How Perceived Racial Traits Can Influence Hiring

Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist, is best known for his work on negotiations, diversity, power and leadership. He has published more than 100 scientific articles and teaches at the Columbia Business School.

Recently Galinsky and his colleagues found evidence that hiring managers may be more apt to fill certain positions based on racial and gender stereotypes than on an applicant’s experience and skill set. Galinsky spoke with Diversity Executive on the topic. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

What is your background?
I received my Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton University. At the time, a professor had been encouraging people with a social psychological background to consider going to business school. So I ended up doing a post-doctoral program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the Dispute Resolution Research Center. While I was there, I focused on negotiations and I eventually [went] back to teach at Kellogg. Now I teach at the Columbia Business School.

What were the motivations behind your research on racial traits and hiring?
In the past there has been research that discussed gender and outcome — that women with the same qualifications were less likely to be promoted than men. On the flip side, there were studies done on race that showed minority groups — particularly blacks and Hispanics — with the same credentials were less likely to be interviewed. However, no one really thought about the intersect between gender and race. I was interested in this intersect because I’ve done a lot of research on stereotyping.

The second aspect that motivated this study was this awareness. When I was in graduate school, I looked at interracial relationships, which tended to follow patterns. Black and white relationships often fell with a black man and a white woman, and Asian-white relationships were often made up of a white male and an Asian female.

How did you test these notions?
The first test of our hypothesis was to actually analyze census data, and we found the same credible, remarkable pattern, where literally 75 percent of black and white marriages were made up of a black male and white female. At the same time, we also found that 75 percent of white and Asian marriages were made up of a white male and an Asian female.

How were you able to synthesize the relationship data?
We found that men want a significant other to be feminine and women want their significant others more masculine and less feminine. We then asked the same participants about their dating history and their attraction to different racial groups and found that the more you value effeminate traits, the more likely you would have dated an Asian and be attracted to Asians relatively more than to someone who was black. For women, the data suggest that the more you valued masculinity, the more likely you would have dated or be attracted to someone that’s black than Asian.

How does this relate to the workplace?
When hiring managers confront a resume for someone who’s Asian, regardless of gender, when given a choice of different jobs to place the job applicant in, they tend to place the Asian in a more effeminate position. But then when a black person submits a resume, HR tends to put him or her in a position that’s perceived as masculine. For whites, they sort of fall in between for applicants.

You can see this sort of matching process that HR professionals might go through when trying to figure out where an applicant best fits within an organization.

How else does it relate to HR?
We’ve started to show that the more an organization is described in masculine terms, a black job applicant has a greater advantage of getting hired than an Asian applicant.

Also, leadership positions have changed in terms of the categories of people in them. In the last 20 years, the desired CEOs have more effeminate traits and are more collaborative and less aggressive. New labor statistics show that for high-status positions, there’s an advantage for being an Asian male and black female, rather than a black male and an Asian female.

One of the things we’re starting to see now is this intersection of gender and race in a whole new light. The data has broad implications in the workforce. The fact that we can show this phenomenon across a wide variety of content really matters.

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern with Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.