While aware of the fact that workplace diversity has several underlying benefits, it is still a controversial topic for most employers. But how multiracial should an organization be to fit the bill of a truly diverse company? The answer to that question, respectively, may depend on each person’s perception of  race, according to a new research to be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The research was a collaborative effort between the University of California at Irvine, the University of Virginia, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Previous research has concluded that workplace diversity leads to increased trust, feelings of being connected, safe, and socially satisfied. In a diverse environment, minority employees also feel that they have the same opportunities as others to grow in an organization.

How people perceive diversity?

The first and second studies found that seeing members of one’s own race in a group, also called in-group representation, increased perception of diversity even when the number of racial groups and number of racial minority group members was held constant. For example, Asian Americans perceived more diversity in a group that included Whites and Asian Americans than a group that included Whites and African Americans. African Americans rated a group with Whites and African Americans as more diverse than one with Whites and Asian Americans.

Studies 2 and 3 showed that concerns of discrimination make people especially aware of whether their race is being represented in a group or not. Having a preconceived notion about discrimination also affected one’s perception, as was found in study 2. This study showed that in-group representation had a larger effect on diversity judgments made by Asian

Americans who considered national statistics about discrimination against Asian Americans before judging diversity than those who did not. Also, the idea of being discriminated against disappeared when Asian Americans first considered national statistics about discrimination against African Americans. For such people a team of Whites and African Americans was about as diverse as a team of Whites and Asians. Study 3 measured concerns about diversity and showed that it mediated the relation between team composition and diversity judgments. 

The above studies highlighted the fact that different races perceive diversity differently and in-group representation was more important to African-Americans than Asian-Americans.  Also, in-group representation was equally important for African Americans regardless of whether they considered discrimination against African Americans, Asian Americans, or did not consider discrimination before judging diversity.

The researchers highlight the fact that these views on diversity should be taken into account by policy makers and managers as the country becomes a melting pot of diversity. "Racial minority group members care whether or not members of their own race are part of a team. While the presence of other minority groups is better than no diversity at all, it's not the same as having someone of your own race present," Dr. Christopher Bauman, lead researcher, says in a statement."You can't lump racial minority groups together and treat them as a monolithic whole. Each racial group has its own history and faces unique challenges, and it should not be surprising that they approach situations differently." 

Understanding how individuals view diversity in the workplace is the need of the hour rather than simply determining the versatility of races in an organization. And while most companies shy away from revealing their statistics, Google disclosed the racial diversity of its workforce as being 61% White, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic, and 2% Black, earlier this year, in May. While Google says that it would like to have more diversity, public acknowledgement of this fact may be a torchbearer for other organizations to be more inclusive in their hiring processes.

Source: Bauman C, Trawalter S, Unzueta, M, Diverse According to Whom? Racial Group Membership and Concerns about Discrimination Shape Diversity Judgments, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,2014.