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Are some employee groups being left out through diversity efforts? A recent article in the Harvard Business Review would suggest that the drive to promote equality could be generating feelings of inequality, particularly for white males.
The article “Diversity policies rarely make companies fairer, and they feel threatening to white men” by Tessa Dover, Ph.D Candidate, Professor Brenda Major and Cheryl Kaiser, Ph.D, and underlying research “Best practices or best guesses? Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies” conducted by Professors Alexandra Kalev (University of California, Berkley), Frank Dobbin (Harvard University) and Erin Kelly (University of Minnesota), explores the notion that diversity policies and practices may be creating unintended consequences.
In essence what the article and underlying research question are the efficacy of diversity programs and their potential backlash.
The aim of this research was to review the efficacy of diversity programs. Specifically, the study focused on whether organisational accountability (affirmative action plans, diversity committees and full-time diversity staff) is more effective at improving diversity outcomes than targeting the behaviour of individuals through diversity training evaluations, networking or mentoring programs. Rather than an “either/or”, the research also sought to understand whether affirmative action oversight renders diversity programs more effective.
The researchers examine the effects of seven common diversity programs:
In collaboration with the Princeton Survey Research Centre, Prof Kalev and her colleagues conducted a longitudinal study of 708 establishments to assess changes in managerial composition after the adoption of each of seven diversity practices. That data covered the period 1971-2002. Using a fixed-effects analysis of the longitudinal data the researchers were able to account for an organisations unobserved characteristics that do not vary over time and that my affect diversity.
The findings indicated substantial variation in the effectiveness of diversity programs. Some programs increased managerial diversity across the board whereas others had meagre effects or positive effects for some groups but not for others. The most effective practices were those that established organisational responsibility. The least effective programs were those that attempt to tame managerial bias through education and feedback.
For organisations wanting to ensure that they create the right environment and culture, they must ensure that any diversity initiative is supported by the right organisational structure and oversight. Trying to ‘fix’ managers or staff in isolation is likely to have the opposite effect on equality outcomes.
Companies that have several initiatives that are linked together and are owned by a senior individual will have the greatest impact on diversity efforts.
For more information, contact Cat Pinfold
To read the full article, see
Kalev, A. Dobbin, F and Kelly, E 2006. “Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies.” American Sociological Review, 2006, Vol. 71 (August:589-617)
Catherine (Cat) is a Manager in our Risk Transformation Practice. She has 15 years of Human Capital experience across Financial Services and Manufacturing in some of Australia and New Zealand's largest firms. She has worked across a broad range of Human Capital disciplines and change programmes.