Diversity Ideologies

Diversity ideologies are societal or organizational messages sent to minority groups about how they should adapt (or not) to fit majority group culture. These ideologies come in many forms, but two of the most prominent approaches are multiculturalism (or identity-conscious) and colorblindness (or identity-blind). Identity-consciousness celebrates group differences, encouraging minority groups to maintain and highlight their identities. Identity-blindness instead deemphasizes differences, focusing on individual traits or similarities across people.

Among people of color, an identity-conscious ideology can confer a sense of belonging and trust (Purdie-Vaughns et al., 2008), but we have also found that both identity-consciousness and identity-blindness can hurt authenticity and create identity management pressure (i.e., pressure to assert or distance from their racial identity). In one set of studies, Asian American participants completed racial identification measures, contemplated employment at a company expressing an identity-conscious, identity-blind, or control ideology, and completed measures assessing reported ingroup similarity and comfort in the company (Kirby, Rego, & Kaiser, EJSP, 2020). In the identity-blind company, participants who were strongly identified with their racial ingroup downplayed similarity to the ingroup and expressed less comfort relative to identity-conscious and control conditions. In other words, despite highly valuing their identity, strongly identified Asian American individuals complied with the norm expressed in the identity-blind context that they should downplay their identity.

However, weakly identified participants did not comply with expressed norms – they instead downplayed similarity to the ingroup in the control and identity-conscious conditions due to concerns about being treated differently based on their race. In five additional experiments (Kirby & Kaiser, PSPB, 2020), Black American participants (N = 1,267) showed similar findings on workplace authenticity. Thus, diversity ideologies that make some group members more comfortable may prove simultaneously constraining for others, highlighting the complexity in how these models of acculturation affect individuals – one size does not fit all.

We have also found that diversity ideologies shape sexual minorities’ willingness to disclose their sexual identity (Kirby & Barreto, under review) and women’s leadership aspirations (Kirby & Pascual, in progress). Some of this research was funded by a New Investigator Grant from the UK government’s Economic and Social Research Council ($329,303).