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Americans' Support for Workplace Interventions for Combating Racial and Gender Bias: The Impact of Policy Justifications and Inequality Beliefs

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Principal Investigator(s):

William Bielby
University of Illinois at Chicago
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Sample size: 4175
Field period: 6/15/2012-1/28/2013


Based on a survey experiment administered to representative national samples of whites, African Americans, and Latinos, we assess support for and opposition to specific policies that are commonly implemented to address diversity and nondiscrimination in the workplace. Subjects were randomly assigned to report their opinions about policies designed to address either racial inequality or gender inequality in the workplace, and they were randomly assigned to exposure to justifications for interventions that framed interventions as efforts to minimize unlawful discrimination, efforts to enhance workplace diversity, or no justification at all. Contrary to our expectations, we find that diversity versus legal compliance justifications have no effect on Americans' opinions on EEO interventions. However, opinions diverge substantially depending on whether they are described as addressing racial or gender inequality. Whites, on average, are much more opposed to EEO interventions when they are about race than when they are about gender, especially for interventions that are perceived as "zero sum," benefitting one racial group at the expense of another, such as recruitment outreach, diversity goals, and mandatory training. In contrast, on average there was substantial agreement among whites, African Americans, and Latinos on the appropriateness of structural interventions such as formalization of human resource practices and accountability structures designed to identify and eliminate barriers to equal employment opportunity. This was true regardless of whether these types of interventions were described as being targeted towards reducing racial inequality or gender inequality. Policy implications of these findings are discussed.


H1. EFFECTS OF JUSTIFICATION FOR INTERVENTION, CONTINGENT UPON INEQUALITY BELIEFS. Interventions justified in terms of diversity will be evaluated more favorably than those justified by anti-discrimination or not justified at all. This will be more true among respondents subscribing to "individualist" views about the sources of workplace inequality than among those with "structuralist" views.

H2. INTERVENTIONS DESCRIBED GENERICALLY AND WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION WILL BE MOST STRONGLY AFFECTED BY RESPONDENT TRAITS AND BELIEFS. The impact of respondents' gender, race, stratification beliefs, and beliefs about racial and gender inequality will be greatest when no justification is provided and when interventions are described generically (i.e. question E.1R and E.1G). This is because absent a rationale and absent a clear statement of the intervention, respondents will make attributions about rationale and content based on their preexisting beliefs and interests (Harrison et al. 2006).

H3: EFFECTS OF RESPONDENT TRAITS, RACE AND GENDER BELIEFS, AND RACE VERSUS GENDER FOCUS OF INTERVENTION. Whites and males will be less supportive of interventions than non-whites and females, and race will be more consequential for race-focused interventions, while gender will be more consequential for gender-focused interventions. Among whites there will be greater support for gender-focused interventions than for race-focused interventions. Those holding more progressive beliefs regarding race and gender will be more supportive of race-focused and gender-focused interventions, respectively.

H4: EFFECTS OF TYPE OF INTERVENTION, CONTINGENT UPON INEQUALITY BELIEFS. There will be greater support for interventions focused on changing individual behavior than for those that alter organizational structures and constrain mangers' decisions. This will be more true among respondents subscribing to "individualist" views about the sources of workplace inequality than among those with "structuralist" views.

Experimental Manipulations:

Justification for policy: minimize discrimination, create diversity, no justification
Target of policy: gender discrimination/diversity versus race discrimination/diversity

Key Dependent Variables:

Attitudes towards workplace policies. Degree favor or oppose:

…some companies (race target example)
• Implement policies to address racial inequality in the workplace.
• actively recruit racial minorities to apply for job openings.
• offer voluntary diversity training to their employees.
• have mandatory diversity training of all employees.
• provide minority employees with mentors who can assist
them with job and career challenges.
• try to reduce subjectivity in their employment practices
by relying on formal criteria for making decisions about hiring
and promotion.
• have a special office or committee that identifies barriers
to diversity and works to remove those barriers.
• establish numerical goals for increasing the number of
racial minorities in jobs in which they have been underrepresented.

Summary of Findings:

In the absence of substantive public discourse about workplace race and gender inequality and the need for and efficacy of alternative remedial workplace interventions it appears that "cynicism rules." If anything, justifications for interventions that emphasize either minimizing unlawful discrimination or enhancing racial and gender diversity reduce whites' support for interventions, compared to no justification at all. Moreover, the interventions that get the must support, especially among whites, are those that have shown to be least effective in reducing racial and gender disparities in the workplace. Recruitment outreach and diversity goals appear to be perceived by whites as "zero-sum" interventions that have the effect (and perhaps the intention) of advancing the interests of non-whites at the expense of whites.

Additional Information:

Survey includes measures of beliefs about inequality generally (adapted from Kluegel, James R. and Eliot R. Smith. 1982. "Whites' Beliefs About Blacks' Opportunity." American Sociological Review 47:518-32.) and beliefs about racial inequality (race target condition) and gender inequality (gender target condition) adapted from measures used in prior research.


In progress: Americans' Support for Workplace Interventions for Combating Racial and Gender Bias: The Impact of Policy Justifications and Inequality Beliefs

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