Stop doing business for diversity

80% of Fortune 500 companies express their interest in diversity by doing one of the business areas: justifying diversity in the workplace as a beneficial outcome for companies. However, in a recent study, the authors found that this view is of great interest to job candidates who are actually represented in working with an organization. This is because the rhetoric that makes up the business of diversity sends a subtle but effective signal that organizations see employees in under-represented groups as the target, ultimately undermining DEI’s efforts before employers can interact with potential employees. Based on their findings, the authors suggest that if organizations are to justify their commitment to diversity, they should make a fair case — an argument based on moral reasons — but consider not doing so for best results. in any case. After all, companies don’t need to explain what they believe in values ​​like innovation, resilience, or integrity. So why treat diversity differently?

Most organizations do not need to explain why they care about core values, such as innovation, resilience, or integrity. However, in terms of diversity, lengthy justifications for the value of hiring diverse employees have become commonplace in corporate America and beyond. AstraZeneca’s website, for example, deals with the business of diversity, arguing that “innovation requires advanced ideas that only come from many employees.” In contrast, Tenet Healthcare makes a moral case, stating in its Code of Conduct that “we accept diversity because it is our culture and it is appropriate to do so.”

These statements may seem harmless, but our next research suggests that the way an organization talks about diversity can have a profound effect on its ability to truly achieve its diversity goals. Through a series of six studies, we have examined the prevalence of different types of diversity rhetoric in corporate communications, and how effective these narratives are in attracting candidates for the positions they represent.

In our first study, we collected publicly available text from all Fortune 500 business websites, diversity reports, and blogs, and then used a machine learning algorithm to categorize the data into two categories:

  • The “business case” of diversity.: rhetoric that justifies diversity in the workplace, believing it to be a beneficial outcome for companies.
  • A “fair case” for diversity.: a rhetoric that justifies diversity on the moral basis of fairness and equal opportunity

We found that most organizations — approximately 80% — used the business case to justify the importance of diversity. In contrast, less than 5% used the fairness case. The rest did not list diversity as a value, or did so without reasoning what it meant to the organization.

Given its popularity, it can be expected that the candidates represented will find the business case credible, and that reading this kind of justification for diversity would increase their interest in working with a company. Unfortunately, our next five studies have shown the opposite. In these surveys, we asked more than 2,500 people – including LGBTQ + professionals, STEM women, and Black American college students – to read messages from their future employer website that did not provide a business case, fairness case, or justification. appreciating diversity. We then informed them how much they felt about the organization, how concerned they were that they would be judged by stereotypes, and how interested they would be in taking a job there.

So what did we find? Turning to percentages, our strong statistics show that underestimated participants who read a case of diversity expected to feel 11% less likely to be a member of the company, 16% more concerned about being stereotyped in the company, and 10% more concerned about their company. seeing that they are interchangeable with other members of the identity group compared to those who read a fair case. We also found that the adverse effects of the business case were even greater than those of a neutral message: 27% were more concerned about stereotypes and membership, and those who read a business case were more concerned about reading a neutral message. 21% are more concerned that they will be considered interchangeable. In addition, after a company saw a business case, the perception that our commitment to the diversity of our participants was real was reduced to 6%, and all of these factors made the represented participants less interested in working for the organization.

To complete, we also examined the impact of these different diversity cases on well-represented candidates, and found inconsistent results. In one experiment, we found that men looking for work in the STEM field reported the same sense of belonging and expected interest in joining a company, regardless of the reason for the diversity they read. But when we did a similar experiment with white student job candidates, we saw that as with underprivileged job candidates, those who read a business case also had a greater fear of being stereotyped and a lower feeling of being expected to be a member of a company than those who read one. correctness or neutral case, which in turn led to less interest in joining him.

Clearly, despite seemingly positive intentions, doing business in favor of diversity does not seem to be the best way to attract candidates for undeclared jobs, and it can also damage the perception of well-represented candidates about a future employer. Why might this be? To answer this question, it is helpful to examine what the business case really says.

The business case assumes that the candidates represented offer different skills, perspectives, experience, work styles, etc., and it is precisely these “special contributions” that drive the success of the diverse business. This establishes diversity not as a moral necessity, but as a business asset, useful only insofar as it reinforces the bottom line result of a firm. Organizations also suggest that candidates should be able to judge what contribution they should make based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identity, rather than based on their actual abilities and experiences; belonging.

After all, the case for diversity backfires because it sends a subtle but effective signal that organizations see employees in under-represented groups as their goal ( instrumental diversity assessment). This undermines the diversity efforts of organizations before they have a direct interaction with these candidates.

So what should organizations do instead? Our research shows the case of fairness, which presents diversity as a goal (i.e., a not instrumental diversity structuring) is far more detrimental than the business case; in our research, it halved the negative impact of the business case. But there is another option that could be even better and simpler: do not justify your commitment to diversity at all. During our research, we found that people felt more positive after reading a fair case about a potential employer than after reading a business case, but they felt even better after reading a neutral case in which diversity was simply expressed as value, without any case. explanation.

When we share this suggestion with executives, they sometimes worry if they are asked what “why” they should do, after expressing their commitment to diversity without justification. This is an understandable question, especially in the world where business is the norm, but it has a simple answer. If you don’t need an explanation about the presence of well-represented teams in the workplace outside of their specialization, then you don’t need any justification for the presence of well-represented teams.

It may seem intuitive, but making a case for diversity (even if it is based on a moral argument) in itself means that valuing diversity is debatable. You don’t have to explain why you value innovation, resilience, or integrity. So why treat diversity differently?

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