How often have you heard that more diverse organizations have greater innovation, profits, and higher revenues? How often have you heard people advocate for DEI because it's “good for business”? The business case for DEI has been prevalent in the discourse on corporate reform and DEI in the workplace for a long time. It is preached at conferences, trainings, and workshops as a convincing reason for companies to invest more in DEI efforts. Living in a capitalist society, few question the impact of this argument or realize its detrimental effects on belongingness amongst underrepresented groups in the workplace. This rhetoric is akin to the one about mental health in organizations, a notion that is extremely common and seldom questioned: saying that employee mental health is important because it makes them more productive, and not because they are human beings who inherently deserve good health and well-being.
To address this, a set of six studies were run (Georgeac, O. A. M., & Rattan, A., 2023), which looked at the impact of presenting a business case for organizational diversity and inclusion on participants’ anticipated sense of belonging to, and interest in joining organizations. The authors found that the business case increased anticipated rejection among members of underrepresented groups, when compared to the fairness case. They suggest that the negative effects of the business case were due to the fact that it triggered a sense of social identity threat, which increased anxiety and undermined a sense of belongingness, thus undermining the organizations’ diversity goals. The researchers found that despite the business case for DEI seeming attractive and being the most prevalent form of organizational motivation, it ultimately serves as a cue of social identity threat that paradoxically undermines belongingness across LGBTQ+ individuals, STEM women, and African Americans, thus hindering organizations’ diversity goals.
This study serves as an eye opening call for organizations to reframe the rationale behind their DEI efforts, particularly to speak more about fairness and equity as the the motivation behind their hiring goals. Beyond just marketing themselves or their values differently, the internal shift within their structures and how their efforts manifest as a result of this change in reasoning is one to investigate further.
Georgeac, O. A. M., & Rattan, A. (2023). The business case for diversity backfires: Detrimental effects of organizations’ instrumental diversity rhetoric for underrepresented group members’ sense of belonging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 124(1), 69–108. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000394