Falling into debt, feeling out-group threat, and going to work upset: The influence of economic threat on attitudes toward organizational diversity policies
Knight, Jennifer Lynn
Hebl, Michelle R.
Doctor of Philosophy
Realistic group conflict theory (LeVine & Campbell, 1972) posits that people advocate policies that promote their personal and group interests, whereas they resist policies that advance the relative standing of out-group members. Consequently, diversity policies may elicit threat among some employees regarding their group's status, especially during periods when economic resources are scarce. To test the viability of realistic group conflict in an organizational context, both survey (N = 790) and experimental ( N = 108) methodologies were used to explore the influence of economic threat on subsequent acceptance of, or resistance to, organizational diversity policies. As expected, the cross-sectional survey data indicated that the strongest predictor of attitudes toward a typical affirmative action plan was the extent to which respondents thought that the plan would negatively affect the opportunities for success of people similar to them in terms of race and gender. Likewise, an experimental manipulation of economic threat caused participants to be less supportive both of diversity programs and of diverse organizational employees. Furthermore, this effect was often moderated by zero-sum beliefs and social dominance orientation, such that participants low on each of these dispositional traits supported diversity programs more than participants high in these traits in the absence of an economic threat; however, all participants regardless of their score on these individual difference variables were less supportive of diversity policies after being exposed to an economic threat. This research has broad theoretical and practical implications, including helping organizations to recognize, understand, and ultimately reduce discrimination in organizations, particularly during times of economic difficulty.