A study by a researcher from the University of Texas at Dallas published on September 17 in the journal Scientists progress identifies a pattern of racial attention deficit, highlighting the reasons why diversity efforts in organizations often fail. He also suggests a cure: When white workers can witness the accomplishments of their black peers – rather than being told about them – the attention deficit eases.
Dr Sheen S. Levine, assistant professor of organizations, strategy, and international management at the Naveen Jindal School of Management and lead author of the study, said the findings point to a racial attention deficit: even in their best interests, white Americans pay less attention to black peers.
In a multi-year experiment designed to understand how people pay attention to peers of different races, researchers gathered more than 2,500 working-age white Americans, men and women, who faced a difficult problem. Participants were able to observe how the peers solved the same problem.
By varying the race of peers, the researchers checked whether the participants paid equal attention to the solutions offered by black peers compared to white peers. They observed that participants were 33% more likely to pay attention to white peers.
“Diversity has been put forward as a performance booster because it enables learning from different skills and perspectives,” said Levine, who studies how human behavior affects other people, organizations and markets. “But are these learning opportunities materializing? Or maybe the discrimination has taken on a more subtle form, interfering with attention to minorities?
Levine said the study’s results suggest that white Americans are prone to making bad decisions when they ignore their black peers, and that even in their own personal interest, they tend to pay less attention to black peers. .
“We find that white decision makers are more likely to disregard information from their black peers, even if it is objectively essential,” Levine said. “By not recognizing the point of view of someone of a different race and clinging to their sole point of view of observation, they miss out on opportunities to learn, thus compromising their own performance.”
Study participants, aged 18 to 65, were tasked with solving a puzzle that would earn them money if they solved it correctly. The puzzle was difficult, containing ambiguous and seemingly contradictory information, as real-world tasks often do.
Each participant was matched with two peers who had more typically black or white names and solved the same puzzle. Participants could only solve it accurately if they noticed the choices of peers and incorporated the information into their decision making. The attention participants paid to their peers was clearly evident in their choices. Participants who did not notice others’ solutions made poor decisions.
The researchers concluded that if people divide their attention along racial lines, they will be less likely to learn from those of a different race.
“Organizations can encourage – or mandate – the hiring of minorities, but that just gets them out the door and doesn’t guarantee a seat at the table. We find that, even in their own personal interest, white Americans are neglecting their black peers, ”Levine said.
Decrease the deficit
The researchers also tested two interventions, which can help develop more effective diversity efforts.
When given information about the past accomplishments of their black peers, participants rated the peers as equally skillful, but remained hesitant to learn from their choices. “When the participants received the results of the peer tests, they no longer viewed black peers as less competent, but surprisingly, they were still likely to overlook the advice of black peers, compared to white peers,” Levine said.
However, in a second intervention, called experiential recognition, the researchers did not provide information on credentials. They simply let participants solve problems over and over and observe how their peers solve the same problems.
When white participants were able to witness the ongoing accomplishments of their black peers, rather than being told about them, the racial attention deficit eased, the researchers found.
Levine said that if biased choices are made because of a racial attention deficit, it is easier to understand the ineffective results of initiatives to reduce bias.
“As well-intentioned as they are, these remedies can treat the wrong disease. Our results show that diversity is not enough. Nor is the common strategy of mentioning black peer credentials, ”he said. “What leads to a real change in perceptions and behaviors is to experience the continuous achievements of peers by seeing them. It might not be a quick or easy treatment, but it could be a treatment that can bring inclusion without the cynicism and backlash sometimes triggered by efforts to promote equal treatment. “
Levine said the study results also provide crucial lessons for scientists – from grantmakers to principal investigators and university administrators – and in organizational affairs, including businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. .
“Our study suggests that realizing the full benefits of racial diversity requires inclusive policies and practices,” he said. “As part of such a strategy, our findings indicate that inclusive recognition is an essential part of organizational life. In addition, by alleviating attention deficit recognition, recognition improves problem solving. So more attention can improve everyone’s performance. If you want to do well and do better, pay attention to who pays attention to whom.
Study co-authors include Dr Charlotte Reypens, a former visiting scholar at UT Dallas who is now a policy adviser to the UK government, and Dr David Stark, professor of sociology at Columbia University.
Experts comment on the impact of the study
“The authors of this article have made a significant contribution to the social sciences by behaviorally demonstrating how and how white people ignore, neglect and underestimate black people,” said Dr. Michele Lamont, professor of sociology and studies. African and African American and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University. “Their study of ‘recognition gaps’ explores new avenues in our understanding of how inequalities work, which has everything to do with how everyday value judgments are pervasive and make racism so difficult to combat.”
“Diversity promotes improved levels of performance,” said theoretical physicist Dr. Sylvester James Gates, president of the American Physical Society and recipient of the National Medal of Science. “However, diversity only works if there is a vigorous exchange of ideas. In the newspaper, Racial Attention Deficit, Levine, Reypens and Stark illustrate how this communication does not occur between colleagues of different races, to the detriment of the work environment.
“This research is crucial to understanding how we as people relate to each other,” said Jonathan McBride, partner at consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles and former Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity at BlackRock . “This kind of evidence is vital for those of us trying to crack the code to get people to perform better by improving their work experience. We can all learn more about how people can be more inclusive – or less excluding, even if not intentionally – with each other. “
Learn more about the study and its results in this YouTube video.
The title of the article
Racial Attention Deficit
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