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Resistance to diversity efforts in organizations

Resistance (also referred to as backlash) to diversity efforts in organizations is a well-established and ubiquitous phenomenon[1][2] that may be characterized by thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that undermine the success of diversity-related organizational change initiatives to recruit or retain diverse personnel.[2] The use of such initiatives may be referred to as diversity management.[1][3] Scholars note the presence of resistance to diversity before and after the civil rights movement; as pressures for diversity and social change increased in the 1960s, dominant group members (i.e. Whites) faced workplace concerns over displacement by minorities.[4]

In the workforce, resistance to diversity is often studied as resistance to organizational change, which can be construed as hostile and intentional, as well as a subtler occurrence.[2] Some scholars have deemed the "resistance perspective" as reactive, highlighting psychological and behavioral consequences such as denial, avoidance, defiance or manipulation that serve to maintain the status quo.[4] Other scholars define resistance to diversity as the behavior of both individuals and organizations that may undermine diversity-driven opportunities for "learning and effectiveness", whether intentional or not.[2]

Who is resisting?Edit

Research on resistorsEdit

Research on resistance to diversity has revealed insight into resistors and under which circumstances they resist. Focusing on resistance from the dominant, non-minority group, some have linked diversity resistance to White male backlash[5][6] or straight, white, American male (SWAM) backlash,[7] although the research may focus on the study of resistance from Whites or men in the context of the research question.

Resistance to workplace racial diversityEdit

Research has documented that some Whites may be resisting the diversity messages of multiculturalism-based ideologies that embrace ethnic differences between groups or colorblind-based ideologies that ignore the ethnic differences between groups—common ideological options for managing diversity in the workforce.[8] Other research found members of high-status groups (i.e. Whites) reacted adversely to pro-diversity organizational messages when compared with non-Whites. This research found White people experience heightened threat in response to pro-diversity messages, and that this threat manifests in physiological (cardiovascular reactions), psychological (self-disclosed concerns), and behavioral (making poorer impressions) domains.[9]

Resistance to workplace gender diversityEdit

Researchers have observed some men will resist gender diversity under certain conditions; the researchers presented men in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with information that diversity initiatives will effectively increase female representation, which led to resistance among men who believed there is legitimacy to men best-representing STEM (i.e. prototypicality legitimacy) and those who also had concerns about losing the ability to best represent STEM (prototypicality threat).[10]

Popular examplesEdit

In 2017, attention was given to the technology industry in light of James Damore's document "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber",[11][12] which went viral as a prominent example of perceived "anti-diversity" attitudes.[13][14] The document says Google's current diversity initiatives discriminate against dominant group members (i.e. Whites and males) and foster tension within the organization.[15] In 2016, it was reported that Intel's CEO was threatened in response to his diversity efforts,[16] and Facebook's CEO faced challenges with what he considered the malicious behavior of his employees replacing a "black lives matter" message with an "all lives matter" message.[17]

Scholars and other commentators have also highlighted media-covered examples of resistance to diversity outside of technology,[4] including a Texaco racial discrimination suit in which top-level executives were accused of creating a hostile climate for their diverse employees and were recorded on tape using racial slurs,[18] and the Southern Company racial discrimination lawsuit that included popularized reports of nooses displayed in the facilities.[2][19]

Possible explanationsEdit

General processes of resisting diversityEdit

Some scholars propose that resistance to diversity can generally be understood to be a result of evolved cognitive processes that impact relations between different groups in society. They point to a disconnect between the once-adaptive way humans evolved sensitivity to group differences (e.g. "us" versus "them" tribal boundaries) and some current social environments that contain unprecedented levels of diversity. They propose resistance to diversity may stem from the conflict between automatic social categorization and modern heterogeneous social environments.[20]

Identity threatsEdit

As companies attempt to grow diverse workforces and train them to work harmoniously, research suggests minority group progress may induce a threat response from those in the majority group. Researchers Major and Kaiser argue these types of diversity initiatives jeopardize status hierarchies and that this status instability produces threat, even within well-meaning, "prodiversity" progressives.[21]

Racial progress has been shown to negatively impact Whites' self-worth; Whites may buffer this impact by perceiving anti-white bias (i.e. racial discounting).[22] Similarly, researchers have observed increases in social identity threat among men who discuss the instability of men's high status (i.e. changing gender-status relations) with women's.[23]

Another possible threat-related mechanism that could underlie resistance to diversity is prototypicality threat, or the threat that one's sub-group will no longer best represent the broader, superordinate group.[10]

Feelings of exclusionEdit

Although multicultural ideology is commonly used in workplaces, research suggests White individuals may associate multiculturalism with exclusion and may not readily associate multiculturalism with conceptions of the self. This program of research also found the degree to which Whites feel included, relative to minorities, can help explain racial differences in diversity endorsement. Plaut et al suggest socially contextualized cues to inclusion or exclusion can meaningfully impact resistance to diversity.[24]

In response to the association between multiculturalism and feelings of exclusion among members of dominant groups, scholars have called for the use of All-Inclusive Multiculturalism (AIM), or multiculturalism that explicitly includes the dominant group. These researchers noted that whether non-minorities are included or excluded in an article about multiculturalism can implicitly influence their inclusionary associations with the ideology.[8]

Problems with diversity effortsEdit

Commentators and scholars have speculated that diversity training may itself be creating backlash because employees may feel uncomfortable in training environments or resent being told what to do.[25][7][26][27] When examining the sources of resistance to diversity efforts, researchers have said organizations often use negative, legal-focused deterrents within bias training, designate diversity training as mandatory, and associated the training with corrective action for "problem groups".[25]

Consistent with this thinking, researchers documented evidence of a "counter-response" (i.e. rebellion/defiance) when administering brochures or priming participants with controlling conceptualizations of prejudice-reduction, compared with autonomy-supporting conceptualizations. The controlling conceptualizations focused on the need to reduce prejudice and comply with norms of non-prejudice, whereas the autonomy-supporting conceptualizations focused on drawing attention to the choice and personal value involved in non-prejudice. Finding negative outcomes associated with the controlling conditions, they said common organizational efforts to reduce prejudice via control may be unintentionally increasing resistance.[28]

Research-based strategies for addressing the resistanceEdit

Research on resistance to diversity has revealed implications and suggestions for those hoping to address potential, current, or possible resistance.

General strategiesEdit

  • Encouraging managers to engage in pro-diversity activities may be more effective and result in less resistance than efforts that limit their discretion.[29]
  • To avoid unintentionally alienating key stakeholders in gender diversity, leaders in the study of gender initiatives have recommended cultivating allied male support for organizational change.[30]
  • In the context of prejudice reduction, it may be helpful to avoid putting pressure on individuals that limits their autonomy. It may also be better to facilitate the development of people's perceived values and benefits relating to "non-prejudice", via tailored information and organized discussions.[28]

Framing strategiesEdit

  • Research suggests focusing on equality as something to strive for (i.e. a moral ideal) rather than focusing on avoiding inequality (i.e. a moral obligation), may raise Whites' support for policies that aim to increase the representation of disadvantaged groups (i.e. affirmative action).[31]
  • If a multicultural-based ideology is in use, scholars have recommended emphasizing the benefits for all groups, making the ideology inclusive to members of both majority and minority groups.[32][33][8]
  • Whites have been shown to report increased positive attitudes towards hypothetical diversity programs when the programs are framed as diversity management (i.e. for business reasons), rather than affirmative action.[1]
  • Some research recommends broadly framing diversity-training content.[34]
  • To address the potential for dominant group members (i.e. Whites or males) to feel threatened by the possibility of losing the claim to best represent the broader organization or industry (i.e. prototypicality threat), researchers have proposed reframing the broader category (e.g. STEM) as more complex (e.g. defined by diversity) may help reduce susceptibility to prototypicality threat [10]
  • There is evidence White Americans who identify strongly with their racial/ethnic groups may respond more positively to multiculturalism if it is framed as a learning opportunity rather than as a set of policies.[35]


  1. ^ a b c Kidder, Deborah L.; Lankau, Melenie J.; Chrobot‐Mason, Donna; Mollica, Kelly A.; Friedman, Raymond A. (2004). "BACKLASH TOWARD DIVERSITY INITIATIVES: EXAMINING THE IMPACT OF DIVERSITY PROGRAM JUSTIFICATION, PERSONAL AND GROUP OUTCOMES". International Journal of Conflict Management. 15 (1): 77–102. doi:10.1108/eb022908.
  2. ^ a b c d e Thomas, Kecia M. (2012-10-02). Diversity Resistance in Organizations. Psychology Press. ISBN 9781136677533.
  3. ^ Definition of diversity management. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2017, from
  4. ^ a b c Dass, Parshotam; Parker, Barbara (1999-05-01). "Strategies for managing human resource diversity: From resistance to learning". The Academy of Management Executive. 13 (2): 68–80. doi:10.5465/AME.1999.1899550. ISSN 1558-9080.
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  9. ^ Dover, Tessa L.; Major, Brenda; Kaiser, Cheryl R. (2016). "Members of high-status groups are threatened by pro-diversity organizational messages". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 62: 58–67. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2015.10.006.
  10. ^ a b c Danbold, Felix; Huo, Yuen J. (2017). "Men's defense of their prototypicality undermines the success of women in STEM initiatives". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 72: 57–66. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2016.12.014.
  11. ^ "Diversity problems in the tech industry go far beyond Google". Vox. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  12. ^ "Diversity debate divides Silicon Valley". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  13. ^ "James Damore, the Google employee fired for his controversial manifesto, is (almost certainly) not a victim of a free-speech violation". Business Insider. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  14. ^ Ehrenkranz, Melanie. "Google Reportedly Fires Author of Anti-Diversity Screed". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  15. ^ Conger, Kate. "Exclusive: Here's The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google [Updated]". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  16. ^ "Intel CEO Brian Krzanich says he's received threats for trying to hire more minorities". Business Insider. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  17. ^ Nunez, Michael. "Mark Zuckerberg Asks Racist Facebook Employees to Stop Crossing Out Black Lives Matter Slogans". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
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  19. ^ Blackmon, Douglas A.; Harris, Nicole (2001-04-02). "Black Georgia Power Workers Cite Nooses and 'Glass Ceiling' in Bias Suit". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  20. ^ Crisp, Richard J.; Meleady, Rose (2012-05-18). "Adapting to a Multicultural Future". Science. 336 (6083): 853–855. doi:10.1126/science.1219009. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 22605761.
  21. ^ Major, Brenda; Kaiser, Cheryl R. (2017-06-25). "Ideology and the maintenance of group inequality". Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 20 (5): 582–592. doi:10.1177/1368430217712051.
  22. ^ Wilkins, Clara L.; Hirsch, Alexander A.; Kaiser, Cheryl R.; Inkles, Michael P. (2017-11-01). "The threat of racial progress and the self-protective nature of perceiving anti-White bias". Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 20 (6): 801–812. doi:10.1177/1368430216631030. ISSN 1368-4302.
  23. ^ Scheepers, Daan; Ellemers, Naomi; Sintemaartensdijk, Nieska (2009-10-01). "Suffering from the possibility of status loss: Physiological responses to social identity threat in high status groups". European Journal of Social Psychology. 39 (6): 1075–1092. doi:10.1002/ejsp.609. ISSN 1099-0992.
  24. ^ Plaut, Victoria C.; Garnett, Flannery G.; Buffardi, Laura E.; Sanchez-Burks, Jeffrey (2011). ""What about me?" Perceptions of exclusion and Whites' reactions to multiculturalism". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 101 (2): 337–353. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/a0022832. PMID 21534702.
  25. ^ a b Dobbin, Frank; Kalev, Alexandra. "Why Diversity Programs Fail". Harvard Business Review.
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  27. ^ "Is Your Company's Diversity Training Making You More Biased?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  28. ^ a b Legault, Lisa; Gutsell, Jennifer N.; Inzlicht, Michael (2011-11-28). "Ironic Effects of Antiprejudice Messages". Psychological Science. 22 (12): 1472–1477. doi:10.1177/0956797611427918. PMID 22123778.
  29. ^ Dobbin, Frank; Schrage, Daniel; Kalev, Alexandra (2015-09-01). "Rage against the Iron Cage". American Sociological Review. 80 (5): 1014–1044. doi:10.1177/0003122415596416.
  30. ^ Prime, J., & Moss-Racusin, C. A. (2009). Engaging men in gender initiatives: What change agents need to know. New York, NY: Catalyst.
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  32. ^ Galinsky, Adam D.; Todd, Andrew R.; Homan, Astrid C.; Phillips, Katherine W.; Apfelbaum, Evan P.; Sasaki, Stacey J.; Richeson, Jennifer A.; Olayon, Jennifer B.; Maddux, William W. (2015-11-17). "Maximizing the Gains and Minimizing the Pains of Diversity". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 10 (6): 742–748. doi:10.1177/1745691615598513.
  33. ^ Jansen, Wiebren S.; Otten, Sabine; Zee, Karen I. van der (2015-02-25). "Being part of diversity: The effects of an all-inclusive multicultural diversity approach on majority members' perceived inclusion and support for organizational diversity efforts". Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 18 (6): 817–832. doi:10.1177/1368430214566892.
  34. ^ Holladay, Courtney L.; Knight, Jennifer L.; Paige, Danielle L.; Quiñones, Miguel A. (2003-09-01). "The influence of framing on attitudes toward diversity training". Human Resource Development Quarterly. 14 (3): 245–263. doi:10.1002/hrdq.1065. ISSN 1532-1096.
  35. ^ Rios, Kimberly; Wynn, Ashley N. (2016-12-01). "Engaging with diversity: Framing multiculturalism as a learning opportunity reduces prejudice among high White American identifiers". European Journal of Social Psychology. 46 (7): 854–865. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2196. ISSN 1099-0992.