The Diversity Ghetto

Source: The American Lawyer

By Vivia Chen

If you're a woman or a minority member, you can probably recall at least one instance where a female or minority higher-up, whom you might have thought of as a potential mentor, treated you with disdain. Maybe you were shocked, even hurt, that someone of your own gender or ethnicity could be so cold.

Well, get over it. Research by Stefanie Johnson and David Hekman of University of Colorado's business school finds that's there's a perfectly good reason why women and minorities aren't helping their own: They get penalized when they promote diversity. (The study surveyed 350 executives about their attitudes on diversity, then analyzed how their bosses rated their performance.) The study's authors write in Harvard Business Review:

"Participants rated nonwhite managers and female managers as less effective when they hired a nonwhite or female job candidate instead of a white male candidate. ... Basically, all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who looked like them, unless they were a white male."

But those who toil in the diversity trenches say that there's an unspoken stigma associated with inclusion efforts. "If you're going to be on a committee, why be on a powerless one like diversity?" asks Merle Vaughn, a managing director at recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. She finds that high-billing minorities will sometimes steer clear of minefields like diversity advocacy. Says Vaughn: "Lawyers are risk-averse. It takes a lot of self-confidence to stick your neck out."

And it doesn't hurt that those at the top are now feeling the heat. Vaughn says that she's noticed that chairs of some big firms see diversity as an urgent problem: "I know why they're asking to meet on this - clients are demanding it. I do believe pressure works."

Read more of this feature at The American Lawyer.

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