Breaking through the glass ceiling at work can be a difficult task, especially if you’re a minority or even a woman. Occasionally, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll come across someone in a position of authority, who is also a woman or minority and understands what you’re facing and gives you a break despite the status quo that exists. But according to new research from the University of Colorado, women and minorities are often punished for promoting other women and minorities.
Researchers at the University of Colorado say that women and minorities in positions of power are discouraged from focusing on diversity, but white men receive praise for doing so.
The study was based on two experiments. In the first, researchers studied the performance evaluations of 362 high-level executives. The evaluations were given by bosses and peers to execs in a leadership-training program. Women and minorities who got high marks for valuing diversity — like understanding different cultural backgrounds and managing workers with different backgrounds effectively — got lower scores in their reviews than women and minority colleagues who didn’t appear to value diversity as much.
White men didn’t appear to suffer in their performance ratings for valuing diversity.
But that experiment didn’t prove that valuing diversity hurt performance scores. So the team did another experiment. In this one, 395 students watched trained actors playing human-resources professionals pitching to hire certain candidates. Some pushed for the non-white-male candidates and emphasized diversity in their pitch. Others advocated for the white male candidates.
The students watching the presentations reacted negatively when women and minority actors pushed for diverse candidates. Women in the audience winced when they saw women pushing for another woman to get the job for the sake of diversity, according to David Hekman, the lead author of the study and a management professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.
The study suggests one way to change this behavior is to get rid of the idea of “diversity” and instead focus on “demographic unselfishness.”
“’Diversity’ is a loaded term,” Hekman said. “It’s used as a euphemism for ‘You like to promote non-whites and women.’”
One of Hekman’s solutions is to put white men in charge of diversity.
“Almost all of diversity offices are run by non-whites and women, but I think that further ghettoizes diversity itself and makes it so it’s not taken seriously,” Hekman said. “Nobody can attack a white man for being selfish if he’s promoting diversity.”