Mentioning Racial or Ethnic Identity Can Increase Chances of Obtaining Career Help

In a new study, researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that people are significantly more likely to offer career help to people from underrepresented groups when help seekers mention their racial or ethnic identity in requests.

“We know, both from research and personal experience, how invaluable it can be to get a helping hand when you’re trying to build your career,” notes Erika L. Kirgio, a Ph.D. student at the Wharton School and lead author of the study. “And that kind of help can be particularly important for members of marginalized groups.”

To explore this question, the research team conducted two audit experiments, one with 2,447 local politicians and another with more than 1,000 students. In both cases, the participants received help-seeking emails that either did or did not emphasize a marginalized sender’s identity. In the experiment with politicians, some participants received emails from White men, while others received emails from women and racial minorities. In the experiment with students, all participants received emails from racial minorities.

The team found that for majority-group members, mentioning identity by calling oneself a “young man” didn’t yield a benefit. But for racial minorities, mentioning identity increased politicians’ and students’ willingness to offer help by a huge degree.

“Basically, our results suggest that people see the help requests as an opportunity to prove, to themselves and to others, that they support racial minorities and therefore are not prejudiced,” Kirgios explains. “Everyone wants to believe they’re a good person, and that desire drives a lot of their decisions.”

The full study, “When Seeking Help, Women and Racial/Ethnic Minorities Benefit From Explicity Mentioning Their Identities,” was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior. It may be accessed here.

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