August 19, 2020
By Michael Slepian, Harvard Business Review
Diversity brings many benefits to organizations — but it is not enough on its own. An organization with a diverse workforce is not necessarily an inclusive one. Diversity efforts now often fall under the banner of “Diversity and Inclusion” for this reason, but new research in a forthcoming issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science shows that inclusion may also fall short because it does not necessarily lead to a sense of belonging.
Employees may feel they don’t belong for any number of reasons, but in each case the result is the same: what researchers term an “identity threat.” Defined as any situation that makes salient that one is different from others, identity threats can range from trivial to troubling. Consider the manager who talks to her low-wage employees about upcoming international travel plans, or the co-worker who expresses surprise that a Black colleague doesn’t conform to a stereotype. My colleague, Drew Jacoby-Senghor, and I set out to understand the impacts of identity-threatening situations like these that people experience on a regular basis.
We recruited 1,500 individuals who spanned a range of identities, including women working in male-dominated fields, people from multiple racial groups, LGBTQ-identifying individuals, as well as people with a range of ideologies, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, family environments, and current hardships. The extent of diversity that we examined is rare for research in the diversity space, which typically focuses on a limited set of identities, and often one at a time. Instead, we examined experiences with identity threat that transcend specific identities and contexts, allowing us to make conclusions about diversity issues, in general, rather than just particular kinds of diversity.