Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Outsiders’ Perceptions of Diversity Mixed Messages

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Abstract

To attract a gender diverse workforce, many employers use diversity statements to publicly signal that they value gender diversity. However, this often represents a misalignment between words and actions (i.e., a diversity mixed message) because most organizations are male dominated, especially in board positions. We conducted 3 studies to investigate the potentially indirect effect of such diversity mixed messages through perceived behavioral integrity on employer attractiveness. In Study 1, following a 2 × 2 design, participants (N = 225) were either shown a pro gender diversity statement or a neutral statement, in combination with a gender diverse board (4 men and 4 women) or a uniform all-male board (8 men). Participants’ perceived behavioral integrity of the organization was assessed. In Study 2, participants (N = 251) either read positive or negative reviews of the organization’s behavioral integrity. Employer attractiveness was then assessed. Study 3 (N = 427) investigated the impact of board gender composition on perceived behavioral integrity and employer attractiveness using a bootstrapping procedure. Both the causal-chain design of Study 1 and 2, as well as the significance test of the proposed indirect relationship in Study 3, revealed that a diversity mixed message negatively affected an organization’s perceived behavioral integrity, and low behavioral integrity in turn negatively impacted employer attractiveness. In Study 3, there was also evidence for a tipping point (more than 1 woman on the board was needed) with regard to participants’ perceptions of the organization’s behavioral integrity.

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