September 28, 2022
Companies that push diversity and inclusion may alienate minority candidates, according to a new study.

Companies that push diversity and inclusion may alienate minority candidates, according to a new study.

Contrary to the stated goal, the diversity policies implemented often have adverse effects on these workers, the study, conducted by researchers from the Yale School of Management and London Business School, found. While firms are much likelier to cite the “business case,” or the notion that making diverse hires could boost profits, than the “fairness case,” which refers to companies wanting to do the “right thing,” the business case arguments make workers feel excluded, a researcher said.

“These business case justifications are extremely popular. But our findings suggest that they do more harm than good,” lead author Oriane Georgeac, a professor at the Yale School of Management, said.

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Business case justifications, invoked by 80% of the Fortune 500 companies surveyed, could increase an underrepresented member’s “social identity threat,” defined as his or her concern that work product would be judged through the lens of social identity, researchers said.

Researchers used artificial intelligence to gather and examine online diversity statements from Fortune 500 companies, which were then read to the three categories of minority job seekers reviewed: participants who were LGBT, black students, and female candidates in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — fields. Most preferred the statements that made fairness cases over business case justifications, the study found.

But the job candidates were also receptive to diversity statements that were neutral, and they even felt a greater sense of belonging when presented with these statements as compared with those touting the fairness case, researchers discovered in an “unexpected result.”

“If companies do feel compelled to give an explanation, the fairness case is much less harmful,” Georgeac said. “However, our results suggest that organizations should consider stating their commitment to diversity as a matter of fact, which doesn’t require any justification — because it’s a value that’s just as obvious and core to the organization’s purpose as innovation and integrity.”

Researchers called for further study of their “surprising findings.”

“We have more research to do here, but the possibility that no justification is the best justification for diversity is incredibly interesting,” London Business School’s Aneeta Rattan said.

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Additional research could “explore how diversity justifications affect members of other underrepresented groups, such as older workers; how well companies’ public diversity statements reflect their actual internal motivations for diversity; and how diversity values affect the behavior of members of the organization, such as managers and executives,” according to the researchers.

The findings were published by the American Psychological Association on Thursday.

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