Female, Minority Executives Who Value Diversity Rated Poorly by Bosses, Study Shows

In a study published by the Harvard Business Review this week, research reveals that women and non-white executives who value diversity and who hire diverse candidates are viewed as less competent by their bosses.

Published in the Academy of Management Journal, the study surveyed 350 executives on a handful of diversity-valuing behaviors, including whether they respect cultural, religious, gender, and racial differences; value working with a diverse group of people; and feel comfortable managing people from different racial backgrounds. Authors of the report, Stefanie K. Johnson and David R. Hekman — both business professors at the University of Colorado — defined “diversity-valuing behavior” as that which promotes demographic balance within organizations, meaning the organization’s demographic profile resembles the makeup of the surrounding region.

The study then compared participants’ behavior with feedback from their bosses on their competency and performance. Female and non-white executives who were reported as frequently engaging in diversity-valuing behaviors were consistently rated much worse by their bosses than their female and non-white peers who did not actively promote diversity.

“We found clear and consistent evidence that women and ethnic minorities who promote diversity are penalized in terms of how others perceive their competence and effectiveness,” the authors wrote in a statement.

In addition, they conducted a separate study to determine how hiring decisions are viewed. They asked 307 working adults to review hiring decisions made by fictitious managers. Participants read rationales of hiring decisions, saw photos of hiring managers, and then completed surveys in which they rated managers’ competence and performance.

Participants rated female and non-white managers as less effective when they hired non-white or female job candidates as opposed to when they hired white male candidates. However, white male managers who hired diverse candidates weren’t viewed any differently for valuing diversity; the findings were neutral for these executives.

For the authors, this finding was especially troubling, given that white men make up the majority of leadership positions in corporate America.

“I’m not surprised that valuing diversity was negative for women and minorities,” Johnson told CNNMoney. “I am surprised it wasn’t positive for white men.”

Through this study, Johnson and Hekman hoped to determine whether penalties against non-white and women executives for engaging in diversity-valuing behaviors serve to reinforce the “glass ceiling” on achievement for these groups. According to Johnson, the findings speak for themselves and reveal a disconnect between what people say and what they actually stand for.

“Companies consistently say they value diversity, that they want people who can work in diverse environments,” Johnson said. “There seems to be a gap between what people say and what they value.”