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Insidious Procedures: Diversity Awards Legitimize Unfair Organizational Practices


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This study examines the possible adverse impact of touting diversity awards. This is because pro-diversity messages can ironically afford organizations greater legitimacy to enact procedures that perpetuate, rather than mitigate, bias! When participants in the study were told that a company won a "diversity award" vs. a control award, the participants were more likely to allow for biased procedures like unstructured interviews.

Diversity awards legitimize unfairness by altering people's perceptions of employment outcomes and changing the way people view concrete procedures that have implications for how minorities are treated. Even when participants had adequate information to judge the fairness of the policies, the presence of diversity awards changed perception of the unfair procedures. The very symbols intended to communicate an appreciation of minorities might inadvertently lead to decreased minority representation.


If you win a diversity award, take a moment to pause before putting it on your website. Diversity awards are often a reflection of how HR departments portray their diversity initiatives rather than a true indication of whether they are actually effective in achieving their diversity goals. Many of the award criteria do not actually increase diversity or create better working conditions for members of disadvantaged groups.

The same goes with CEO "pledges" for diversity and inclusion. If the pledge doesn't have a governance structure or a way to examine and verify whether the company delivered on its pledge, it's probably going to backfire. In theory, they can be a way for CEOs to get visibility into their commitment. But be wary that it might be nothing more than window dressing that leads to more unfair practices, employee cynicism, and disengagement.

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