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Article

The Impact of Diversity Training Programs in the Workplace and Alternative Bias Reduction Mechanisms  

Alexandra Kalev

Corporations often start their diversity journey by providing their managers or all workers with diversity training. These trainings were first offered as race-relations sessions in the 1960s and are among the most popular tools for diversity managers. Diversity training programs have changed their content during the decades, but they usually include live or online explanations about unlawful discrimination and bias, often supplemented by discussions of cultural differences and business needs for diversity. Despite their popularity and often high costs, a large body of research conducted over decades shows that most diversity training programs do not lead to long-term improvements in participants’ bias, attitudes, behavior, or workforce diversity. Some studies also show that training has negative effects on bias and diversity. Factors that impede the success of diversity training or make them backfire include the hardwiring of cognitive biases and people’s complex reactions to direct attempts to change their biases, as well as the broader systemic biases rooted in everyday organizational routines. These suggest that common diversity training simply may not be the right tool for reducing bias and generating the changes needed for increasing workplace diversity. Some studies suggest that trainings’ effects could be improved by carefully designing them. This includes: avoiding training features that increase participants’ alienation, such as mandatory attendance, quizzes, and legalistic content; designing long-term training such that meaningful learning can be achieved; calibrating training to specific organizational challenges rather than using off-the-shelf content; and including ongoing collaborative contact with members of underrepresented groups and integrating training as part of broader diversity and accountability efforts. More research is needed to determine whether these types of training indeed produce sustained improvements in bias and diversity. Alternative bias reduction mechanisms can be found in popular management models that increase collaboration between workers, such as cross-functional teams and cross-training. Such collaborative teams and training improve corporate performance and, as a byproduct, also reduce bias. Cognitive biases are affected by the work contexts in which individuals operate. Highly segregated workplaces, where White people and men meet women and people of color (or other underrepresented groups) primarily in marginalized jobs, deepen group boundaries and strengthen stereotypes. When organizations create cross-functional collaborations using self-directed teams and cross-training, workers from different groups have more opportunities to collaborate and, as studies show, biases and group boundaries are reduced, and leadership diversity increases.

Article

Aversive Racism: Foundations, Impact, and Future Directions  

Audrey Murrell

The concept of aversive racism has had a significant impact on theory, research, and practice devoted to better understanding bias, discrimination, and persistent disparities based on social identity group such as race, gender, social class, and so on. Originally developed to better explain subtle forms of bias toward racial and minoritized groups, this concept has been extended to understand the impact of disparities in a range of diverse settings, such as intergroup relations, health outcomes, fairness in employment setting, intergroup conflict, educational outcomes, racial bias in policing, experiences of stress and mental health issues, and persistent economic disparities. A core facet of the aversive framework paradigm is that because of human biases that are deeply rooted within a historical context and reinforced by ongoing societal ideologies, unintentional and subtle forms of discrimination emerge and persist. Given that these subtle forms of bias and discrimination exist within otherwise well-intentioned individuals, strategies to eliminate them require understanding the complexity of the aversive racism phenomenon in order to develop effective social interventions. This article reviews the foundation, research, and impact of this important body of work. In addition, the concept of aversive racism is discussed in connection to emerging research on microaggressions and unconscious (implicit) bias in order to create a more integrated framework that can shape future research and applications. Lastly, practical implications for organizations and future directions are explored, such as using social identity as a theoretical lens, including global perspectives on intergroup bias and leveraging emerging work on intersectionality, as useful perspectives to extend the aversive racism framework. Setting a future agenda for research and practice related to aversive racism is key to greater understanding of how to reduce intergroup bias and discrimination through interventions that cut across traditional academic and discipline boundaries as one approach to create meaningful and long-lasting social impact.

Article

Discrimination in Work and Organizations  

Nancy DiTomaso

Discrimination is behaving differently toward people from different social identity groups, such as those based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or some other category that is not related to the qualifications, contributions, or performance of the target group members. It is usually thought of as unfair and is often illegal. Discrimination has been the subject of substantial research in the social and behavioral sciences. It can entail acting more favorably toward those who have not earned it or less favorably toward those who have, although most of the research focuses on the negative behavior toward less favored groups rather than on the positive behavior toward more favored groups. Although discrimination can occur in many domains, this paper focuses primarily on discrimination in work and organizations. Research on labor market discrimination spans disciplines with most research being done in economics, sociology, psychology, and law, as well as in business or management. Such research has examined differences in access to jobs or employment including hiring and promotion, job rewards such as income and wages, evaluation of performance, treatment on the job from supervisors and coworkers, and unemployment or underemployment. Discrimination may be explicit or overt, but increasingly research has focused on more subtle forms of discrimination that reflect unconscious or implicit biases. Research also considers perceived discrimination. Research on discrimination has examined trends in discriminatory behavior or outcomes for various groups, comparisons across groups in terms of the extent or experience of discrimination, antecedents and the consequences of discrimination, as well as mediators and moderators of discriminatory behavior. Most research on discrimination has found that those from lower status or subordinate groups within any society are more likely to experience negative discrimination, while dominant group members almost always receive more favorable treatment. Although there are variations in terms of circumstance and context, native-born, heterosexual men from higher social classes and from dominant racial or ethnic groups are disproportionately found in the best jobs, with the most authority, and with the highest incomes, while women, racial or ethnic minorities, immigrants, those from working or lower classes, and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are more likely to suffer adverse discrimination. An increasing emphasis on the intersectionality of social identity recognizes that the labor market experiences of particular people reflect the combination of their multiple identities. Discrimination can be interpersonal, intergroup, organizational, and it can be embedded in structures and institutions.

Article

The Antecedents and Outcomes of Heteronormativity in Organizations  

Oscar Holmes IV

Despite the term being coined in the early 1990s, heteronormativity is a longstanding and enduring hierarchical social system that identifies heterosexuality as the standard sexuality and normalizes gender-specific behaviors and roles for men, women, and transgender and non-binary individuals. As a system, it defines and enforces beliefs and practices about what is ‘normal’ in everyday life. Although there are many factors that shape heteronormative beliefs and attitudes, religion, the government, education, and workplaces are the principal macro-level factors that normalize and institutionalize heteronormative beliefs and attitudes. These institutions contribute an outsize influence on the perpetuation of heteronormativity in society because these institutions create and inculcate the norms and standards of what are and are not acceptable values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in our society. As such, in order to create effective interventions to eliminate the negative outcomes of heteronormativity, particular attention should be paid to each of these institutions. Parents, relatives, and other adults contribute to the normalization and institutionalization of heteronormativity at the individual- or micro-level. Although some people benefit from the system of heteronormativity (mainly heterosexual cisgender conforming men), much of the research on heteronormativity focuses on the negative outcomes. Heteronormativity is responsible for a host of pernicious outcomes such as lower self-esteem, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment, and greater rates of suicide ideation, verbal and physical abuse, and workplace mistreatment and discrimination. Future research should investigate identify effective micro- and macro-level interventions that could mitigate or eliminate the negative effects of heteronormativity.