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With a message from the CEO, firms can increase job applications from minorities

7 December 2023
Companies can attract more applicants from minority groups with a message from the CEO in the application process, emphasising that the company embraces diversity. This is demonstrated by research by behavioural economist Christina Rott, recently published in Management Science.

The study was a large-scale natural field experiment at a Fortune 500 company in the US. The researchers randomly divided 5,000 prospective job applicants into different groups. Each group, eight in total, was shown a different message when responding to the job posting. The applicants responded to entry-level positions (suitable for students who are in their final year or have graduated) and full-time internships (suitable for third and fourth year students). One group was shown the standard text, with no added message.

“Our research shows that with certain messages, companies can attract more applicants from minority groups,” explains Christina Rott. "For the entry-level position, it works to show a quote from the company's CEO emphasising that the company welcomes diversity and sees it as part of the corporate culture. We see that more applicants from minority groups respond when such a quote is mentioned."

For internships, a different message proved more effective. "Mainly women from minority groups are more likely to respond to internships if the company encourages candidates to apply even if they are unsure about their qualification, stressing that the job offers room for growth," says Rott. In both cases, the increase in applications from minorities did not lead to a decrease in applications from other groups.

A standard message about diversity within the company, without a quote from the CEO, had no effect on the number of applicants. Similarly, a message emphasising that diversity is good for business had no effect on applications. Thus, efforts to increase diversity can be helpful, but the message needs to be delivered in the right way. Rott: "An earlier experiment by Andreas Leibbrandt and John List showed that it can backfire if job postings state that the company 'treats everyone the same way'". Such a message can signal something different than a message that embraces diversity.

The study was recently published in the academic journal Management Science and was a collaboration between Jeffrey A. Flory (Claremont McKenna College, USA), Andreas Leibbrandt (Monash University, Australia) , Christina Rott (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Olga Stoddard (Brigham Young University, USA).

Previous research
Previously, Christina Rott has conducted several lab experiments regarding diversity in the workplace. For example, she showed that recruiters tend to hire applicants with whom they have a shared identity, such as the same gender, a shared hobby or favourite artist. During the second stage of the experiment, candidates were given information about the recruiter's interests and given the option to 'fake' a shared interest. In that case, the preference for someone similar to the recruiter disappears. More research by Christina Rott can by found in the research portal.

More information
Would you like to know more about research at VU School of Business and Economics? Contact science communicator Yrla van de Ven, or 06-26512492.