When it comes to issues of race, gender, and diversity in organizations, much has been published about the problems, but less about what does work — what organizations can do to create the conditions in which underrepresented groups can reach their potential and succeed. That’s why Evan Apfelbaum, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, collaborated with Ray Reagans, also at MIT Sloan, and Nicole Stephens, at the Kellogg School of Management, to study what can be done to increase performance and curb the disproportionately high rates at which diverse groups leave jobs. The researchers studied the public diversity statements of 151 big law firms in the U.S. to understand the relationship between how organizations talk about diversity and the rates of attrition of associate-level women and racial minority attorneys at these firms.
They discovered two fundamentally different ways that diversity statements seek to appeal to the stigmatized groups they target. One appeal is to differences and how differences are important. They call this the “value in difference” approach. The other approach is an appeal to equality and fairness irrespective of differences. They call this the “value in equality” approach. In fact, the researchers’ data suggested that women and racial minorities not only responded differently to these two diversity approaches, but that each group responded in virtually the opposite way.
To read more about this study, see the article by Apfelbaum published in the Harvard Business Review.