Women, Minorities Punished for Promoting Diversity

Unconscious bias imageWhite Males Get a Pass When They Champion D&I, Study Finds

By Eve Tahmincioglu

Women and nonwhite executives should take note. Promoting diversity and inclusion within your company could hurt your career.

At least those are the findings of a recently released study in the Academy of Management Journal titled “Does diversity-valuing behavior result in diminished performance ratings for nonwhite and female leaders?”

The authors of the study, which surveyed 350 executives in 20 industries and 26 job functions, found that:

  • • minorities and women who engage in diversity-valuing behavior tend to be negatively stereotyped and, thus, receive lower competence and performance ratings.
  • • white males who engage in these same behaviors, however, saw no adverse impact.
  • • and, the findings suggest, minority and women leaders might be able to advance their own careers by engaging in lower levels of diversity-valuing behavior.


This research may shed light on the perpetual problem of getting more women and minorities into corner offices.

The authors write:

“The glass ceiling may persist, in part, because nonwhite and women leaders who engage in behaviors that increase diversity in the highest organizational ranks are systematically penalized with lower competence and performance ratings. This logic may explain why there are so few leaders willing to publicly advocate for nonwhite or women leaders to be promoted, and why ethnic minorities and women feel threatened at the prospect of hiring a fellow member of their demographic group.”

Despite these undercurrents, there are companies that seem to rise above this unconscious-bias wall.

DiversityInc’s Top 50 companies consistently do a better job advancing women and minorities.

Among the Top 50 companies, 16.3% of minorities and 27.3% of women are in senior leadership – that is among the CEO and his or her direct reports. And minorities make up nearly 19% and women 32.3% of the highest paid 10%.

Compare that to the majority of the largest companies in the United States, where only 9% of women and 8% of minorities are among the five highest-paid executives, according to a Calvert Investments 2015 report. And there are only 4% of women CEOs and 25.1% of women in executive and senior-level officials and manager positions among the S&P 500, according to Catalyst.

So how do the top employers do it? They open their eyes.

Rather than ignore the fact that no one is immune to bias, even women and minorities, it is imperative to acknowledge “we all experience blind spots that affect all interactions,” said Michael Fenlon, Principal U.S. and Global Talent, PricewaterhouseCoopers (No. 3 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity)

Fenlon recommended implementing mandatory unconscious bias training at the leadership level. If managers are made aware of these blind spots, they will know how to rectify them when interacting with their diverse high potentials.

Once this understanding is built at the managerial level, he continued, it will eventually reflect in the rest of the managers’ teams.

“Whole leadership starts with self-awareness,” he stressed.

In a Harvard Business Review article about the findings written by the study’s lead authors Stefanie K. Johnson, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship and David R. Hekman, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, offer some insights meant to open employers eyes to the diversity realities on the ground.

They write:

“As organizations seek to reflect the broader societies in which they operate, increasing racial and gender balance is becoming more urgent. 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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