The Push and Pull of Numeric Diversity Goals

Erika Kirgios, Operations, Information and Decisions, The Wharton School; Ike Silver, Marketing, The Wharton School; and Edward Chang, Harvard Business School

Abstract: Recent research suggests that diversity can provide a critical boost to organizational innovation. Indeed, organizations often espouse public goals to diversify their workforces, and past research has robustly shown that specific, quantified goals are more effective at motivating goal completion than ambiguous goals. As a result, past research would seem to prescribe that organizations should set quantified as opposed to ambiguous diversity goals, as specific goals should be more effective at increasing diversity. While we show that quantified diversity goals are indeed more effective than ambiguous diversity goals at leading people to choose to increase organizational diversity, we also show that quantified diversity goals have ironic and counterproductive effects. Specifically, prospective organizational members find quantified diversity goals significantly more aversive than ambiguous diversity goals, as majority group members feel threatened by specific goals and minority group members feel instrumentalized. These findings point to the tensions inherent in attempts to diversify organizations and may help explain the homogeneity and inequality that persist in many organizations. We examine how organizations should express their diversity goals to maximize the diversity and quality of their applicant pools in a series of lab studies and a large field experiment with real applicant data.