The Consequences of Prosocial Signals That Leak Political Information for Job-Seekers

Aneesh Rai, PhD Candidate, The Wharton School

Abstract: Diversity can be a powerful force for driving innovation in organizations. Diverse teams can leverage new perspectives and information when their members come from a variety of backgrounds. However, the tremendous rise in political partisanship in the United States may have negative consequences for such forms of diversity in the workplace. Every day, job-seekers submit applications containing signals such as quotes, preferred pronouns, and affiliations that may intentionally or unintentionally leak information about their political ideology. Past research suggests that adding explicit cues of partisanship may be harmful for job-seekers. However, given the rise of political sectarianism in the United States, even ostensibly prosocial signals on a job application—like including one’s preferred pronouns, or listing volunteer experience at a local church—may instead be interpreted through a political lens and have unintended consequences (e.g., listing preferred pronouns might be used to interpret that a job-seeker is especially liberal). In my dissertation research, I will explore whether job-seekers use these signals in a sophisticated or naïve fashion with respect to the political information that leaks through. I will also examine how employers respond to job-seekers who include such signals in their applications.