “given fictional hiring decisions for fake jobs that came along with pictures of the hiring manager and the new hire.” They found that if minority or women managers hired a minority or a woman instead of a white dude, the study’s participants rated them as “less effective”:

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Basically, all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who looked like them, unless they were a white male.

While this is not necessarily shocking, it does explain some of why companies that say they’re working on diversifying are often actually resistant to it.


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