What Are the Stereotypes of DEI Leadership Roles?

Topic(s): diversity, fairness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The Non-White Standard: Racial Bias in Perceptions of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leaders
Authors: R.M. Paluch, V. Shum
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

An increasingly prevalent strategy to tackle DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) issues in the workplace is to hire DEI leaders (e.g., Head of Diversity, Chief Diversity Officer), whose primary purpose is to foster DEI in the workplace. New research (Paluch & Shum, 2023) aimed to explore racial stereotypes associated with the DEI leader role. That is, DEI leaders anecdotally tend to be non-White, which conflicts with prevailing stereotypes associating leaders with being White. The researchers explore when and why people associate DEI leadership with being non-White, and how this can help us understand the important role of DEI leaders.


The researchers conducted three studies to explain the associations between race and DEI leadership. In Study 1, using a simulated press release, they found that participants were more likely to presume DEI leaders were non-White rather than White. To explain why this might be the case, the researchers conducted two additional studies. In Study 2, they found that people associate characteristics of non-White groups with the DEI leadership role (e.g., commitment to social justice).

Lastly, Study 3 explored why these associations exist using a time-separated design where participants rated leadership potential and made hiring recommendations for the DEI role. They found that being non-White was related to both leader potential and hiring recommendations. Notably, this was because of two key mechanisms: non-White leaders were perceived as being more committed to social justice, and people believed that non-White leaders had experienced discrimination themselves, which people believed is important for a DEI leader to understand.


The authors provide recommendations for the implementation of DEI leadership roles in organizations. First, organizations should be careful about how the role is communicated to the organization, making sure to explicate its value so the role does not become stigmatized or underappreciated. Further, clear guidelines about the skills and abilities needed for success (e.g., commitment to social justice) should be set when selecting for the role. Lastly, organizations should ensure the DEI leadership role has access to equitable resources to ensure the leader’s success.


Paluch, R. M., & Shum, V. (2023). The non-White standard: Racial bias in perceptions of diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0001106

Image credit: istockphoto/Kamila Baimukasheva