EEO unintended consequences

Do Equal Employment Opportunity Statements Backfire? Evidence From A Natural Field Experiment On Job-Entry Decisions
Andreas Leibbrandt, John A. List
NBER Working Paper No. 25035
Issued in September 2018

NBER Program(s):Law and Economics, Labor Studies

Labor force composition and the allocation of talent remain of vital import to modern economies. For their part, governments and companies around the globe have implemented equal employment opportunity (EEO) regulations to influence labor market flows. Even though such regulations are pervasive, surprisingly little is known about their impacts. We use a natural field experiment conducted across 10 U.S. cities to investigate if EEO statements in job advertisements affect the first step in the employment process, application rates. Making use of data from nearly 2,500 job seekers, we find considerable policy effects, but in an unexpected direction: the presence of an EEO statement dampens rather than encourages racial minorities’ willingness to apply for jobs. Importantly, the effects are particularly pronounced for educated job seekers and in cities with white majority populations. Complementary survey evidence suggests the underlying mechanism at work is “tokenism”, revealing that EEO statements backfire because racial minorities avoid environments in which they are perceived as regulatory, or symbolic, hires rather than being hired on their own merits. Beyond their practical and theoretical importance, our results highlight how field experiments can significantly improve policymaking. In this case, if one goal of EEO regulations is to enhance the pool of minority applicants, then it is not working.

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12 Responses to EEO unintended consequences

  1. Siltstone

    This confirms my anecdotal experience. Genuinely good people eschew tokenism in all its forms.

  2. .

    Genuinely good people eschew tokenism in all its forms.


    We’re proud of our diverse workforce. Our people reflect the diverse communities in which we operate, and this provides real benefits for employees, customers and shareholders.

  3. Siltstone

    Merit-based LGBTI*please.
    *Lettuce Gherkin Beetroot Tomato and Island (dressing),

  4. Entropy

    Beyond their practical and theoretical importance, our results highlight how field experiments can significantly improve policymaking.

    I am still gobsmacked by what must be the underlying belief system implied by this sentence. Who knew that the real world knowledge beats theory! Academics.

  5. MPH

    As with all leftist policies, achieving the exact opposite of its stated intent

  6. Indeed, how many proud people want to apply for a job which, if they get it, they’ll forever have the feeling that everyone in the workplace has in the back of their mind that you didn’t actually earn the position because of skills etc?

  7. Entropy

    Well I dunno, bemused. They probably would take the job anyway. Prove afterwards you deserve it. And if not, they would not care, because they are employed. The person who did not get the job because of the EEO policy is u visible after all.

    Actually, how often does this really happen? Most workplaces I suspect actively genuflect to the policy but in the end grab who they think would be best. It only really works for graduates when who knows if any of them will be any good. And exec level where it is more about preaching the message and getting those with content make you look good.

  8. Actually, how often does this really happen?

    Given the subject at hand, the evidence suggests that it’s not uncommon. But I was referring to job ads that specifically sought what amount to ‘disadvantaged’ applicants.

  9. Tim Neilson

    #2819563, posted on September 19, 2018 at 6:56 am
    #2819567, posted on September 19, 2018 at 7:35 am

    I’d say that the talented ones would get a job elsewhere so as not to have to surmount the preliminary burden of being the diversity hire before they could start being judged on their merits.

    The untalented on the other hand will jump at the chance of a job where the main KPI is being black/LGBTQWERTY/female, whatever.

  10. Rockdoctor

    My observations from & feed back I get from the Mining Industry as quite a few of the Mining Majors have gone down this path especially with gender. It won’t end well as some of the colossal stuff ups, budget over-runs etc I am hearing of are coming from underdone womyn’s prematurely promoted well beyond their skill level. Not only that the resentment of preferential treatment from better qualified men in the workplace either passed over or others trying to get a foot in the door from being contractors has in the last 18 months from murmurs to open conversation about HR policies.

    Apparently BHPB have been advertising jobs and if a suitable woman doesn’t apply for the job they take the best man on a 1 year contract. They then leave the job advertised till they find a woman with enough part qualifications to take the job then the man is let go at the end of his tenure…

    I am aware of a school of thought that having lesser qualified people also means they are paid less and the stuff ups can be cleaned up by consultants engaged on short term basis… However at lower levels the damage won’t be too great. Wait till some of these entitled little princesses get a leg up to executive levels then the stuff ups won’t be as easily hidden…

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