'Colorblindness' hurts minority employees, but multiculturalism inspires their commitment

March 18, 2009

Athens, Ga. - A new study by psychologists at the University of Georgia shows for the first time that whites' beliefs about diversity can hurt or help their minority peers.

The large-scale survey results, just published in the online version of the journal Psychological Science, reveal that minority employees feel less committed to their work when white employees promote "colorblindness." Yet when white workers champion multiculturalism, the research finds, their minority peers feel more connected to their jobs.

"Contrary to popular beliefs, workplaces that downplay racial and ethnic differences actually make minority employees feel less engaged with their work," said Victoria Plaut, an assistant professor of psychology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the study's lead author. "Minority employees sense more bias against them in these allegedly colorblind settings."

The study's other authors are Kecia Thomas, a professor of psychology and senior advisor to the dean for diversity leadership, and Matt Goren, a doctoral student in psychology. The research team conducted their survey through UGA's Research and Engagement in Diversity program, a unit of the Franklin College.

Whether to embrace colorblindness or multiculturalism has confounded companies, universities and courts for decades. Proponents of colorblindness argue that assimilating minorities into the dominant group is best for everyone. The new UGA research strongly suggests, however, that colorblind climates harm both minority employees and the organizations for which they work.

The researchers designed a "diversity climate survey" that nearly 5,000 employees of a large U.S. health care organization completed. Respondents indicated how much they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements that reflected either colorblindness or multiculturalism, such as:"Previous research has documented the differences between these two philosophies and racial bias," said Plaut. "Among dominant group members, multiculturalism predicts less racial bias, while colorblindness predicts greater racial bias. But this is the first study that has examined the effects of dominant group members' diversity beliefs on actual targets. It is also the first study to test these effects in the real world among majority and minority employees working in the same setting."

Thomas agreed.

"This study demonstrates that whites' beliefs have implications for minorities' engagement, and we know from previous work that disengagement can hurt productivity and profits, as well as increase turnover," she said. "In an economic downturn, when resources are scarce, having an engaged workforce is particularly important."

Plaut said that in general people don't realize that their beliefs about others are palpable to those others. She said the climates that these beliefs create affect minority employees' commitment to their work.

University of Georgia

Related Diversity Articles from Brightsurf:

More plant diversity, less pesticides
Increasing plant diversity enhances the natural control of insect herbivory in grasslands.

Insect diversity boosted by combination of crop diversity and semi-natural habitats
To enhance the number of beneficial insect species in agricultural land, preserving semi-natural habitats and promoting crop diversity are both needed, according to new research published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied of Ecology.

Ethnolinguistic diversity slows down urban growth
Where various ethnic groups live together, cities grow at a slower rate.

Protecting scientific diversity
The COVID-19 pandemic means that scientists face great challenges because they have to reorient, interrupt or even cancel research and teaching.

Cultural diversity in chimpanzees
Termite fishing by chimpanzees was thought to occur in only two forms with one or multiple tools, from either above-ground or underground termite nests.

Bursts of diversity in the gut microbiota
The diversity of bacteria in the human gut is an important biomarker of health, influences multiple diseases, such as obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases and affects various treatments.

Underestimated chemical diversity
An international team of researchers has conducted a global review of all registered industrial chemicals: some 350,000 different substances are produced and traded around the world -- well in excess of the 100,000 reached in previous estimates.

New world map of fish genetic diversity
An international research team from ETH Zurich and French universities has studied genetic diversity among fish around the world for the first time.

Biological diversity as a factor of production
Can the biodiversity of ecosystems be considered a factor of production?

Fungal diversity and its relationship to the future of forests
Stanford researchers predict that climate change will reduce the diversity of symbiotic fungi that help trees grow.

Read More: Diversity News and Diversity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.