The Dangers of Focusing on Diversity

Do you know how to make African American’s perform poorly on a test? Just make the first question “What is your race?”

Now I realize that the above statement sounds horrible and it is terribly politically incorrect, but it is the actual results of the experiment below. It suggests that we may be hindering people’s performance by focusing on race in areas where it irrelevant.

In “Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans” by Steele, Claude M. and Aronson, Joshua (Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 1995 Nov Vol 69(5) 797-811) researchers found that blacks from Stanford performed better on a set of SAT questions if they were not asked about their race. The differences were not slight. The group that was not asked to record their race scored 7.7 while the group that was asked to record their race only scored 4.4. This means that on average, participants did 42% worse when race was somehow a factor than when it was not.

If putting an emphasis on race can so drastically alter performance in a test, what impact does it have in the work place? I’ve seen a lot of organizations who put tremendous amounts of effort into “creating diversity”. Generally this means they are trying to hire more black people. I’m sure this is done with good intentions, but is it possible that this focus is actually hurting people in a way similar to experiment above?

In most situations, if an organization is focused on the race of their employees, there is little positive that can result. Granted, there are areas where racism still exists, but in many places an undue focus on avoiding racism is what prevents companies from moving to a state where the color of your skin isn’t something that is even noticed.


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