Damned If We Do: How Women And Minorities Get Penalized For Promoting Diversity

According to a new study, the best people to promote diversity in hiring are . . . white men?

Damned If We Do: How Women And Minorities Get Penalized For Promoting Diversity
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As Madeleine Albright famously intoned, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”


Many women and minorities who have worked hard to get in a position to make hiring and management decisions might feel the responsibility to pay it forward by promoting the efforts of others like them.

But a new and discouraging study from the University of Colorado found that women and non-white executives who push for other minority candidates to be hired and promoted suffer when it comes to their own performance reviews.

According to the study of 362 executives, from several industries, both groups end up being rated less highly by their bosses, and the assumptions about them echoed some of the most often heard stereotypes. According to a Wall Street Journal article about the study, “a woman who shepherds women up the ranks is perceived as less warm, while a non-white who promotes diversity is perceived as less competent.”

While it’s frustrating to hear such clichéd perceptions trotted out, there may be a sliver of legitimate concern in these bias: The study’s author speculates that the negative stereotyping is a result of perceived self-interest. This might explain in part why when white men promoted diversity in hiring and advancement they got a bump in their performance reviews.

Self-replicating in hiring, the tendency to hire and promote people who remind us of ourselves, has long been a pervasive issue in many companies, which is part of the reason why executive leadership looks so homogenous.

Still, statements in the study’s findings like, “People are perceived as selfish when they advocate for someone who looks like them, unless they’re a white man,” are infuriating for those struggling to change the ratio of women and minorities in leadership.


In essence, the only way women and minorities can be viewed as “strong” or “competent” is if they hire white men, while white men who hire others like them will be seen as just doing their jobs and praised if they promote diversity.

The only positive takeaway from the study is the need for white men to become a bigger part of diversity efforts. There is a lot of value in groups of like-minded women and minorities mentoring each other in navigating the career landscape, but no effort for increased diversity can exist without the help of those who still hold most of the positions of power.

Hat tip: WSJ

About the author

Kathleen Davis is a Senior Editor at, managing the leadership and work-life section. Previously, she has worked as an editor at, and Popular Photography magazine.