Diversity programs are more important now than ever before, according to a new study by Eden King, assistant professor of psychology at George Mason University. King’s research found that during an economic downturn workplace discrimination tends to increase.
Additionally, those in hiring positions may be less likely to hire a minority job applicant during difficult economic times. Competition for fewer jobs and resources often forces minority groups to the outside, King says.
“The reality is, diversity programs and disadvantaged groups may be the first to go in times of economic uncertainty,” says King. “This causes real problems for people of socially disadvantaged groups.”
As part of their study, King and her team of researchers found that when white women and men were told that the economy might decline and were then asked to evaluate four equally qualified job candidates, they favored the white male candidate. When the group was told that the economy may be on an upswing, they chose the female Hispanic candidate.
"In good economic times, people know they are supposed to support diversity and will tend to hire a minority candidate to get affirmative action points," says King. "But when times are tough, people tend to look out for their own group and isolate outsiders, and that's when discrimination can begin to rear its ugly head."
King noted that managers and human resource professionals should approach prejudice in today’s unstable workplace with caution.
"They need to understand that the short-term solution of cutting diversity programs might ultimately end up costing them even more in the long-run."