A field study of the impacts of workplace diversity on the recruitment of minority group members

Increasing workplace diversity is a popular yet elusive goal for many employers. How can organizations encourage applications from talented employees that come from all walks of life? In this work, we investigate how workplace diversity cues affect the quality and background of applicants.
Published in Social Sciences

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Over the past several decades, businesses have implemented new policies and initiatives to help facilitate the recruitment of diverse personnel. Despite these efforts in diversity recruitment, many organizations struggle to hire minority and female employees. Why are these organizations unable to increase the diversity of their workforces? One of the key hurdles lies in identifying effective marketing and communication strategies.

Indeed, it can be difficult for organizations to communicate that their workplace is one where members of minority or stigmatized groups can anticipated being treated with respect. In our recently published registered report, we investigate the effectiveness of a popular marketing strategy – displaying workplace diversity through employee photographs. Given research indicating the minority applicants anticipate better treatment in diverse workplaces, we ran a field experiment (N = 1585 applicants, N = 31,928 website visitors) exploring how employee photographs displayed on a company's website affected the quality and demographic background of job applicants. 

To recruit jobseekers, we created a company website and posted job advertisements online. When participants clicked on the job advertisement, they were directed to one of four versions of the website which depicted a workplace with varying levels of racial/ethnic and gender  diversity (See Figure 1). Crucially, participants had to scroll over the employee photographs in order to apply. Applicants indicated their performance, achievements, work and school experiences, as well as their demographic background. Two experienced Human Resources coders, unaware of the experimental design, evaluated job applicant quality on a 1-5 scale (1 = Not acceptable, 5 = Extremely Acceptable).  

Images used to convey organizational diversity. a) The no diversity condition contained only white men. b) The racial/ethnic diversity condition contained men that were both white and non-white. c) The gender diversity condition contained white men and women. d) The racial/ethnic and gender diversity condition contained white and non-white men and women.

Workplace diversity and applicant demographics

First, we tested the likelihood that an applicant was a white man, a white woman, a non-white man or a non-white woman given the level of organization's racial/ethnic diversity and gender diversity. Our analyses revealed that organizational diversity did not reliably predict the demographic makeup of the applicant pool

Workplace diversity and applicant quality

Second, we tested how organizational diversity impacted the quality of the applicant pool. After all, organizations want to recruit diverse and talented personnel.

We did not observe evidence that organizational diversity affected the quality of applicants that were white men, non-white men, or white women. Notably, we found that non-white women applicants tended to be more qualified when applying to an organization with racial/ethnic diversity, and also more qualified when applying to an organization without gender diversity. However, this observation concerning the quality non-white women applicants should be approached with caution given its unusual and unexpected nature. 

Workplace diversity and applications started or submitted

Third, we tested how workplace diversity affected the likelihood of job-seeking behavior on the website, such as clicking on the job description, starting an application, or submitting an application. See Figure 2. 

Participants were more likely to engage in job-seeking behaviors when the organization's website depicted either no diversity (all white men) or racial/ethnic and gender diversity (white and non-white, men and women).  

Conversely, participants were less likely to engage in job-seeking behaviors when the organization's website depicted only one form of diversity, be it gender diversity (white men and women) or racial/ethnic diversity (white and non-white men). 

a-c. Results of Analysis 3, which investigated how the experimental manipulations of workplace diversity impacted the likelihood of applicants opening a job ad (a), starting an application (b), and submitting an application (c). The error bars indicate plus or minus one standard error.

Exploratory Findings

In analyzing our data, we noticed something interesting that we did not anticipate – female applicants were rated more qualified than male applicants. Note, our HR evaluators were blind to applicants' gender and race/ethnicity. 

More meaningful commitments to diversity are needed

While the use of employee photographs might seem like a viable strategy to showcase workplace diversity, our research suggests that this method alone is insufficient to significantly enhance the recruitment of minority and stigmatized employees. Companies aiming to bolster diversity are likely better served to look beyond surface-level representations and, instead, focusing on more meaningful and multifaceted commitments to diversity and inclusion.

Note: The research described in this work was a registered report. As such, all materials, methods, and analyses were registered and peer-reviewed prior to data collection.

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