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As Economy Worsens, So Do Attitudes about Workplace Diversity

By Mason Spirit contributor on October 7, 2009

When the economy worsens, what happens to diversity programs and affirmative action policies in the workplace?

New research by Eden King, Mason assistant professor of psychology, suggests that workplace discrimination can actually increase when people feel threatened by outside factors such as finances.

A recent study by King and her coresearchers showed that people who support diversity programs have changing attitudes in times of economic strife. In addition, those in hiring positions may be less likely to hire a minority job applicant in an economic downturn.

King and her coauthors found that when white men and women were told that the economy might take a downturn and were then asked to evaluate four equally qualified candidates for a job, they favored the white male candidate. On the other hand, when another group of white men and women believed that the economy might improve, they tended to favor the female Hispanic candidate.

“In good economic times, people know they are supposed to support diversity and will tend to hire a minority candidate to get affirmative action points,” says King. “But when times are tough, people tend to look out for their own group and isolate outsiders.”

King says that managers and human resources employees should be cautious about prejudice in today’s unstable workplace.

“They need to understand that the short-term solution of cutting diversity programs might ultimately end up costing them more in the long run.” –Tara Laskowski

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