Recruitment & Selection

Reducing Discrimination in Selection

Although great strides have been made in the past half-century to improve the representation of minority groups in the workplace, disparities still exist. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that men are 4 times more likely to hold a position at the highest levels of an organization than women. Additionally, white employees are 11 times more likely to hold a position of management than blacks and Latinos. Although there are many factors that contribute to these disparities (poverty, education, etc.), the failure of organizations to select and promote minority applicants is partly responsible for this gap. Despite the best intentions of the organization, if individuals who are responsible for hiring and promotion give preference to higher status groups – either intentionally or unintentionally – this trend will continue.

Social Dominance Orientation

Within most human societies, there is a social hierarchy in which some groups hold more power than others. Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is a tendency to support the social hierarchy in which some groups hold more social power and some groups hold less power. High SDO is associated with prejudice against low-status groups such as women, blacks, and Latinos. This can be problematic when employees high in SDO are responsible for hiring or promoting within organizations. These individuals may tend to prefer candidates of high-status groups, thus preserving the social hierarchy. Some individuals are higher in Social Dominance Orientation and some people are lower in SDO. People high in SDO are not necessarily members of a high status group. Minorities can also have high SDO. In a hiring context, a minority hiring manager with a high SDO may be just as likely to prefer a candidate from a high status group.

Directives from an Authority

Fortunately, organizations can use Social Dominance Orientation to their advantage. Because individuals high in SDO strongly support the social hierarchy, they tend to stringently follow directives from supervisors.  Recent research has shown that explicit instructions from an authority figure to focus on job qualifications during selection can mitigate high SDO employees’ failure to select qualified minority applicants.

Practical Advice

Failure to select a candidate based on his or her social status can potentially result in a number of undesirable outcomes for an organization. Some of these include the loss of a high-performing employee, absence of diversity within the organization, and possibly even legal issues resulting from discriminatory hiring practices. However, because individuals high in SDO tend to follow directives from supervisors, organizations can take action to reduce the probability of these outcomes. Some of these include:
  • Develop a list of specific job requirements for each position.
  • Ensure that employees responsible for hiring and promotion understand the qualifications for each job.
  • Implement written policies that support these initiatives and communicate these policies to employees.
These recommendations can help to counteract high SDO employees’ tendency to discriminate against qualified minority applicants.

Interpretation by:

Michelle Toelle

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Umphress, E. E., Simmons, A.L., Boswell, W. R., & Triana, M. (2008). Managing discrimination in selection: The influence of directives from an authority and social dominance orientation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(5), 982-993.