Getting the Benefits of Age Diversity in the Workplace

Publication: Human Resource Management Journal (2013)
Article: Positive effects of ageing and age diversity in innovative companies – large scale empirical evidence on company productivity
Reviewed by: Arlene Coelho

Increasing age diversity can be a bane in terms of communication across generations and differences in cultural and social preferences. Turnover is another point of concern with which organizations with aging employees must contend. However, having a large work force with increasing age diversity also has many benefits that are often overlooked. Age diversity in the workplace provides a larger spectrum of knowledge, values, and preferences. For example the older employees will fall back on their experience while the younger employees will fall back on their academic skills, thus forming a classic mix of skills and abilities. In short, a large age diversity in the workplace can be both beneficial and a bane to the organization. However, the benefits will only increase to a point and then decrease, while the disadvantages of age diversity will continue to increase as a workforce becomes more and more diverse. Perhaps as a result of these limitations, it is commonly believed that age diversity among employees is a problem to be solved. Authors Backes-Gellner and Veen reveal some facts with valuable implications that run contrary to these common notions. They examine the benefits, costs, and consequences of age diversity in the workplace.

The study determined that when the employees of an organization are largely diversified in age, naturally a larger knowledge base and varied experience is available. This in turn affects overall organizational performance granting a greater ability to deal with varying roles and tasks. While age diversity has a considerable positive effect on the productivity of an organization, this benefit only exists when the problem or task is not structured. If dynamic situations are possible there is more scope for various opinions to come together and innovate. When events are viewed by a diverse group of employees’, differing opinions and mental models come into play which can lead to ground-breaking solutions. In these cases, the costs of an age diverse workforce pays off many times over.

The paper has important implications, especially for countries with aging work forces like India and Russia. An aging work force can be used to great advantage, but only if organizations are open to working creatively. It is imperative that vast diversity in age among employees not be viewed as a problem solve, but rather be understood as a useful tool to achieving innovation and creative solutions.

Workplace Discrimination Against Non-Native Speakers

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology: Advanced online publication (August, 2013)
Article: Political Skill: Explaining the Effects of Nonnative Accent on Managerial Hiring and Entrepreneurial Investment Decisions
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

When employees appear destined for top-level management but are never actually chosen, they are said to suffer from the “glass ceiling effect”. Traditionally, research has documented a glass ceiling effect for women, but other groups are similarly discriminated against. Although research has shown that people speaking with a foreign accent are subject to discrimination, little is known about why this occurs. New research by Huang, Frideger, and Pearce (2013) seeks to explain why.

The researchers used results of a lab experiment, as well as real-world data from an entrepreneurial funding competition, and found that non-native speakers did indeed face workplace discrimination. They were rated as less suitable for a managerial position in a hiring simulation, and they were less likely to receive funding in an entrepreneurial competition. But that’s not all. The researchers tested several different possible reasons for why this workplace discrimination occurred. Surprisingly, perceived communication ability or collaboration ability were not to blame. Additionally, outright racism against people from a different country did not statistically explain the discrimination. So what was the culprit? The researchers found that non-native speakers are seen as having less political skill than native speakers. In other words, interviewers question their ability to effectively influence others, navigate tricky interpersonal situations, and use language to build relationships and work with others.

What can non-native speakers do to overcome workplace discrimination based on this misperception? The researchers suggest that job interviewees might highlight their political skill by providing specific examples of past experiences, as well as seeking other ways to signal that they are politically skilled. This may work better, they say, than trying to change an accent, which is typically difficult to do. For interviewers and hiring managers, this research provides another example of how biased thinking can unfortunately lead to workplace discrimination when we aren’t being careful.

Should Your Spouse Interview for You? (IO Psychology)

Publication: Journal of Leadership, Accountability, and Ethics (APR 2012)
Article: Spousal interviews of applicants for employment: A legal and ethical dilemma
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

How well can your spouse sing your praises? Well enough to help you get that job you’ve always wanted?

This article discussed the ethical and legal issues surrounding spousal interviews for employment. Ever heard of it? Some companies are choosing to include spousal interviews as a part of their hiring process, especially for sales roles. As sales jobs can include varying hours and unpredictable income, some organizations want to make sure that the spouse fully understands and is on board with what could come. I don’t personally know of any organizations doing this, but it honestly scares the crap out of me (that is one of those phrases I should probably try to stop using).

As a spouse-less individual, I am a bit overwhelmed by the idea of this. Are you telling me that in my hunt for a mate, I now have to add “awesome interviewer on my behalf” to my list of requirements? Isn’t dating hard enough already?!

The argued business rationale is that by making sure the spouse is on board, it will prevent salesperson turn and subsequent revenue loss. But what risk does this introduce? First of all, requesting a spousal interview reveals the candidate’s marital status before a conditional offer of employment. Marital status is not protected by federal law, but it is in many states. The simple act of revealing of whether or not a candidate has a spouse could lead to intentional or unintentional discrimination. In addition, what if that spouse happens to be a same-sex spouse? That could open a whole new can of legal worms (seriously, I need to update my phrases). And what if you don’t have a spouse to conduct an interview? Does that give you an advantage because there is no one the organization has to make sure is “on board”, or do you lose the opportunity to have someone speak on your behalf?

Regardless of the legalities, the author argues that it could cast a “veil of suspicion on the hiring process” (p. 123). And what could this veil do to the reputation of the organization? How do you even make a hiring decision…Think of the different scenarios to deal with; if a candidate is very qualified but the spouse isn’t on board, do you hire? What about the flip scenario? The organization could get screwed either way. The only way the organization wins is if they find an amazing candidate with a spouse who is up for the unpredictable nature of the job. Is it even worth it? Most likely not.

Think what job hunting and hiring processes would be like if they all included a spousal interview. Oh the madness…

When women don’t reach the C-suite as often as men, benevolent sexism may be to blame

Topic: Gender, Discrimination, Development
Publication: Journal of Management (NOV 2012)
Article: Benevolent sexism at work: Gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences
Authors: King, E. B., Botsford, W., Hebl, M. R., Kazama, S., Dawson, J. F., & Perkins, A.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

woman_working_on_laptopWomen are breaking the glass ceiling and entering higher levels of organizations. To be successful, women need to get the same developmental experiences as men, and both men and women seem to be getting about the same number of developmental experiences. But if this is the case, why then are there fewer women than men reaching the very highest levels of the organization?

Eden King and her colleagues recently conducted a series of studies in an attempt to answer this question. They found that although the number of developmental experiences is fairly similar between men and women, the types of experiences differ. Men are given more challenging experiences than women are, and this isn’t because women don’t want more challenging experiences. It’s because managers choose to give more challenging developmental experiences to men.

The findings from these studies seem to occur because some managers are benevolently sexist. For example, they may feel that they need to provide for and protect women, but not that they are any better than women. Men who held these beliefs about women tended to provide fewer challenging developmental opportunities to female subordinates, but men who didn’t hold these beliefs more often gave equally challenging opportunities to male and female subordinates. Women, regardless of their beliefs, also generally gave equally challenging opportunities to male and female subordinates.

These findings suggest that women who want to advance need to seek out challenging developmental experiences, because they may not be getting those experiences otherwise. Organizations need to ensure that both men and women are provided with equally challenging developmental opportunities, and managers must understand that even well-meant attitudes toward women may actually be discriminatory.

King, E. B., Botsford, W., Hebl, M. R., Kazama, S., Dawson, J. F., & Perkins, A. (2012). Benevolent sexism at work: Gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences. Journal of Management, 38, 1835-1866. doi: 10.1177/0149206310365902

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management




source for picture:

Size Matters in Court? Determinations of Adverse Impact Based on Organization Size (IO Psychology)

Topic: Assessment, Discrimination, HR Policy, Statistics

Publication: Journal of Business Psychology (JUN 2012)

Article: Unintended consequences of EEO enforcement policies: Being big is worse than being bad

Authors: R. Jacobs, K. Murphy, and J. Silva

Reviewed By: Megan Leasher


Adverse impact occurs when neutral-appearing employment practices have an unintentional, discriminatory effect on a protected group. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with enforcing all federal legislation related to employment discrimination and adheres to the 1978 Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures for “rules of thumb” on inferring whether adverse impact is present.

However, it’s tricky for a plaintiff to present conclusive evidence that adverse impact is present in an organization’s practices.  Statistical evidence is needed to demonstrate whether employment practices are truly discriminating against a protected group.  Jacobs and colleagues investigate a common statistical method, known as “significance testing,” which is often used in courts to demonstrate evidence of adverse impact.  Significance testing compares the difference between the proportion of majority candidates selected and the proportion of protected class candidates selected in an employment decision.  If the test finds the difference between these proportions to be “statistically significant,” courts generally interpret this to mean that adverse impact is present.

This method seems to make sense from a high level, but problems arise when you look under the surface.  The outcome of significance testing is greatly influenced by the number of people who are included in the analysis.  Specifically, the more people you include in a significance test, the greater the likelihood of finding a statistically significant difference between groups. So, if you have an organization with many people included in the analysis, you are much more likely to yield a significant difference between majority and protected groups than you would with a smaller organization with fewer people to include in the exact same analysis.  This is the primary argument of the authors; why do courts use significance testing to demonstrate adverse impact when, by nature of the test, the results would almost always find that big organizations are discriminating and smaller ones are not?

The authors conducted a series of studies to determine sources of differences in adverse impact significance testing.  They found that the number of people included in the analysis was the strongest predictor in whether or not a statistically significant difference was found between groups.  Size  accounted for 49% of the final outcome of the analysis, which was almost five times greater than what any other factor (e.g., score differences on assessment in question, proportion in each group selected, etc.) accounted for.  They also discovered an interesting threshold:  When an adverse impact significance test is conducted with 500 or more people in the analysis, very small differences between the groups’ selection proportions will be statistically significant (yet below 500 these same comparisons would not be significantly different).

These findings support the powerful impact of sample size on determinations of adverse impact via significance testing, but they do not tell us if members of majority and protected class groups are really experiencing systemic, differential outcomes in employment practices.  Unless a statistical method can accurately assess the latter issue, it is meaningless.  This oversimplification leads us to believe that virtually all larger organizations are guilty of discrimination and virtually all smaller organizations are not.  This common practice in courts only serves to make small organizations feel impervious and invincible and leave large organizations running in fear.

The authors close by asserting that regulatory standards should always reflect current scientific knowledge, yet the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures still reflect the science of decades past.  They advocate for not only alternative methods to more appropriately measure adverse impact, but also for a more dynamic definition of adverse impact; one that considers multiple, interactive factors before a determination can be made.  Current practice is supporting the message that to be big is to be bad and to be small is to be nice, which goes directly against the spirit of anti-discrimination legislation.

Jacobs, R., Murphy, K., & Silva, J. (2012, June).  Unintended consequences of EEO enforcement policies: Being big is worse than being badJournal of Business and Psychology

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management




source for picture:

Discrimination in selection: Who’s most at risk? (IO Psychology)

Topic: Selection, Discrimination
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (MAY 2012)
Article: Multiple categorization in resume screening: Examining effects on hiring discrimination against Arab applicants in field and lab settings
Authors: Eva Derous, Ann Marie Ryan, & Hannah-Hanh D. Nguyen
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

You’re probably aware that discrimination can occur during selection. However, in recent years, various predictions have been made regarding who is most likely to be discriminated against, and why. The multiple minority status hypothesis (MMS) posits that someone who is a member of more than one minority group (e.g., an Arab woman in the United States) is more likely to be discriminated against than someone who is only part of one minority group (e.g., an Arab man in the U.S.). Another perspective is the ethnic prominence hypothesis (EP), which suggests that numerical minority status (in other words, women are not counted as a minority) leads to stereotyping. In a series of recent studies in the Netherlands, Eva Derous and her colleagues studied discrimination against Arabs and tested the MMS and EP perspectives.

In these studies, Arabs were discriminated against in selection practices, supporting the EP hypothesis. Arabs were much more likely to be rejected based on resumes that differed only in the name of the applicants, and not in experience or other qualifications. However, raters who were motivated to control their prejudice did not show discrimination based on the ethnicity of the applicant. Arabs were discriminated against more when raters’ prejudice was high, as would be expected. In addition, when the job was stereotypically held by white men (i.e., HR manager), Arab women were discriminated against more than Arab men, supporting the MMS hypothesis.

The authors found support for the ES hypothesis for lower-status jobs and support for the MMS hypothesis for higher-status jobs. In other words, discrimination may depend on how the applicant, job, and recruiter characteristics interact.

Derous, D., Ryan, A. M., & Nguyen, H.-H. D. (2012). Multiple categorization in resume screening: Examining effects on hiring discrimination against Arab applicants in field and lab settings. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33, 544-570. doi: 10.1002/job.769

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



source for picture:

Unconscious Stereotyping in Selection

Topic: Discrimination, Selection, Human Resource Management
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (JUL 2011)
Article: The Role of Automatic Obesity Stereotypes in Real Hiring Discrimination
Authors: J. Agerstrom, D.O. Rooth
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Research by Agerstrom and Rooth (2011) has shown that if hiring managers harbor negative stereotypes about obese people, they will also be more likely to actually discriminate against them. What makes this study interesting is that these stereotypes were held unconsciously.

The study was based on dual-process theory, which states that people have both conscious and unconscious mental processes. The conscious process concerns the attitudes and beliefs that a person is aware of and can explicitly verbalize, while the unconscious process concerns beliefs that a person is unaware of. The IAT (Implicit Association Test) is a test that was designed to measure these unconscious (or implicit) attitudes, and was used by the researchers in this study.

Here’s what they did. The researchers responded to actual job openings by constructing mock resumes that included a separate page with personal information and a photo of the applicant. Starting with a pool of photos of people who were judged to be similarly attractive, they manipulated half of the photos in a way that made the person look clinically obese. Then they recorded which applicants were invited to job interviews.

Eventually they contacted the hiring managers, and many took an IAT test which measured their unconscious, implicit associations regarding obese people. After this, the hiring managers were also asked to state their preferences about hiring obese people, so that the researchers could also assess their explicit attitudes, meaning attitudes that a person is aware of and professes.

What they found is that those hiring managers who harbored unconscious, implicit negative attitudes toward the obese were also less likely to invite the obese candidates for an actual job interview. These implicit attitudes were more useful in predicting the discriminatory behavior than the explicit attitudes were. In fact, the managers who explicitly professed a preference against hiring obese people did not, as a group, discriminate against them in their actual hiring decisions.

According to the authors, the results of the study strengthen the case for studying and understanding implicit attitudes. They say that the IAT test of these discriminatory attitudes has been criticized because researchers had a hard time showing that it was related to actual workplace behavior and outcomes. This study, they argue, shows that the IAT is relevant to predicting actual workplace behavior.

Additionally, this study gives much needed attention to workplace discrimination against the obese. Currently, note the authors, 34% of the US adult population is obese. Worldwide, it is estimated that there will be 700 million obese adults by 2015. It is therefore important for researchers to continue to identify and understand the ways that these people may be treated unfairly. Likewise, it is important for practitioners to be aware of the potential for discrimination against the obese, and to understand that this discrimination may be the result of deeply held bias that they are unaware of.

Agerstrom, J., & Rooth, D.O. (2011). The Role of Automatic Obesity Stereotypes in Real Hiring Discrimination. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(4), 790-805.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

Are Women at a Loss in the Workplace due to Breadwinning at Home?

Topic: Gender
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (WINTER 2011)
Article:  A Woman’s Place and a Man’s Duty:  How Gender Role Incongruence in One’s Family Life Can Result in Home-Related Spillover Discrimination at Work
Author:  Marıa del Carmen Triana
Reviewed By:  Kerrin George

The lack of adherance to stereotypical gender is one source of gender discrimination in the workplace.  In light of the increasing yet still minority number of women who are becoming the primary earners in dual-earner, heterosexual couples, a question arises:  Does this change from the traditional expectation that males should be the breadwinners lead to discrimination at work against the men and women in these relationships ?

In a recent study, del Carmen Triana investigated “home-related spillover discrimination,” or how the stereotype incongruent roles of women being  primary earners and men being secondary earners in a household may spillover into work, leading  to the creation of barriers.  The findings supported that participants were more surprised when women were the breadwinners compared to men who were primary earners.  Men who were secondary earners were more likely to be evaluated as overqualified for their current positions compared to women who were the secondary earner.  However, females who were the primary earners were not seen as more overqualified compared to male peers.