Business Leaders Engaging in Same-Race Diversity Initiatives Are Perceived as Displaying Favoritism

A new study published in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal has found racial disparities in employees’ perceptions of their employer’s “allyship” behavior; when a leader engages in same-race allyship they are often perceived as displaying in-group favoritism, and therefore less effective allies.

The study’s authors asked a sample of full-time employees who worked for racial minority leaders to think about a time when their leader engaged in diversity efforts with their same racial group versus a different minority group and rate their employers’ effectiveness in both situations. The participants were more likely to negatively rate leaders who engaged in same-race allyship and positively rate leaders who engaged in cross-race allyship.

In another part of the study, the authors posed a hypothetical question to participants about how they would choose to spend an additional 10 percent of their work day on something for their organization that was outside their typical responsibilities. An option that was presented to the participants was assisting their leader with a workplace equity program. The survey found employees were less likely to engage in equity initiatives if the initiative was geared towards members of the leaders’ same racial group, rather than another racial group.

Finally, the authors presented another sample of participants with a similar situation, but posed the hypothetical equity initiative as another employee’s idea that the leader endorsed and presented to the rest of the organization. In this scenario, the participants were significantly less likely to associate same-race allyship with in-group favoritism.

The authors suggest their findings provide insight into the importance of communication surrounding diversity in the workplace. To reduce the negative perceptions of same-race allyship, the research team encourages business leaders to ensure their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are developed with input from employees of all levels. Additionally, they stress the importance of clearly communicating diversity initiatives as an organization-wide effort.

The study was conducted by researchers from University of Pennsylvania, Texas Christian University, Duke University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Toronto.

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