Business justifications for diversity may put candidates off

A new study finds candidates from underrepresented groups might be put off by business case justifications for diversity and inclusion which make them question the company’s true commitment.



A company that talks about the business case for diversity and inclusion may put off applicants from underrepresented groups rather than encourage them, according to a new study.

Even justifying diversity on the basis of fairness may have a negative effect, the study by London Business School and Yale School of Management found. However, that is not the same thing as saying that diversity and inclusion does not need to be embedded and monitored.

Dr Aneeta Rattan, Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, an author of the study, said: “I would say that any modern organisation which is genuinely working toward goals for diversity should have a data tracking and goal progress monitoring system for their progress. The business case for diversity does not drive that, nor does it define how diversity goals should be tracked or monitored. Therefore it seems like a concern that has more to do with the question of whether companies are truly committed to their diversity goals versus not, rather than a concern that really arises from the way they justify that commitment.”

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, said “business case” justifications for diversity can backfire by making members of underrepresented groups — such as women in STEM fields, LGBTQ professionals and Black students — feel that they will be judged based on their social identity if they join the company.

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

The researchers found that business-case diversity statements read by members of underrepresented groups undermined participants’ anticipated sense of belonging to the company and their desire to join the company. The researchers found that the business case may sometimes also threaten members of some well-represented groups.

Dr Rattan said no justification might be the most effective policy, but she added that she did not study whether a justification might still be needed by overrepresented groups, for example, senior managers to embed diversity and inclusion.

She stated: “Senior managers were not part of the study, so it is not possible to formulate an opinion on them in particular. However, in our studies we found variable results among job seekers from overrepresented groups. In one study, they did not discriminate between different diversity cases. In another study, the business case had some of the same negative effects for majority group members.”

Meanwhile, a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commissions has found that lower-paid health and social care workers from ethnic minorities experienced bullying, racism and harassment at work during the Covid-19 pandemic. It says poor data collection by employers could also be masking the extent of discrimination against them and that job insecurity in the health and adult social care sectors caused fear of victimisation among low-paid ethnic minority staff, particularly if they wanted to raise concerns, according to the inquiry.

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