Diversity Thresholds: How Social Norms, Visibility, and Scrutiny Relate to Group Composition

64 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2019

See all articles by Edward Chang

Edward Chang

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Operations & Information Management Department, Students

Katherine L. Milkman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Dolly Chugh

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; New York University (NYU) - Department of Management and Organizational Behavior

Modupe Akinola

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Date Written: March 11, 2019

Abstract

Across a field study and four experiments, we examine how social norms and scrutiny affect decisions about adding members of underrepresented populations (e.g., women, racial minorities) to groups. When groups are scrutinized, we theorize that decision makers strive to match the diversity observed in peer groups due to impression management concerns, thereby conforming to the descriptive social norm. We examine this first in the context of U.S. corporate boards where firms face pressure to increase gender diversity. Analyses of S&P 1500 boards reveal that significantly more boards include exactly two women (the descriptive social norm) than would be expected by chance. This overrepresentation of two-women boards–a phenomenon we call “twokenism”–is more pronounced among more visible companies, consistent with our theorizing around impression management and scrutiny. Experimental data corroborate these findings and provide support for our theoretical mechanism: decision makers are discontinuously less likely to add a woman to a board once it includes two women (the social norm), and decision makers’ likelihood of adding a woman or minority to a group is influenced by the descriptive social norms and scrutiny faced. Together, these findings provide a new perspective on the persistent underrepresentation of women and minorities in organizations.

Keywords: diversity, gender, race, social norms, board of directors, thresholds

Suggested Citation

Chang, Edward and Milkman, Katherine L. and Chugh, Dolly and Akinola, Modupe, Diversity Thresholds: How Social Norms, Visibility, and Scrutiny Relate to Group Composition (March 11, 2019). Columbia Business School Research Paper Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3350772 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3350772

Edward Chang (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Operations & Information Management Department, Students ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Katherine L. Milkman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Dolly Chugh

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

New York University (NYU) - Department of Management and Organizational Behavior ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

Modupe Akinola

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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