Bringing Identity To The Forefront: The Benefits Of Highlighting Identity And Diversity

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Operations & Information Management
audit experiments
prejudice reduction
Business Administration, Management, and Operations
Management Sciences and Quantitative Methods
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Kirgios, Erika Laura

Prior research overwhelmingly shows that when information about an individual’s marginalized identity is communicated inadvertently (via a name that signals gender or race, for example), that information tends to trigger prejudiced behavior. As a result, both conventional wisdom and extant research suggest that women and racial minorities should obscure or de-emphasize their minority status to reduce their likelihood of experiencing discrimination. In this work, I propose that women and racial minorities might instead benefit from strategically emphasizing their demographic identity. This approach has two potential benefits: when a person’s marginalized identity is made more salient, (1) the potential for discrimination on the basis of that identity is also more salient, so decision-makers may be more likely to avoid prejudiced behavior and (2) it highlights an opportunity to support marginalized people, which may appeal to those who want to engage in pro-diversity behaviors. I also investigate whether and why marginalized people strategically choose teams to emphasize their identity, and how organizations might leverage these insights to motivate pro-diversity behavior in their employees. In Chapter 1, I share evidence from two audit experiments—one with politicians and another with students—as well as an online experiment showing that women and racial minorities benefit from explicitly mentioning their demographic identity in requests for help (e.g., by including statements like “As a Black woman. . . ”). Politicians and students responded 24.4% and 79.6% more often, respectively, when help-seeking emails included an explicit mention of the sender’s marginalized identity. In Chapter 2, I find that when women and racial minorities expect to compete for a job or promotion, they’re more willing to be tokens because they think standing out based on their demographic identity will be strategically beneficial, suggesting that they intuit the benefits of highlighting identity that I establish in Chapter 1. In Chapter 3, I build on these insights in an audit experiment exploring how feedback about either discriminatory or pro-diversity behaviors in one’s professional ingroup influences subsequent prejudice. Returning to the population of city councilors in Study 1, I first deliver PSAs with negative feedback (evidence that city councilors discriminate against Black constituents) or positive feedback (evidence that city councilors support Black constituents who emphasize their identity) then measure subsequent response rates to Black vs. White male help-seekers. Receiving negative feedback does not influence responsiveness to Black men relative to receiving no feedback, but positive feedback induces a regression-estimated 36.3% increase in city councilors’ response rates to Black men. Positive feedback seems to create new descriptive norms for pro-diversity behavior that councilors are motivated to maintain. Together, my dissertation illuminates the previously unexplored benefits of strategically highlighting marginalized identity, diversity, and bias, suggesting that women and racial minorities don’t always need to obscure or hide their identity to succeed.

Katherine L. Milkman
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