Some Black Managers Biased Toward Lighter-Skinned Employees

Racial prejudice is a problem in many companies. But there's a subtler variation called colorism in which people give favor or discriminate against others depending on their skin tone. You might think that managers who had likely experienced racial prejudice wouldn't embrace a variation on what had been done to them.

According to researchers from the City University of New York's Baruch College, that is often exactly what happens. African-Americans who have a psychological predisposition to an existing social hierarchy exhibited "discriminatory résumé ratings, salary decisions, and hiring decisions in favor of lighter-skinned, Black job applicants," according to an abstract of a recent study.

The key factor is social dominance orientation, or SDO, which is a psychological inclination to support an existing social hierarchy. Existing research has shown that "Whites have much higher SDOs than Blacks and Latinos [according to the existing body of research]," doctoral student Tiwi Marira, one of the co-authors of the study, told AOL Jobs. "I was surprised that there was enough SDO among Blacks that we could predict prejudice."

As the level of SDO increased in the subjects, so too did the likelihood that they would hire lighter-skinned African Americans over darker-skinned African Americans. They would also give lighter-skinned people higher resumé ratings and higher starting salaries.

"We tried to measure the skin tone of participants too," Marira said. Subjects would be given a self-reporting scale and choose the skin tone they thought most represented their own. "We found that skin tone of participants was not predictive of whether they were [biased] by skin tone." Darker-skinned participated could just as easily display bias based on colorism as lighter-skinned participants.

Strong examples of colorism within an ethnic group are not unusual, according to Marira. "In India they have issues," he said. "I've seen it in Asia and South America. We have a lot of indications that it happens in popular culture and anecdotally."

There has also been a long history of colorism in the United States, going back to the start of slavery. "Owners would enforce caste systems based on color," Marira said. "As you get further away in time, African-Americans have also been responsible for perpetuating some of these beliefs."

What this research attempts to do is test whether SDO, which can be identified by psychological tests, was a factor in perpetuating colorism.

According to Marira, the research has implications for employers, including using training to emphasize the use of selection standards and competency models in employment decisions. Human resource managers should also understand that simply including minorities on selection panels may not counter all forms of prejudice.

Also, companies in industries such as law enforcement, national security, and accounting, which tend to attract people with higher SDO, may be particularly at risk for colorism.
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