Unless You’re a White Man, Advocating for Office Diversity Is a Risk

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Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

“Diversity” might be a beloved buzzword, but all that talk doesn’t necessarily make a difference (whether you call it diversity or inclusion). In fact, new research suggests that women and minorities who advocate for more diverse workplaces are often criticized for those efforts.

A report published in the Academy of Management Journal surveyed 350 executives on different “diversity-valuing behaviors,” such as “whether they respected cultural, religious, gender, and racial differences, valued working with a diverse group of people, and felt comfortable managing people from different racial or cultural backgrounds.”

The study found that when white, male executives engaged in “diversity-valuing behaviors,” it had no impact (positive or negative) on how their bosses saw them or rated their performance. But when women and nonwhite executives engaged with diversity in the workplace, their bosses rated them as much worse than their female or nonwhite companions who did nothing to advance diversity. “Basically,” the researchers write, “all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who looked like them, unless they were a white male.”

And, no surprise: White men still feel threatened by companies with workplace-diversity policies. You can’t win.