Differential outcomes: three essays examining discrimination in the workplace, its causes, and potential pathways to solutions

Obenauer, William, G
Thumbnail Image
Other Contributors
Kalsher, Michael, J
Begley, Thomas
Greenwood, Brad, N
Langer, Nishtha
Issue Date
Terms of Use
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
Full Citation
This document comprises three essays that discuss bias and prejudice in organizations. The first essay uses archival data to examine discrimination associated with leadership outcomes in different organizational processes. More specifically, it investigates differential leadership outcomes within an organization that creates equitable employment opportunities for White and minority leaders. Despite empirical evidence that there was no discrimination in selection processes within the target organization of this study, data analysis indicates that occupational minorities receive discounted returns for their successful performance in terms of performance evaluations and employment termination. After observing differential outcomes in the first essay, the second essay seeks to inform as to why occupational minorities experience differential returns on performance. Through a series of three experiments, this research examines the relationship between leader race, performance attributions, and leadership evaluations. The results provide evidence that White leaders benefit more from perceptions of positive organizational performance than Black leaders, but this finding is only present in a student sample. In mTurk samples that employed research designs of both high levels of ambiguity and low levels of ambiguity, our findings provided no support for the argument that the relationship between organizational performance and leadership evaluations was influenced by the leader’s race. In fact, results from one study that employed an mTurk sample indicated that Black leaders received slightly higher evaluations of leadership ability than White leaders did. Collectively, these findings indicate that sample selection may play an important role in leadership and discrimination research. Finally, while the first two essays seek to examine conditions under which discrimination can exist, the third essay begins to examine how workplace discrimination can be reduced. Grounded in the Justification-Suppression Model of discrimination, this essay theorizes that a cognitively taxing workplace environment can neutralize the effect of motivations to suppress prejudice. Surprisingly, however, the results showed no evidence of a main effect for gender bias present in the laboratory study. Robustness tests did show, however, that internal motivations to suppress prejudice interacted with measures of modern sexism to influence expressions of prejudice. There was one prominent theme that emerged as a key takeaway across these three essays: discrimination should not always be an assumed outcome. The presence of or ability to recognize discrimination may be contingent upon measurement tools and the conditions in which discrimination is measured. In Essay 1, our primary analyses showed no evidence of racial discrimination in employment outcomes, but discriminatory effects emerged when restricting analyses to focus on more ambiguous conditions. The next essay comprised three studies. Two of these three studies produced null results, but a third study revealed that perceptions of organizational performance had differential effects on the performance evaluations of white and black leaders. In the final essay, we again found no evidence of discrimination, but our results showed that relationships between prejudiced beliefs and expressions of prejudice were contingent upon choice of measurement. This takeaway has several key implications for managers. The first of these implications is that managers must understand how to recognize discrimination and where to look for its presence within the organization. Failure on either one of these accounts could result in a false belief that efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace have been successful and are no longer necessary. Such perceptions could potentially result in the persistence of, or even increases in, workplace discrimination putting the organization at risk of decreased productivity, loss of top talent, or legal ramifications. Recognizing the conditions within the organization where discrimination is most likely to occur can also assist managers in focusing their effort, thus allowing for a more efficient allocation of resources. Finally, insight indicating that discriminatory effects can be contextually reduced, or even eradicated, should provide organizational leaders with confidence that properly implemented diversity programs have the potential to be successful. From a more global perspective, these findings offer valuable insights because data were sourced from educated populations in contemporary time periods. Results of limited discrimination highlight the fluidity in societal and cultural attitudes towards both race and gender, offering encouraging insights. However, this very fluidity offers concerns that time effects can also undo these changes. From an academic standpoint, this research demonstrates the need to do such investigations over different time periods and populations to identify pockets of best practices as well as areas where discrimination may be on the rise. Consequently, in addition to offering very unique insights, this work strongly motivates ongoing and expanded research within this domain.
School of Management
Lally School of Management
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
Restricted to current Rensselaer faculty, staff and students in accordance with the Rensselaer Standard license. Access inquiries may be directed to the Rensselaer Libraries.