The Divergent Effects of Diversity Ideologies for Race and Gender Relations

The Divergent Effects of Diversity Ideologies for Race and Gender Relations

2018Working Paper No. 3687

Both practitioners and scholars have shown interest in initiatives that reduce bias and promote inclusion. Diversity ideologies—or beliefs and practices regarding how to approach group differences in diverse settings—have been studied as one set of strategies to promote racial equality, and argued to be effective for other intergroup relations, as well; however, little work has examined diversity ideologies in the context of gender, giving a limited understanding of their potential to improve gender relations. The present research compares the influence of two competing and commonly used ideologies—awareness and blindness—on race and gender relations. Awareness approaches recommend acknowledging and celebrating intergroup differences, whereas blindness approaches advocate for reducing and ignoring category membership. In contrast to research suggesting that race awareness is more effective at reducing racial bias than race blindness, I show that the opposite is true for gender. I theorize that awareness and blindness ideologies act upon unique types of race and gender differences in ways that preserve power for the dominant group, either exposing their opportunity-limiting nature (for race) or reifying their biological functionality (for gender). Using system justification theory, I show that diversity ideologies act upon distinct system-justifying rationales, where race awareness exposes differences in opportunities and experience, lessening denial of inequality, and thereby diminishing support for the status quo. In contrast, gender awareness highlights gender roles and their biological underpinnings, legitimizing gender differences in occupational segregation, and increasing support for the status quo (Studies 1–4). Additionally, I show that diversity ideologies have implications for unique forms of opportunity outcomes for women and racial minorities. For race, by increasing recognition of societal inequities, awareness leads Whites to show more support for policies that combat systemic inequality (i.e., affirmative action). For gender, by increasing biological attributions, awareness makes men more likely to stereotype in ways that limit women’s potential for success (Study 4). Finally, supporting my theory about the importance of the types of differences highlighted through awareness, I show that shifting the focus of differences toward external (opportunity, experience) ones leverages the benefits of awareness for both race and gender, providing a practical solution to improving race and gender equality (Studies 5–7). I conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for improving intergroup relations.