Imagine an HR manager is trying to convince you why they think someone should be hired over 3 other equally qualified candidates. Imagine 4 different candidates and justifications for hiring:
Candidate 1 = White male. Justification is “This person looks like a leader and someone the team will respect”.
Candidate 2 = Non-white male.
Candidate 3 = White woman.
Candidate 4 = Non-white woman.
For candidates 2-4, the justification for hiring is “Diversity is important for our organization and we should do the right thing to advance it”.
If you were like most of the 400 people listening to the HR manager in this experiment designed by University of Colorado professors, you didn’t react negatively to the presentation when a white, male HR manager suggested Candidates 2-4 for diversity reasons. However, if the HR manager was a member of the same minority group (i.e. a woman or non-white person) as the candidate they advocated for, he/she was viewed negatively.
What does this mean for female or minority managers or hiring staff? The take-away is that you might be penalized for justifying anything for diversity’s sake. What about making a female or minority hire and explaining it with a different justification? While the experiment doesn’t address that issue, clearly, other people (like your colleagues and boss) may be suspicious of your motivations. Ouch, again. As if its not hard enough to be a minority or a woman in the workplace, even helping other diverse candidates might make life tougher for you.
Given that we obviously live in a world of unconscious bias and suspicions of these types, it might be particularly self-defeating and disturbing that almost all Chief Diversity Officers seem to be either women or minorities. Just do a quick LinkedIn search for the job title and see for yourself. By one count, 20% of Fortune 500 companies have Chief Diversity officers.
Does this mean the judgment and motivations of these Chief Diversity officers will generally be suspect? The authors of this experiment-based research suggest that while counter-intuitive, it might be more effective if Chief Diversity Officers were actually white men! Unfortunately they happen to cite UPS as an example where a white, male CEO is also the head of the company’s diversity council. (UPS is an ironic example given that the company is defending itself in a very high-profile pregnancy discrimination case slated to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court).