Attitudes towards Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity in the workplace
by Deborah Bell

As Vice President, Consulting, Deborah conducts assessments, manages consulting projects, and designs and delivers custom solutions. She enjoys building relationships with her clients and uncovering their needs so she can serve as a trusted adviser and business partner.

A large body of research has shown that personality is a powerful predictor of pretty much any outcome that should be of great interest and value to an organization.  A partial list of such outcomes:

  • job performance
  • organizational citizenship behavior 
  • counterproductive work behavior
  • turnover
  • employee engagement
  • job satisfaction
  • burnout 
  • creativity 
  • leadership effectiveness   

A recent study¹ has added to the above list, showing that personality is also a strong predictor of attitudes towards workplace diversity.  

Personality Predictors of Attitudes toward Workplace Diversity

The study found:

  • Agreeableness and Openness had large relationships with Universal Diversity Orientation, which consists of an individual’s overall beliefs and attitudes towards diversity (e.g., how important it is to be around different types of peoples and cultures).
  • Agreeableness was a powerful predictor of having Pro-Diversity Beliefs, which measures how positively people respond to diversity practices in the workplace.
  • Agreeableness also predicted having positive attitudes to both existing workplace initiatives and future workplace initiatives (e.g., using preferred pronouns, attending diversity trainings, inclusive bathroom signs).  A deeper dive into the results showed that the predictive power of Agreeableness was primarily driven by the Compassion Aspect, which consists of feelings of concern for the well-being of others.
Diversity at Work

Practical Implications:   

Because personality is such a strong predictor of so many outcomes, a measure based on the Big Five or HEXACO model should already be part of your system for employee selection and development.  Knowing where an individual falls on these two domains, especially Agreeableness, has several practical implications. 

  1. Individuals who are lower in O and, especially A, are likely to be less receptive to DEI efforts and will benefit from having such initiatives framed differently.  This is because research has shown that people tend to be more responsive to messages that are congruent with their personality.  For those lower in O and/or A, the initiative may need to be tied into how it will help to uphold the company’s tradition of valuing community and culture, how it ties into profitability, or even more directly, how it will benefit them personally.

  2. Those who are high in both A and O are more likely be champions of DEI who will be more engaged in such initiatives. Inviting these individuals to participate in relevant committees or to help serve as advocates who can get others on board may help with the creation of valuable ideas and support.

  3. If problems are noticed with an individual’s behavior towards DEI initiatives, knowing where they stand on A and O can be helpful in determining what type of an intervention may be needed.  For example, if someone who is displaying problem behavior is low on O and A, they will require more intensive development (especially if they are low on both), as the issues are being caused by a core aspect of who they are.

  4.  Given that low Agreeableness is associated with a range of negative other negative outcomes, organizations should think carefully about hiring individuals who have notably low scores on this domain, especially for higher level leadership roles. If such individuals are hired, it is better to be proactive and provide them with more intensive coaching and development to help to avoid possible issues.

¹  Lall-Trail, S. F., Salter, N. P., & Xu, X. (2023). How personality relates to attitudes toward diversity and workplace diversity initiatives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 49(1), 66–80  

Read More about the power of personality…

The Predictive Power of Personality
Fostering Inclusion
Building Culture with OCBs
Leadership Development
by Deborah Bell

Motivating People to Act with More Integrity

Most people report that Integrity is an important value that is part of an individual’s character.  Fewer people may know that personality traits influence a person’s character and predict acts of Integrity (and low integrity) well.  One set of these traits falls under the Honesty/Humility domain in the HEXECO model of personality (which is subsumed […]

Read More
Hiring Best Practices
by Deborah Bell

Hybrid Leadership Fundamentals

Research-Based Model of Effective Hybrid Leadership An Associate Professor of Management at the George Washington School of Business and her colleagues conducted a metanalysis including over 3 decades of research on virtual leadership1.  This research served as the basis for what they termed the CAARE Model.  In this piece we summarize the components defined by […]

Read More