In today's diverse world, organizations work diligently to foster inclusivity and attract talent from underrepresented groups. One of the key things they can do is to write clear statements that communicate their commitment to diversity. These statements, though, can take many forms.

Recently, my colleagues and I wondered: what happens when these statements tap into people's emotions?

Understanding Emotions as a Persuasion Tool

Picture this: Someone passionately conveys their concerns using emotional language. This can evoke one of two responses in you. First, you might recognize that the issue must be very significant to them. This is a simple logical interpretation of the person's use of more emotional words. Second, you might "catch" the person's emotions, feeling the same emotions as them. That is, their emotional message stirs your own emotions.

Both of these processes—the logical and the emotional—can impact your thoughts, opinions, and behaviors. The more emotionally charged a message, the greater its influence may be. So, what happens when diversity statements use emotional language? Is this the best strategy for conveying an organization's genuine commitment to diversity?

Dissecting Diversity Statements

We started our research journey by exploring the world of organizational diversity statements in Europe. We analyzed diversity statements from 600 European organizations. These organizations included manufacturing, insurance, and consumer services companies, among others. We processed the statements using language analysis tools that specialize in detecting the tone of someone's words and the emotion conveyed by them. For example, words like "passionate" and "wholeheartedly" pack more of an emotional punch than "truly" or "fortunate."

Surprisingly, while most of the organizations had a diversity statement, only 67% of them applied some degree of emotionality in their statements. It seems that organizations tend to avoid highly emotional words when expressing their commitments to diversity.

In a second study, we asked 220 participants from the UK to read one of the diversity statements from our first study. This was an actual diversity statement from a real organization whose words conveyed either a high or low level of positive emotion. Afterwards, we asked participants about their perceptions of the organization, including how attractive they found it and the extent to which they believed the organization valued diversity. Surprisingly, the emotion in the statements didn't seem to matter. People who read more emotional diversity statements did not come away with a more favorable impression of the organization, on average. Did this mean that emotion isn't as persuasive as we thought? We decided to give it one more test.

Passion is Key

We thought emotion could still be a useful strategy, but maybe the diversity statements we found were just too timid. So, in our final study, we conducted a more controlled experiment involving 815 participants from the UK. We took some of the diversity statements we found originally and tweaked them, creating some highly emotional statements by boosting the emotional language and creating some minimally emotional statements by softening the emotional language. For example, a part of one highly emotional statement said, "We love that you are different, and we value it." and a minimally emotional statement said, "We appreciate that you are different, and we value it." We also created a neutral message that stripped any emotional words away, "We know that you are different, and we value it."

Now, when we asked participants to evaluate the organizations after reading their statements, the results clearly supported the power of emotion. People had more favorable impressions of organizations that used highly emotional diversity statements. This positive response was primarily due to the positive emotions triggered in readers. In other words, readers reported experiencing more positive emotions after reading a diversity statement with high positive emotionality, resulting in more favorable impressions of the organization. This underscores the importance of strong emotional cues in fostering positive attitudes toward the organization.

Our research highlights an intriguing revelation—most European organizations have yet to harness the potential of positive emotionality in their diversity statements. Should they choose to incorporate emotional cues, they should employ emotionally charged language to enhance their appeal. The use of potent emotional signals can boost an organization's allure and authenticate its commitment to diversity. In our increasingly diverse world, this approach can help organizations stand out and create a lasting, positive impact on their employees, their stakeholders, and society as a whole.

For Further Reading

Krivoshchekov, V., Graf, S., & Sczesny, S. (2023). Passion is key: High emotionality in diversity statements promotes organizational attractiveness. British Journal of Social Psychology.

Dover, T. L., Kaiser, C. R., & Major, B. (2020). Mixed signals: The unintended effects of diversity initiatives. Social Issues and Policy Review,14(1), 152–181.

van Kleef, G. A., & Côté, S. (2022). The social effects of emotions. Annual Review of Psychology, 73(1), 629–658.

Vladislav Krivoshchekov is a PhD Candidate at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He is interested in masculinities and how language cues shape attitudes toward others.