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Anti-Racism Grant Funds Targeted Recruitment Messaging Research

By Julie Carle

A 2021 SIOP Anti-Racism Grant helped a research team study messaging strategies to improve the targeted recruitment of Black Americans in organizations.

The team of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis psychology faculty members, led by Dr. Veronica Derricks, set out to identify messaging techniques that can effectively engage prospective Black employees without eliciting feelings of being tokenized. An abstract of their proposal, Reevaluating the Target: Developing Messaging Strategies to Improve the Targeted Recruitment of Black Americans in Organizations, is available.

In response to recent social events such as George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers, Derricks said, “Many organizations have recognized their own role in perpetuating racism and made commitments to address racism by increasing the targeted recruitment of Black employees.

“However, despite organizations’ efforts to recruit racially diverse employees, they often lack features such as adequate representation that are needed to signal that the organization values people who look like them.”

The IUPUI team includes Derricks, assistant professor of psychology; Dr. Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, professor of psychology and head of the I-O psychology program; Dr. India Johnson, associate professor of psychology; and Dr. Eva Pietri, formerly assistant professor of psychology at IUPUI, now an associate professor at University of Colorado Boulder.

The project’s focus was twofold: investigating whether organizational recruitment appeals targeting Black Americans backfire by activating concerns about being tokenized and evaluating the effectiveness of recruitment messages designed to reduce concerns about tokenism.

Three online experiments using Prolific Academic provided the data for the team’s initial findings. Across the three studies, Black Americans were told to imagine that they were considering a position at a fictitious company and were asked to evaluate a job posting from the company.

In Study 1, Black Americans were randomized to one of two conditions: targeted job posting—which made a direct appeal to increase the number of Black employees at the organization— or a nontargeted job posting—which made an appeal to increase the number of full-time employees at the organization.

According to Derricks, participants who saw the targeted job posting reported:

  • Increased concerns about being tokenized at the organization
  • Decreased feelings of trust and comfort in the organization
  • Lower anticipated belonging in the organization
  • Reduced organizational attraction, and
  • Decreased intentions to remain at the organization.

The targeted job posting produced worse outcomes for Black Americans due to increased concerns about being tokenized at the organization

Study 2 investigated whether Black Americans’ negative responses to the targeted job posting would be attenuated when the organization noted that they were taking actions to address the low representation of Black employees by implementing a recruitment and retention plan to have at least 30% Black employees at the company and at least 15% in leadership positions. Three conditions were presented at random to participants: nontargeted posting, targeted posting without actions, and targeted posting with actions (noting the implementation of a recruitment and retention plan).

Findings were similar to Study 1, indicating that implementing actions to increase racial representation may not be sufficient to overcome the negative effects of race-based targeting.

Black Americans who saw the targeted posting without actions reported increased concerns about being tokenized relative to the nontargeted posting.

The Black Americans who saw the targeted posting with actions were less likely to report concerns; however, they still reported significantly stronger concerns about tokenism than participants who saw the nontargeted job posting.

Taking up where Study 2 left off, Study 3 added an action to enhance climate by implementing a zero-tolerance discrimination policy and conducting an internal review to ensure that all employees are paid equitably.

Study 3 revealed that a targeted job posting that included actions to improve racial representation and organizational climate showed some benefits; however, Black Americans still reported increased concerns about being tokenized, documenting the robust consequences associated with leveraging targeted appeals.

“Taken together, these studies demonstrate that exposure to targeted job advertisements undermine Black Americans’ feelings of inclusion and produce more negative evaluations of the organization due to increased concerns about being tokenized in the setting,” Derricks said.

Adding actions to a job posting to address issues of racial representation and organizational climate offered some benefits but it failed to improve Black Americans’ organizational outcomes relative to a nontargeted job posting.

The funds from the grant allowed the team to collect pilot data that will be used in future grant submissions and to develop this important line of research. Some of the findings were used as pilot data for a National Science Foundation submission that is currently under review. They plan to develop an antiracism curriculum to improve Black and Latinx college students’ perceptions of instructor allyship behaviors and identify when the behaviors are likely to backfire.

Future studies will be conducted to identify additional consequences of viewing targeted advertisements. They also will test whether providing a rationale for the targeted recruitment of Black employees improves organizational outcomes.

In 2020, SIOP initiated the Anti-Racism Grant opportunity, which was aimed at enlarging the understanding of racism in the workplace, its causes, and its reduction. Of the 35 proposals submitted in the first year, 5 were funded. A second round of grants was offered and awarded in 2021. This update is the third in a series highlighting winners of the SIOP Anti-Racism Grants. You can read the first here and the second here.

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