LSJ Opinion

Managing diversity in the modern workforce shouldn’t be a zero-sum game

Perceptions of company’s diversity policies can be a hindrance for both white employees and minority applicants.
Perceptions of company’s diversity policies can be a hindrance for both white employees and minority applicants. File photo

For a couple years now, a few of my clients have tasked me with the challenge of helping them identify minority candidates for employment in their organization.

At first, I was very excited. Why? Because for many years, they have told me that they could not find qualified candidates for their open positions.

My response was simple: “You are not looking hard enough. There are many qualified minority candidates out there in your profession.”

Finally, they told me, “OK, you have the green light, you go help us find them.”

In terms of increasing demographic diversity of staff at an educational institution, I found that the answer was not as easy as I originally thought.

Three major roadblocks get on the way of remediation of workplace inequality in diversity representation.

The first challenge is the assumption within an organization that diversity policies make companies fairer to minorities and women. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, young white men went through a hiring process for an entry-level job at a fictional technology firm. Half of these “applicants” interviewed in a firm where recruitment materials mentioned the firm’s nondiscriminatory diversity values (i.e. “minorities encouraged to apply”).

The materials for the second firm did not mention diversity. All of the applicants then underwent a standardized job interview.

The result was fascinating. Everything else remaining the same, participants applying to the pro-diversity company made a poorer impression during the interview, and expressed more concerns about being discriminated against than those applying to the neutral company.

These findings suggest that whites may be more sensitive to identity threats than we would commonly assume. The mere mention of diversity in a company’s policies may make white employees believe that minorities and women are being treated fairly, but also that they themselves are being treated unfairly.

The second set of challenges derive directly from the first one. When the strategic plan and other policies in an organization suggest a tendency of the company to hire with diversity representation in mind, the majority white staff resist diversity as they feel the threat of losing their privileged positions.

The third hindrance of increasing minority representation in an organization is created by the minority themselves. Participants from ethnic minorities viewed a pro-diversity company as no more inclusive.

In my attempt to attract minority candidates to predominantly majority white organizations, I have often been asked by minority candidates why I wanted them to be the first or the only minority there.

The most common reason for minorities not to even be willing to consider applying is, “If they have not yet recruited minorities, it’s because they don’t want minorities; why should I be the first?”

Minorities are thus also reluctant to embrace an environment where they may feel experience discrimination, whether it’s an accurate view or not.

Hunan psychologists find these three challenges troubling in the strugles to achieve workplace diversity and foster inclusion in our organizations.

Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D., is the president of All World Languages and Cultures Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. To reach him, call 888-646-5656 or send email to info@universalhighways.com.

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