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Social Issues and Policy Review

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Diversity management -- Analysis, Diversity in the workplace, Industrial psychology, Minorities -- Employment, Multiculturalism, Personnel management


Organizational diversity initiatives—programs and policies intended to increase the fairness of organizations and promote the inclusion, hiring, retention, and promotion of underrepresented groups—are ubiquitous. Despite the widespread implementation of diversity initiatives, several empirical investigations point to challenges associated with these initiatives. We suggest that one of the challenges hindering the effectiveness of diversity management involves the unintended signals that these initiatives send. Specifically, we review social psychological evidence that the mere presence of diversity initiatives can have unintended consequences through the communication of (1) fairness signals, (2) inclusion signals, and (3) competence signals. The presence of organizational diversity initiatives may lead to a presumption of fairness for underrepresented groups, making discrimination harder to identify and litigate. Conversely, these initiatives may lead to a presumption of unfairness for members of overrepresented groups, increasing the likelihood that traditionally advantaged groups will perceive themselves as victims of discrimination. The presence of diversity initiatives may increase the attractiveness of organizations to underrepresented groups who anticipate inclusion, but increase felt exclusion and threat among overrepresented groups. Finally, the presence of diversity initiatives may signal that underrepresented groups need help to succeed and are thus less competent than their advantaged counterparts. Researchers and practitioners should note the potential unintended signaling consequences of diversity initiatives, and build‐in accountability and social psychological knowledge when designing policies aimed at creating inclusive, diverse, and fair workplaces.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Dover, T. L., Kaiser, C. R., & Major, B. (2019). Mixed signals: The unintended effects of diversity initiatives. Social Issues and Policy Review., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving



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