Diversity in the workplace has been a contentious issue for many employers and their critics. In May 2014, Google disclosed that 70% of its employees are male and the company is 61% White, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic and 2% Black. Sacramento, California was named Time magazine's most diverse city but a basketball player, Chris Webber, claimed it was not diverse enough - he moved there from Detroit, a city that is 83% black.

America is only 5% Asian so clearly they are a minority, and America's most diverse city is not diverse to someone who moved from a city where they were the overwhelming majority. 

Previous research has shown that higher levels of diversity are associated with more trust, increased feelings of safety and social satisfaction, and heightened expectations that people can expect to be treated fairly and have the same opportunities as others in an organization.

Everyone puts women, minorities and women of color in the fronts of publicity photos, but the only thing you'll find less of in the halls of tenured academia in America than women of color are Republicans. Source: iStockphoto

Scholars from the University of California at Irvine, the University of Virginia, and the University of California at Los Angeles collaborated to study how Whites, Asian-Americans, and African Americans evaluate diversity. The research included three studies, and participants were asked to rate the diversity of various groups of people that were presented as a team at work.  

Differing Perceptions of Diversity

Studies 1 and 2 found that in-group representation—that is, seeing members of one's own race included in the group— increased perceived diversity, even when the number of racial groups and number of racial minority group members was held constant. Asian Americans perceived more diversity in a group that included Whites and Asian-Americans than a group that included Whites and African-Americans. African-Americans rated a group with Whites and African-Americans as more diverse than one with Whites and Asian-Americans, even though Asians are a much smaller minority than black people. 

Studies 2 and 3 showed that concerns about discrimination play a role in why racial minority group members are especially attuned to whether their race is represented. Study 2 showed that in-group representation had a larger effect on diversity judgments made by Asian-Americans who considered national statistics about discrimination against Asian Americans before judging diversity than those who did not. 

Also, the in-group representation effect disappeared when Asian-Americans first considered national statistics about discrimination against African Americans; these individuals rated a team of Whites and African-Americans as equally diverse as a team of Whites and Asians. Study 3 measured concerns about diversity and showed that it mediated the relation between team composition and diversity judgments.

Even in-group representation as a measure of diversity varies by race

The studies identified differences in how Asian-Americans and African-Americans judge diversity. Asians are used to being much more of a minority than blacks or hispanics so they don't judge diversity by in-group representation, they see actual diversity - so a black person from Detroit may see Sacramento as being less than 50% black and think that is not diverse, whereas an Asian sees that the largest group is only 40% and sees that as diverse.

In-group representation was more important to blacks than Asians, and in-group representation was equally important for African-Americans regardless of whether they considered discrimination against African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or did not consider discrimination before judging diversity. Therefore, people—especially scholars, managers, and policy makers—should be careful not to assume that all racial minority groups approach questions about diversity in the same way. 

Lead author Christopher Bauman notes that, "More research needs to consider the unique perspective of each racial group. A lot of valuable insights have come from research that contrasted majority and minority groups, but finer grained analysis will become increasingly important as the country continues to become more diverse." 

The finding illustrates that people from different races may view the same team or organization and judge it differently in terms of whether or not it's diverse.

"Racial minority group members care whether or not members of their own race are part of a team. While the presence of other minority groups is better than no diversity at all, it's not the same as having someone of your own race present," Bauman says, "You can't lump racial minority groups together and treat them as a monolithic whole. Each racial group has its own history and faces unique challenges, and it should not be surprising that they approach situations differently."

Understanding how individuals experience diversity in the workplace is a much more complex issue than simply knowing the percentage of each race present in a team or organization. 

Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology