I rather dread telling you this. I’m afraid it might give people justification to behave badly. But here it goes: Women and minorities who want to get ahead in their careers should close the hatch behind them. In fact, put a lock on it. And toss out the key.
You heard correctly: Don’t help out your sisters or members of your own minority group if you want to land on top of the heap.
That’s the finding of a study by the University of Colorado. According to the Academy of Management, which previews the study, female and nonwhite leaders who champion diversity “are systematically penalized with lower performance ratings for doing so.” But those who engaged “in a very low level of diversity-valuing behavior” tend to get promoted.
The Wall Street Journal, which looks at the study, offers a glimpse of the curious relationship between a proponent of diversity and performance rating:
Moving down on the pro-diversity behavior scale correlated to an increase in performance review ratings. A woman who ranked at the average of the diversity scale yielded a performance rating of 3.98, while scoring in the bottom 15% on the diversity scale pushed the performance rating to 4.15.
How wonderful: The winners are Queen Bees, Mean Girls and those who look out for No. 1.
The reason that minorities and women are penalized for promoting their own is that they’re suspected of being biased. AOM reports that they’re perceived “as selfishly advancing the social standing of their own low-status demographic groups.”
Embedded in these conclusions are gender and racial stereotypes, reports AOM. Women promoting other women are “viewed by their bosses as cold and scheming to subvert the existing social order.” Minorities promoting other minorities, meanwhile, get stereotyped as incompetent,”a notion conveniently handy for bosses who perceive as self-serving the efforts of nonwhite managers on behalf of members of their own ethnic groups.”
David Hekman, one of the study’s authors, suggests that those in power are in denial about racism in the workplace. He tells AOM:
More people believe in ghosts than believe in racism, and people in the upper ranks of management will not openly utter a bad word against diversity. Yet, executives who are women or ethnic minorities are penalized every day for doing what everyone says they ought to be doing—helping other members of their groups fulfill their management potential. It is a revealing sign that the supposed death of longstanding biases has been greatly exaggerated.
So what’s the solution to this sorry state of affairs? You guessed it: Rescue by the white knight! The study finds that white men got brownie points for promoting diversity. In fact, taking up the mantle of diversity increased their likeability.
The study suggests a “counter-intuitive” approach to promiting diversity. Instead of having women and minorities run diversity efforts, it suggests that white men lead the charge.
The authors of the study are probably right—depressingly so—that white men hold the keys to promoting diversity. Obviously, they’re the ones with the clout, the power and the credibility.
In the meantime, though, what should women and minorities do? Is it truly in their best interest to cut their ties with members of their own groups and just advocate for themselves?
If that’s the takeaway, we’re indeed pathetic.
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