Poster Paper: Making Intergroup Contact “Work”: Reducing Bias through Effective Workplace Diversity Programs

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sean Darling-Hammond, University of California, Berkeley

Research suggests interracial bias has profound and far reaching negative effects. In areas with higher levels of anti-Black implicit bias, Black people are more likely to be killed by police officers. In areas with higher levels of explicit bias as measured by the number of google searches using racial slurs, Black individuals are more likely to have pregnancy complications and pre-term births. Finally, Blacks in areas with higher levels of perceived bias are less physically and mentally healthy.

Research on many forms of bias also suggests that decades after the Civil Rights Movement, anti-Black bias remains pervasive. In this milieu, government efforts to, as Dr. King put it, help our nation escape the “starless midnight of racism and war” and realize “the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood” may seem doomed to failure. Recent research has focused more on the conditions under which interracial contact has the perverse impact of increasing biases then on the social features that mitigate bias. And a review of available literature suggests no study has assessed whether and how government workplace diversity programs can reduce bias. Nonetheless, local governments around the country forge on, investing substantial sums in workplace diversity programs which create and improve pipelines to ensure individuals of diverse backgrounds have access to the labor market. But could those programs also help us escape a seemingly interminable “starless midnight”?

This paper first synthesizes literature on the “contact effect” (that intergroup contact reduces bias) to argue that intergroup contact in the workplace has characteristics that lend it well to efforts at reducing implicit and explicit bias, and the ills that follow them. It reports regression and propensity score matching analyses utilizing over two decades of GSS data to discern the extent to which working with Black individuals reduces explicit bias among White individuals. The analyses reported also explore the working conditions and social conditions that facilitate the bias reducing effects of inter-racial contact, and the types of White individuals most amenable to this kind of bias reduction. Analyses reveal that the effect of contact is stable over time and across many personal and workplace characteristics, but that workplace diversification efforts may achieve larger reductions in bias if they target businesses located near relatively homogenous residential communities and target workplaces with more women.

Next, the paper discusses the current state of government workplace diversity programs and provides insights for how to better structure and target these programs (in certain businesses and communities) to maximize the ROI of governmental workplace diversification grants and initiatives. The paper also discusses literature suggesting that broad, coalition based continuous improvement efforts may create diversity initiatives with more potential for intergroup contact to reduce bias and help our society realize the “bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood.”