In Good Company: When Gender Diversity Boosts a Company’s Reputation
White men perceive companies that highlight their gender diversity (by including White women) as being more prestigious than companies that do not, while companies that highlight gender and racial diversity are not seen as more prestigious by White men.
Even though women made up approximately 29% of the labor force 70 years ago, they make up approximately half of it today. In recent decades, many companies have dramatically improved their gender diversity, and now advertise their gender diversity in order to promote themselves to prospective employees and improve their overall reputation. Approximately half of all midsize companies and a majority of Fortune 500 companies formally state their commitment to diversity efforts.
Many companies make a “business case for diversity,” arguing that being diverse enhances their bottom line. For instance, research shows that businesses with gender parity have increased sales and profits, as compared to male-dominated businesses. However, there is little research on how people perceive companies that advertise gender diversity. Of particular interest is how these advertisements about gender diversity impact White men’s perception of companies—since White men ultimately still hold much of the corporate power in America.
In this study, researchers investigated whether advertising gender diversity impacts how White men view a company’s prestige and open-mindedness. Researchers in this study also investigated how racial diversity impacted the perceptions of the gender-diverse company.
White men perceive companies that highlight their gender diversity as being more prestigious than companies that do not. However, White men do not perceive companies that highlight their gender and racial diversity as being more prestigious than companies that don’t highlight their diversity.
- When a company advertises that it has gender diversity that includes only White women, White men perceive a company as being more open-minded and tolerant. They also view the company as being more prestigious than companies that do not advertise its gender diversity.
- In other words, advertising its White gender diversity gives companies a “reputation boost.”
- When a company advertises that it has gender diversity and racial diversity, by highlighting Black women employees, they do not receive the same reputation boost in perceptions of their prestige or open-mindedness.
The reason that companies receive reputation boosts when they advertise their gender diversity with white women but not with Black women, may relate to what researchers call the “double jeopardy” faced by Black women. This refers to how Black women are doubly penalized for their gender and race. For instance, studies have found that, when an organization is failing, Black women leaders are evaluated more negatively than Black men, White women, or White men. This study contributes to existing studies by showing the differing ways in which White men weigh the value of gender diversity, as compared to racial diversity, in their perceptions of a company’s reputation, open-mindedness, and prestige.
This study uses a series of four experiments to investigate whether advertising gender diversity impacts White men’s beliefs about a company. In the first two experiments, researchers showed a company’s brochure to 105 and 101 White men, respectively. The men were randomly assigned to the control (which featured information about the company’s environmentally friendly mission, along with profiles of four White male employees) or to the experimental condition (which featured information about the company’s gender diversity, along with profiles of two White male and two White female employees). The control brochure noted statistics about the company’s carbon footprint reduction, noting that the company was recognized as a top company for environmental activism. The experimental brochure noted that the company had 45% women’s representation in its workforce and 20% of women in leadership positions. All the employees featured were fictional.
Participants were then asked to assess the company’s prestige and open-mindedness. In the third and fourth experiments, researchers showed a company’s “employee bio” pages to 151 and 183 White men, respectively. The men were randomly assigned to see pages featuring White woman employees, Black woman employees, or White male employees. In all three conditions, the content of the bios was completely the same. The only things that were changed were the names (Greg Nolen, Emily Nolen, or Lakisha Williams), and the accompanying photo. In a preliminary experiment, a series of photos were tested on a group of 30 men, and researchers selected a photo for each of these three conditions that were comparable in age, attractiveness, and professionalism. Like in the first two experiments, participants were asked to assess the company’s prestige and open-mindedness. All participants were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, fitting the criteria of 1) being currently employed, attending school, or being closely affiliated with an organization, 2) being fluent in English, and 3) currently residing in the United States. All participants received 26 cents for taking part in the study.