Research

Research in the Diversity & Identity Lab focuses on how institutions and individuals in increasingly diverse contexts can ensure inclusion and facilitate the success of people from many different group backgrounds. Some of our most recent work examines how societal structures intended to convey pro-diversity messages to racial minorities and members of other underrepresented groups shape their sense of belonging, self-concept, and ability to detect discrimination in those contexts. Some of these projects are described below:

Pro-diversity cues affect minorities’ academic outcomes

Efforts to make minorities feel included in academic and organizational contexts take many forms, such as diversity statements and identity-focused physical spaces. These pro-diversity cues can indeed send powerful signals about who belongs in an environment (e.g., Cheryan, Plaut, Davies, & Steele, 2009). In one line of research, we examined how pro-diversity cues, as manifested in physical spaces, shaped ethnic minorities’ engagement with academics. We found that African American and Latino/a American students more strongly identified with academics when hearing that their university would be constructing an ethnic cultural center in five years relative to a general student center because they felt a greater sense of belonging at the university in the former condition (Kirby, Tabak, & Cheryan, in prep). This occurred despite construction beginning after the students would have graduated, suggesting that the benefits may stem more from the pro-diversity message the space conveys, as opposed to actual allocation of physical space and resources.

Pro-diversity cues reduce sensitivity to discrimination

Although pro-diversity cues can promote inclusion, they might also ironically make it more difficult to detect discrimination. Specifically, the presence of pro-diversity cues might afford organizations greater legitimacy to enact procedures perpetuating, rather than mitigating, bias. In one study, participants examined a relatively fair procedure (standardized interviewing) or an unfair procedure (unstandardized interviewing), at a company that had received a diversity award or an award unrelated to diversity. When the company had received a diversity award (versus a control award), participants perceived the unfair personnel procedure as fairer for minorities and were more supportive of enacting the biased procedure (Kirby, Kaiser, & Major, 2015). These findings suggest that the very symbols intended to communicate an appreciation of minorities might inadvertently lead to decreased minority representation and other unfair treatment.

Can pro-diversity cues also make low status groups (e.g., minorities and women) less sensitive to discrimination? In another set of studies, we examined whether women would also discount discrimination claims at companies when pro-diversity cues targeted to women were present. Although low status groups may sometimes be more vigilant in detecting discrimination compared to high status groups (Crocker & Major, 1989; Major, Sawyer, & Kunstman, 2013), women are relatively likely to endorse benevolent sexist beliefs, a belief system that leads them to be complacent with gender inequality and undermines their willingness to engage in social change (Rudman & Glick, 2008; Becker & Wright, 2011). Thus, we predicted that women would also discount discrimination claims at companies with pro-diversity cues but that this would be particularly pronounced among women who strongly endorse benevolent sexist beliefs. Consistent with this, even when a company’s hiring decisions disadvantaged women, women perceived the company as more procedurally just for women and were less supportive of sexism litigation in the presence (versus absence) of pro-diversity cues (Brady, Kaiser, Major, & Kirby, 2015). These effects were strongest among women who endorsed benevolent sexist beliefs. As civil rights compliance systems often rely on women and other low status groups to identify and bring to light discrimination, it may be especially difficult to challenge unfair treatment in the workplace if even women have difficulty seeing through potentially ineffective pro-diversity cues.

Pro-diversity cues shape minorities’ self-concepts

While a great deal of research has examined how pro-diversity cues affect perceptions of organizational and institutional climates, very little research has examined how these cues affect self-presentation. Although pro-diversity cues such as multicultural diversity philosophies value and encourage the expression of group differences, this approach to diversity management may ironically constrain racial minorities’ behavior and promote self-stereotyping. This ongoing line of research has shown that self-stereotyping in multicultural workplaces may be particularly pronounced among weakly racially identified minorities who, compared to strongly identified minorities, are more willing to express or suppress their identity in ways that seem contextually appropriate (Kirby & Kaiser, under review; also see Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 2002). Strongly identified African Americans, on the other hand, are relatively stable in their identity expression. We are also examining similar research questions with other underrepresented groups (e.g., women).

Multiple measurement approaches

In addition to our substantive interests in diversity and social identity, the lab also values multiple measurement approaches and has a particular interest in implicit measurement. Given the sensitivity surrounding issues related to diversity, it is important to be able to accurately measure attitudes that people may be unable or unwilling to report. We have supplemented self-report measures with implicit measures in several different lines of research. In a number of studies, we examined how implicit and explicit identification with neutral groups develops (Kirby & Greenwald, under review) and whether pro-diversity cues can affect levels of implicit self-stereotyping (Kirby & Kaiser, under review). In a longitudinal study on predictors of vote choice in the 2012 American presidential election, we examined implicit racial attitudes, religious attitudes, and candidate attitudes. In addition to implicit measurement, we use open-ended and behavioral measures in our studies whenever possible.