Research News

Vanderbilt faculty examine 60 years of research, illuminates key trends in discrimination and diversity in the workplace

A new Vanderbilt-led study has highlighted trends in research on discrimination and diversity in the workplace over the past 60 years. In a comprehensive review of articles published in Human Resource Management, María del Carmen Triana, professor of management at Owen Graduate School of Management, and a team of researchers examined how research into diversity in the workplace has morphed over time and provided suggestions for human resource managers.

María del Carmen Triana (Vanderbilt University)

“This review served as a unique opportunity for academics to examine the diversity practices that practitioners implement for their utility and usefulness so that there is a closer connection between research and practice,” said Triana, who holds the Cal Turner Chair in Moral Leadership.

The researchers found that sex and race are the demographics that have been examined the most by human resource research, while religion has been examined the least. Moreover, the number of studies examining lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees in the workplace has grown quickly in the past 10 years.

“The trends in research on diversity in the workplace closely mimic key societal movements,” Triana said. “By analyzing the last 60 years of studies in this field, we see a comprehensive timeline of the human resource policies implemented to support and protect certain demographics.”

The researchers found that earlier studies tended to focus on discrimination, while the more recent articles had a heavy emphasis on diversity and inclusion. “Early research advocated for mere tolerance of marginalized groups in the workplace. In more recent years, there has been an increased understanding of the value of a diverse workforce,” Triana said.

The researchers examined the historical contexts that could account for emphasis on human resource policies designed to protect certain demographics. For example, since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were passed, the areas of sex/gender and race/ethnicity received much attention in the literature, the researchers found. Moreover, studies analyzing the importance of hiring LGBTQ+ employees have increased over the past 10 years, in accordance with growing societal acceptance of issues such as marriage equality.

Beyond demographics, the researchers examined the frequency and depth of the different types of diversity initiatives that have been studied. For example, the researchers found that many articles examined diversity management strategies, such as work-life policies and recruitment initiatives. Alternatively, the researchers call for increased investment in research on newer topics such as diversity training and investigating the role that diversity in the upper echelons (boards, top management teams, CEOs) has on organizational dynamics.

The researchers also offer guidance to human resource managers to increase the value placed on diversity in their place of work. “In an era of Me Too, Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, companies across the globe realize that an important component of the HR system is to provide opportunities for underrepresented groups by eliminating discrimination and promoting fairness while designing practices that do not make majority groups feel threatened,” they said. In particular, the researchers advocate for the promoting and hiring of leaders who understand the value of a diverse workforce and the implementation of identity-conscious HR practices.

The research, “60 Years of Discrimination and Diversity Research in Human Resource Management: A Review with Suggestions for Future Research Directions,” was published in the January/February 2021 edition of Human Resource Management.