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Study: Affirmative Action Stigmatizes Beneficiaries

Research by George Mason University’s David Kravitz and colleagues reveals that, while “affirmative action policies in the workforce have increased diversity,” they’ve also had the effect of “stigmatizing the very workers the policies are designed to help.”

Kravitz and management professors Lisa Leslie of New York University and David Mayer of the University of Michigan built on previous studies that found that affirmative action recipients were viewed as less competent, which creates feelings of self-doubt for recipients.

To counteract this effect, organizations should emphasize the qualifications of new hires, the researchers said, and allow the staff to know them as a person—their interests, hobbies, and such. Companies also should reinforce the message that a stronger, more diverse team helps the whole organization succeed.

“When a person is a member of a group targeted by an affirmative action plan, anyone who believes affirmative action involves preferences may not know why they were hired,” Kravitz says. “Maybe they were hired because they’re great. Or maybe the corporation wants to hit a target. To eliminate stigmatization, make sure everyone knows that the affirmative action program does not involve preferences and highlight the competence and credentials of the new hires.”

Those hired through affirmative action programs also need to be reminded that they were selected for their qualifications and that others know of their qualifications.

Here’s a thought: If “everyone” (employees) need to be made aware that a new hire was brought on board because of his/her qualifications, then why not ditch affirmative action altogether?

The “stronger, more diverse team” mantra seems a lot like that used in education (and which the US Supreme Court unfortunately bought in the University of Michigan Grutter case) — that some mystical “critical mass” of minorities somehow makes the academic experience “better.” (The National Association of Scholars provides a brilliant rebuttal to this belief.)

Read the full article here.

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