Prejudice Goes Unnoticed in Organizations, says New Research by Management Scholar

By Ed Moorhouse

Oscar Holmes IV

Oscar Holmes IV

While the emotionally charged conversation surrounding race continues across the country, an assistant professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden says many people fail to identify acts of prejudice when they are not overt, and he’s hoping a research chapter he co-authored brings those issues to light.

Oscar Holmes IV co-wrote “Racial Discrimination in Organizations,” which will appear in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook on Workplace Discrimination (Oxford University Press). In the chapter, Holmes and his research colleagues say not recognizing subtle forms of racism fails to acknowledge how racism has changed over time, which necessitates the need to also change the language we use in discussing racism.

“Even if people don’t see themselves as racist, we know that social identity information plays a role in the decisions some organizational leaders make,” the Rutgers University–Camden scholar says. “That’s the big elephant in the room.”

“It’s almost as though we recognize that racism exists in the world, but it goes on outside of the context of organizations,” Holmes says. “It’s as if once people enter the workplace, racism ceases to exist, but we know that’s not true. And making decisions based on social identity information such as race is not limited to white organizational leaders. Leaders of all races are influenced by social identity information and can make the same decisions.”

Holmes, who wrote the chapter with Derek Avery, a professor of human resources management at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, and Sabrina Volpone, an assistant professor of human resource management at the University of New Mexico, says modern, aversive, and symbolic (MAS) racism has harmful effects and can be much harder to prove, challenge, and resolve than traditional, overt racism.

“You no longer have to use racial slurs or be overtly racist to take actions that show prejudice against certain people,” Holmes says.

In the research chapter, Holmes and his colleagues write, “In an employment context, disparate treatment results when different standards are required for different social identity groups…For example, an employer requiring drug tests only of its racial minority job applicants as a condition of employment is disparate treatment. Then, an employer using a cognitive ability test that racial minorities systematically score lower on than majority group members is an example of adverse impact.”

Holmes says as pressures to appear unbiased have increased, other ways that express prejudices have manifested.

“Unfortunately, discrimination is evident in virtually every aspect of the employee lifecycle from pre-hire to fire,” he writes in the book chapter.

“If employees feel unfairness, they’ll feel excluded, and typically that leads to counterproductive behavior, which is a way employees will try to get back at the organization, or they’ll simply leave the organization,” Holmes says. “This is a piece that I hope contributes to the conversation and opens the door to allow people to talk more about the negative effects of MAS racism.”

A Cherry Hill resident, Holmes’s research interests include human resource management and organizational behavior, and he examines how leaders can maximize productivity and well-being by fostering more inclusive environments.

Holmes earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, master’s degrees from the University of Richmond and The University of Alabama, and his doctoral degree from The University of Alabama.

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