Effects of Manifest Ethnic Identification on Discrimination

Barron, L. G., Hebl, M., & King, E. B. (2011). Effects of manifest ethnic identification on employment discrimination Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 17(1), 23-30.

Laboratory studies conducted with fictitious targets have found higher levels of discrimination toward individuals who show signs of strong identification with an ethnic group. Barron, Hebl, and King (2011) tested these findings using a field study with actual interpersonal interactions.  The hypothesized that in a real world employment situation, employers would be concerned about impression management and would thus behave more positively with strongly identified individuals – who are perceived to have greater sensitivity to discriminatory behavior.  The authors manipulated level of ethnic identification by having their confederates wear baseball caps that were either blank or had ethnic identifiers (e.g., “Hispanic Student Association” or “Hispanic and Proud”).  The confederates were male and female, Black, Hispanic, and Irish, and they were not aware of which cap they were wearing.  The confederates used a memorized, standardized scrip in employment-related interactions with 217 store managers at seven different shopping malls.  An “observer” acting as a shopper made an audio recording of each interaction.  The stores were called ahead of time to confirm that they were currently hiring.  Several measures of the interaction between the confederate and the store manager were taken, including formal discrimination (e.g., whether the confederate given an application and interview), interaction quantity (the length of interaction in time and number of words), and the quality of the interaction (as assessed by a questionnaire completed by the confederate and the observer).  Results indicated that there were no significant differences between those who did and did not manifest their ethnic identity in terms of formal discrimination.  However, as hypothesized, the quantity and quality of the interaction was generally higher for those with the ethnic identifying caps.  Interestingly, this result did not hold for interactions between the confederates and same race/ethnicity store personnel.  In fact, strongly identified confederates were treated less positively in those interactions. The authors caution that findings from this brief, recruitment situation may not generalize to more sustained workplace interactions.

Making Connections

Ethnic identity
Field experiment
Impression management
Race and ethnicity

Media Supplement

For a discussion of manifest ethnic identification in the workplace, see Chandra Prasad’s article Exploring Culturally Specific Styles in the Workplace from Diversity Employers Careers Network.