Workplace Diversity
Research Group


Congratulations to the recent graduates, Whitney Botsford, Ph.D. (2009), Katherine Ryan, Ph.D. (2010), and Lisa Gulick, Ph.D. (2010)!


Fall Semester 2012: Meetings every other Thursday at noon

Program of Research

The overarching goal of the Workplace Diversity Research Group is to provide empirical evidence guiding the equitable and effective management of diverse organizations. To do so, we have focused on the concept of stigma, which can be understood as an attribute that conveys a devalued social identity across most social contexts. It is from the perspective of stigma theory and its conceptualizations in social psychological research that this program of diversity research emerges. Because work largely defines an individual’s economic, social, and psychological standing, it is a critical context in which to examine the emergence of stigmatization. Our research integrates social and organizational psychology to examine three primary themes regarding diversity: 1) current manifestations of discrimination in organizations, 2) consequences of such bias for its targets and their workplaces, and 3) individual and organizational strategies for the reduction of discrimination.





Current Doctoral Student Advisees

Veronica Gilrane
Kristen Jones
Tracy McCausland
Afra Ahmad
Amanda Anderson

Alex Lindsay
Isaac Sabaat










































































Theme 1: Manifestations of Stigma at Work

To build an understanding of stigmatization, it is important to first consider the challenges faced by stigmatized targets. My research has determined that traditional forms of overt discrimination have been replaced by subtle, more covert manifestations. In one study, confederates in an experimental field study asked retail store personnel to help them find a gift. Further, these confederates were sometimes wearing an obesity prosthesis (i.e., “a fat suit”). Evaluations of the interactions between confederates and store personnel by the confederates themselves, experiment observers, and coders of the audio recordings suggest that when shoppers appeared to be obese, they were as likely as non-obese shoppers to be greeted and offered items upon request. However, obese shoppers faced subtle discrimination in the form of decreased eye contact, unfriendliness, and hostility. These findings suggest that obese individuals face covert, rather than overt, discrimination (King, Shapiro, Hebl, Singletary, & Turner, 2006). Using a parallel methodology, I found that job applicants received more negative interpersonal treatment (but not formal aspects of discrimination) when they appeared to be Muslim (i.e., wearing a hijab and abayya) than when they did not (King & Ahmad, 2010).

My research shows that gender discrimination is also manifested in subtle ways. For example, gender discrimination can emerge as a component of the climate of organizations (King, Hebl, George, & Matusik, 2010). In this study, we found that women who were underrepresented in their organizations tended to believe that the norms, policies, and procedures of their organizations were inequitable for women. This research ultimately indicates that bias may be communicated to stigmatized individuals through organizational climate. As another example of this subtle bias, I examined potential gender differences in the quantity and quality of developmental work experiences in a series of studies (King, Botsford, Hebl, Kazama, Dawson, & Perkins, in press). While a sample of managers in the energy industry (and a sample of managers in the health care industry) reported participating in similar amounts of developmental experiences with comparable support and positive feedback from their supervisors, men experienced more challenging experiences and received more negative feedback than women. In addition, the results of two complementary experiments suggested that male participants who were high in benevolent sexism (a form of sexism based on paternalistic ideologies) recommended more challenging assignments for male targets than for female targets, but that men and women were equally likely to choose to participate in challenging experiences. Taken together, these results suggest that stereotype-based beliefs that “women should be protected” are manifested in women’s receipt of less challenging developmental opportunities. This partially explains the underrepresentation of women at the highest levels of organizations.

In addition to broad gender issues, I have a particular interest in the experiences of pregnant women and new mothers. In a theoretical paper, I argued that managing the physiological and psychological demands of pregnancy with workplace responsibilities is a critical challenge facing many women (King & Botsford, 2009). Indeed, my research suggests that discrimination towards women may be manifested through the devaluation of motherhood. A study examining the experiences of ostensibly pregnant job applicants suggested that they received more hostile reactions (and less benevolent reactions) than did non-pregnant applicants or pregnant women who were shopping (Hebl, King, Glick, Singletary, & Kazama, 2007).

These challenges extend beyond pregnancy to motherhood; my research suggests that being a parent supports the success of men and inhibits the success of women (King, Botsford, & Huffman, 2010). These findings suggest that working mothers might face discrimination in the form of tougher standards than those placed on fathers and individuals without children. In addition, data from supervisor-subordinate dyads suggested that, even after controlling for mothers’ self-reports, supervisors perceive mothers to be less involved in and committed to work and to desire advancement less than fathers (King, 2009). With the support of an Early Career Award from the Sloan Foundation, I am building on these studies of pregnant women and new mothers by collecting weekly survey data from a sample of 100 women over the course of their pregnancies and 6 months after the birth of their child. In this way, I will explore their experiences of discrimination and work-pregnancy conflict in relation to organizational policies and individual difference variables, as well as mental and physical health symptoms.

Extending these individual-level analyses, I have begun to consider manifestations of stigma at the level of the group. In a review of research on the influence of group diversity on the processes of conflict and cooperation, I determined that recent attempts to reconcile inconsistent findings have neglected important aspects of intergroup interactions (King, Hebl, & Beal, 2009). As such, we have developed a theory regarding the role of metaperceptive concerns (i.e., worries about how one appears to others) in diverse workgroups (King, Kaplan, & Zaccaro, 2008) that we are currently in the process of testing empirically. Stigmatization is typically an interpersonal process and thus has important implications for groups that I will continue to explore.

In summary, my research provides converging evidence that stigmatized individuals encounter subtle forms of discrimination. As such, adverse impact analyses, demographic statistics, and formal reports of discriminatory behaviors may not completely capture contemporary manifestations of stigma. Thus, my research emphasizes the need for researchers and practitioners to reconsider the manner in which discrimination is conceptualized, assessed, and investigated in organizations.

Theme 2: Consequences of Stigmatization at Work

The evolution of discrimination into subtle forms might be considered an improvement from its traditional, overt manifestations. However, my research shows that even subtle manifestations of stigma have meaningful consequences for individuals and organizations. For example, my work (King, Hebl, George, & Matusik, 2010) demonstrates that gender discrimination is linked with negative job attitudes such as decreased job satisfaction and organizational commitment, as well as increased stress and intentions to quit. In addition, ongoing research in my lab suggests that gender discrimination can create hostility between women (Ryan, King, Adis, Gulick, & Peddie, under revision). As a whole, these studies show that discrimination can impact stigmatized individuals’ job-related attitudes.

My work has also shown that fears about the possibility of encountering stigmatization can affect interpersonal outcomes. With the support of a Wayne Placek grant from the American Psychological Foundation, I conducted an experience sampling study of the identity management experiences and outcomes of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers (King, Mohr, Peddie, Kendra, & Jones, in prep). Participants completed brief surveys every time they thought about concealing or revealing their sexual orientation at work. The results suggest that opportunities to reveal one’s identity can have positive effects on workers’ moods, while feeling that one must conceal an identity has negative implications for the quality of interpersonal interactions. Moreover, this study showed that there is substantial within-person variability in the experience of identity management, suggesting that the global or person-level traditional approach to identity management has overlooked situation-specific attributes that contribute to the experiences of stigmatized individuals at work.

Importantly, my research also demonstrates that discrimination can impact financial outcomes. For example, I found that the experience of subtle forms of discrimination negatively affected how much money people spend in retail stores (King, Shapiro, Hebl, Singletary, & Turner, 2006). Additionally, my colleagues and I found that trainees who were believed to be obese received poorer training and performed worse on the trained task than trainees who were believed to be average-weight (Shapiro, King, & Quiñones, 2007). Finding that stigma influences the quality and transfer of training is particularly important because training programs could otherwise function to ‘level the playing field’ by offering employees the opportunity to acquire job knowledge and skills.

At the level of the organization, my research suggests that particular demographic profiles can lead to disrespectful treatment of (incivility toward) stakeholders (King, Dawson, West, Gilrane, Peddie, & Bastin, under revision). Specifically, analyses of patient surveys, census data, and formal performance ratings of over 300 hospitals suggest that the extent to which the demographic profile of a hospital is misaligned with the demographic composition of the community it serves leads to incivility toward patients. Moreover, the extent to which patients reported experiencing this disrespectful treatment was detrimental for the performance of the organization as a whole.

The results of these studies provide strong, tangible evidence of the implications of subtle discrimination for individuals and organizations. Such evidence can be used to support efforts to improve the management of diversity in the workplace. Accordingly, my research also strives to guide efforts to improve the experiences of diverse individuals at work.

Theme 3: Strategies for Remediating Stigmatization at Work

To date, my research suggests that discrimination is manifested in covert, interpersonal ways, and that this subtle discrimination can influence bottom-line outcomes including job attitudes, behaviors, and performance. Given these findings, it is critical for organizational scholars to develop and assess strategies that reduce or eliminate the occurrence and consequences associated with discrimination. Thus, my research has begun to address the important issue of strategies for the remediation of stigmatization from the perspective of targets and the organizations in which they work.

Although the burden of discrimination reduction should not lie solely with its victims, my research has considered strategies that targets of stigma can utilize to proactively improve their treatment. Such strategies include, but are not limited to: 1) addressing justifications for prejudice, 2) acknowledging stigmatized identities, and 3) engaging in compensatory behaviors (King & Botsford, 2009). One strategy that stigmatized targets might utilize to reduce discrimination is to address justifications for the expression of prejudice. Social norms dictate that it is generally unacceptable to discriminate against most stigmatized groups. However, if a justification exists for prejudice, discrimination will emerge. For example, observers may feel justified in discriminating against those who they feel are responsible for, or should be able to control, their condition (e.g., overweight individuals). Consonant with this rationale, we found that discrimination was reduced when obese confederates addressed such justifications for prejudice by claiming to be dieting and exercising (King, Shapiro, Hebl, Singletary, & Turner, 2006). In addition, confederates who appeared to be Muslim, but addressed the stereotype that Muslims lack warmth, received more positive treatment than those who did not address the stereotype (King & Ahmad, in press). These results confirm the expectation that stigmatized targets might reduce discrimination by addressing justifications that others hold for prejudice.

Similarly, stigmatized individuals might alleviate discrimination by openly acknowledging their identity. For example, the process of “coming out” can be considered an acknowledgment of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) identity. Research suggests that openly discussing sexual identity at work can reduce the discrimination encountered by LGB employees (Hebl, King, & Law, 2006). In addition, acknowledgement of an ethnic minority identity can have positive outcomes under some conditions (Barron, Hebl, & King, in press). However, I found that the timing and directness of such disclosure should be considered carefully in an effort to elicit positive outcomes (King, Reilly, Hebl, & Griffith, 2008).

Targets of stigma might also try to compensate for prejudice by putting extra effort into their work. In other words, targets of discrimination might actively try to overcome biased performance evaluations or promotion decisions. However, my research suggests that improvements in performance might not counteract the discrimination faced by stigmatized individuals (King, Mendoza, Madera, Hebl, & Knight, 2006). In other words, the negative effects of stereotyping and prejudice may overshadow the compensation behaviors of stigmatized individuals. Mixed findings regarding the efficacy of individual remediation strategies highlights the need for increased attention to these and other possible methods for discrimination reduction.

Exclusive focus on individual strategies for remediation is inherently problematic because it implies that stigmatized individuals are to blame for the discrimination that they face. Furthermore, both top-down and bottom-up processes are necessary for change. Thus, I have begun to examine strategies that organizations can employ to improve the experiences of stigmatized employees.

Organizational efforts to ensure equal treatment may take the form of informal climate initiatives and/or formal organizational policies and practices. My research suggests that both forms can help to reduce discrimination. With regard to the former, in a sample of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) workers, we found that support from coworkers, supervisors, and the organization as a whole is an important predictor of whether LGB individuals were “out” at work, and whether they had generally positive attitudes about their jobs (Huffman, Watrous, & King, 2008). With regard to the latter, we found that requiring decision-makers to elaborate on the rationale (i.e., think systematically about the reasons) for their ratings of male and female targets of various ethnic backgrounds reduced bias in their selection decisions (Elder, Botsford, & King, in prep).

Another formal organizational policy that is of practical and theoretical importance is diversity training. The implementation of diversity training is a commonly espoused, but virtually untested, organizational strategy for diversity management. Organizations often institute such programs in response to litigation concerns without careful attention to their development. My research contributes to an understanding of diversity training by testing its effectiveness as a function of individual and contextual factors. Specifically, I have found that sexual harassment training programs are most effective for men who have flexible attitudes (Kearney, Rochlen, & King, 2004). In addition, we have found that the extent to which organizations implement training can reduce perceptions of discrimination over time (King, Dawson, Kravitz, & Gulick, under revision). Thus, my research indicates that carefully designed training can improve the experiences of diverse individuals in organizations.

Impact and Future Directions           

In summary, my research seeks to help diverse individuals, groups, and organizations overcome barriers to equality. This body of work reflects depth in its contribution to scholarship on diversity. Evidence of the impact of my program of research can be derived through the impact factors (when available) of the journals in which it appears: these score range from .4 to 26.3, with an average impact factor of 3.49. In addition, since my first article appeared in 2004, my work has been cited over 250 times (an average of over 40 citations per year). My work has also been cited in popular media outlets including The New York Times, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360, and the CBS Evening News.

In addition, this body of work reflects breadth in the diversity of perspectives that are considered, which include women, ethnic minorities, obese individuals, disabled individuals, pregnant women, and LGB individuals. The breadth of this research is also evident in the journals in which it appears, which span organizational and social psychology, such as Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personnel Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. This program of research also reflects consideration of multiple levels of analysis. My research has considered not only the perspective of individual targets of stigma and of individuals who enact stigmatization, but also the group processes that affect and are influenced by group-level diversity. I have studied organizational-level programs, practices, and policies (e.g., same-sex partner benefits, mentoring programs, diversity training programs) that organizations can institute to improve the workplace experiences of diverse workers. Some of my most recent work is examining community-level demography as a determinant of the respect that diverse patients receive in health care settings. In addition, a new direction in my research is the exploration of intra-individual experiences and outcomes among stigmatized workers (specifically, LGB people and pregnant women). Finally, this work integrates multiple methodological approaches, including survey research, longitudinal survey research, experimental research, experience sampling studies, and experimental field research, which together offer triangulating evidence regarding the experiences of stigmatized workers. It is my hope that this program of research will continue to inform the science and practice of diversity management