Improving diversity in the workplace has become a salient goal in the modern age. To catch up to the times, many companies and colleges have pledged a commitment to diversity. Are these interventions increasing minority participation and belongingness, or are they bold claims without backing?

Valerie Purdie-Greenaway spoke on the diversity of psychology faculty in top-tier institutions. The goal of the research was the gender and ethnic diversity of faculty and graduate students at top research institutions.

Purdie-Greenaway mentioned that interventions work best when baseline data is understood. When interventions are done without that knowledge, gaps could actually widen and disparities continue to exist. In psychology faculty and graduate students, does a disparity exists? Are those faculty members’ specializations in psychology consistent with gender stereotypes in STEM fields?

Although women earn 75% of psychology doctorates, less than half of psychology faculty are women. Most discrepancies are at the senior level.

“There are biases at every single level of what goes into becoming a faculty member,” says Purdie-Greenaway, “We know at the level of outcomes, like promotion, and we know that there are gender disparities that go into evaluation tools. There is gender bias in decision-making. All of this sits on the shoulders of stereotyping research.”

In Cognitive, Neuropsychology, and Quantitative psychology, her research shows faculty were predominantly men, consistent with the hypotheses. Even in social psychology, which may fit into STEM stereotypes less, 57% of the faculty were men. This disparity is changing over time, but the slow rate of change is inconsistent with the number of women receiving psychology doctorates, suggesting the need for another kind of intervention.

L. Taylor Phillips at New York University’s Stern School observed the effects of social class on diversity in college. In her research, she looked at first-generation college students. She says that people often think of college as “The Great Equalizer,” and that simply getting students to go to college is the intervention to help students succeed.

However, policies focused on getting first-generation students into college may not help with keeping them there: first-generation college students are four times more likely to drop out.

Phillips posits that the “cultural mismatch theory” may be at play for first-generation college students. While many first-generation students have an interdependent theory of the self, and thus see themselves in the context of others, colleges tend to espouse an independent model of the self, which creates a cultural mismatch for students who have an interdependent orientation.

If college were truly a great equalizer, first-generation students would see improvement in their sense of belongingness over time. Does college change first-generation students’ attitudes, or does this cultural mismatch persist?

In her first study, first-generation students upon graduation continue to operate under an interdependent model and feel a lower subjective status even after college has ended.

In a second study, Phillips assessed college students at a private, elite, research university. She measured the students' motivations for attending college, sense of fit, subjective status, and GPA. First-generation students still reported lower GPAs until the end of college, as well as a lower sense of fit.

Phillips found that access to college was not the end-all-be-all of helping first-generation students. More nuanced interventions should be considered.

However, for first-generation students who were able to keep a high sense of fit in their first year, GPA and subjective status also grew. If there were a way to help curb cultural mismatch at the beginning of a first-generation student’s journey, perhaps the achievement gap could be closed.

Written by: Elisa Rapadas

Session: Improving Diversity in Organizations: Translating from Lab to Field held Friday, March 2, 2018

Speakers: Edward Chang (University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business), L. Taylor Phillips (New York University), Oriane Georgeac (London School of Business), Valerie Purdie-Greenaway (Columbia University)