Are Whites’ Perceptions of Exclusion Driving Their Negative Reaction to Diversity Initiatives?

Topic: Diversity, Human Resources
Publication: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (MAY 2011)
Article: “What About Me? Perceptions of Exclusion and Whites’ Reactions to
Authors: Victoria C. Plaut, Flannery G. Garnett, Laura E. Buffardi, Jeffrey Sanchez-
Reviewed by: Mary Alice Crowe-Taylor

The support of White Americans is crucial for diversity efforts to be effective. The best model for designing diversity initiatives is the multiculturalism approach. This approach encourages the understanding and acceptance of different cultural backgrounds of employees. It has been shown through research to be more effective than taking a color-blind approach (the other dominant framework). Color-blind programs ask participants to view everyone as the same, and don’t highlight or promote cultural differences.


Herein lies the problem that this research article is exploring: White Americans are more likely to resist diversity initiatives based on multiculturalism versus color-blindness. Why? This research suggests that their lack of support for multiculturalism is due to perceptions of exclusion. How so? There is a basic, psychological need to be included, to belong, and if multiculturalism is perceived as “only for minorities” White Americans feel excluded. This perceived exclusion results in “diversity resistance.”

So how did these researchers reach these conclusions? They conducted five studies in simulated and actual work organizations that showed, first, that White Americans do associate multiculturalism with exclusion. In the second study they found that this association can be weakened by using subtle cuing (re: specifying both: inclusion of all groups; and European Americans in wording of multiculturalism materials). A third study examined the role that self-concept plays in employee reactions to diversity initiatives. The extent to which multiculturalism fit respondents (using a Me/Not Me Self- association measure) was more important than actual group membership in prediction of support for diversity efforts. That is, feeling included was key.

A fourth study examined responses to a web-based diversity climate survey and found that the gap between whites and minorities in endorsing multiculturalism was greatly reduced after controlling for feelings of inclusion. Lastly, individual differences in the construct “Need to Belong (NTB)” affected the perceived attractiveness of organizations espousing either a color-blind approach or a multiculturalism approach. Whites with higher NTB gave organizations espousing a color-blind approach higher ratings, while whites with lower NTB rated both organizations (espousing either color-blind or multicultural approaches) as equally attractive.

Takeaways from this research, for H.R. Managers and other corporate leaders, are that reactions to diversity initiatives are explained in part by feelings of inclusion in diversity initiatives. The creation of diversity messages, practices and policies that appeal to all groups have to explicitly include ALL groups. The wording of corporate brochures, mission statements, etcetera, is key. This Inclusiveness will change white Americans perceptions of exclusion from diversity initiatives. Another suggestion, to increase feelings of inclusiveness, is to use cross-race pairings and target BOTH white and minority demographic groups in mentoring and social networking efforts designed to address diversity issues such as cohesiveness.

Plaut, V. C., Garnett, F. G., Buffardi, L. E., Sanchez-Burks, J. (2011) “What About Me? Perceptions of Exclusion and Whites’ Reactions to Multiculturalism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 337-353.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management