Investigating Why and for Whom Management Ethnic Representativeness Influences Interpersonal Mistreatment in the Workplace

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Abstract

Preliminary research suggests that employees use the demographic makeup of their organization to make sense of diversity-related incidents at work. The authors build on this work by examining the impact of management ethnic representativeness—the degree to which the ethnic composition of managers in an organization mirrors or is misaligned with the ethnic composition of employees in that organization. To do so, they integrate signaling theory and a sense-making perspective into a relational demography framework to investigate why and for whom management ethnic representativeness may have an impact on interpersonal mistreatment at work. Specifically, in three complementary studies, the authors examine the relationship between management ethnic representativeness and interpersonal mistreatment. First, they analyze the relationship between management ethnic representativeness and perceptions of harassment, bullying, and abuse the next year, as moderated by individuals’ ethnic similarity to others in their organizations in a sample of 60,602 employees of Britain’s National Health Service. Second, a constructive replication investigates perceived behavioral integrity as an explanatory mechanism that can account for the effects of representativeness using data from a nationally representative survey of working adults in the United States. Third and finally, online survey data collected at two time points replicated these patterns and further integrated the effects of representativeness and dissimilarity when they are measured using both objective and subjective strategies. Results support the authors’ proposed moderated mediation model in which management ethnic representation is negatively related to interpersonal mistreatment through the mediator of perceived behavioral integrity, with effects being stronger for ethnically dissimilar employees.

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