SHRM Foundation Research
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SHRM Foundation Research

Diversity and Careers: An Examination of the Career Experiences, Processes and Outcomes of a Multicultural Workforce

Funded: November 2007     Completed: August 2010

Karen S. Lyness, Ph.D., Baruch College, City University of New York
Belle Rose Ragins, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Executive Summary
People of color, currently a third of the U.S. workforce, are expected to make up close to half of the workforce by 2050. HR practitioners need to understand the challenges and resources that may help or hinder career processes and outcomes for this diverse workforce. Research conducted by Karen Lyness and Belle Ragins addressed this need by examining career experiences of 215 Black, 248 Latino, 284 Asian and 2,173 White college graduates employed in a wide range of U.S. organizations.

This study found that Black, Latino, and Asian employees reported more racial prejudice and discrimination in their organizations and less career satisfaction than White employees, and that Black and Asian employees reported engaging in more job search behaviors than their White counterparts.  However, both White employees and employees of color who reported more racial discrimination and less organizational career support experienced more negative psychological career processes, less career satisfaction, and reported more searching for new jobs than those who had more positive workplace experiences.  These results indicate that the costs of racial discrimination in the workplace affect all employees, as do the benefits of creating inclusive workplaces that provide career support and developmental opportunities. 


The study compared career experiences, processes, and outcomes for Black, Latino, Asian, and White employees.  The findings demonstrate the importance of supportive organizational career practices, which led to positive psychological processes, more career satisfaction, and less engaging in job search behaviors, regardless of the employee’s race or ethnicity. The relationship between organizational career supports and career satisfaction was even stronger for Black employees, suggesting that career supports are particularly critical for them.

Organizational career supports that were linked to positive career outcomes for all employees included:
• Provision of developmental job assignments
• Viable career paths
• Career guidance
• Supportive supervisors

Since the data were collected during the recession, the findings take on additional significance in suggesting that organizations should not lose sight of the importance of providing career support to their employees -- even in periods of limited growth. Whereas it is easier to offer employees career opportunities in times of economic growth, organizations need to keep in mind that employees continue to value career support in tough times, perhaps even more than in times of prosperity.

This study found that discrimination and prejudice continue to plague workplaces. Examples of conditions that were associated with employees’ perceptions of racial and ethnic discrimination included:
• Inequities in treatment
• Inequities in rewards and promotions
• Poor relationships among members of different racial or ethnic groups

The results revealed a troubling racial divide in awareness of workplace prejudice and discrimination:
• Black, Latino, and Asian employees reported significantly more racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination in their organizations than White employees.
• Black employees also reported significantly more racial discrimination than Latino or Asian employees.

This racial divide between White employees and employees of color could be a function of racial or ethnic differences in personal experiences with prejudice or discrimination, or the fact that White employees may be less likely than employees of color to hear about others’ experiences of racial discrimination.  Group differences in experiences and perceptions may create challenges for organizations seeking to address workplace prejudice and discrimination, which is likely to be viewed as a serious issue by employees of color, but may not be fully recognized or understood by their White coworkers.

The findings also revealed important racial and ethnic group differences in career and organizational outcomes:
• Black, Latino, and Asian employees reported significantly less satisfaction with their careers than White employees.
• Black employees reported significantly less career satisfaction than Latino or Asian employees.
• Black and Asian employees reported engaging in more job search behaviors (with the intent to find new jobs) than White employees.

Whereas other research has identified racial group discrepancies in career outcomes, this study went further by offering an explanation about why these racial group differences may occur. The findings show that:
• Perceived organizational discrimination is linked to career satisfaction and job search behaviors through its effects on underlying psychological career processes.
• Regardless of their race or ethnicity, employees who perceive racial and ethnic discrimination experience negative psychological states involving less confidence that they can achieve their career goals, less optimism that their careers will be fulfilling, and less clarity about their career goals and plans.

These findings underscore the importance of creating and sustaining workplaces that are free of prejudice and discrimination as this would benefit all employees, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Organizational fairness and inclusion are critical aspects of a supportive diversity climate, shown in other research to predict turnover intentions and organizational commitment. Taken together, results of this study and prior research suggest that organizations should strive to not only eliminate racial discrimination and inequities, but also to establish supportive and inclusive diversity climates where all employees feel valued and respected.

Study Methods
Electronic invitations to participate in the study were sent to 52,438 alumni from two universities.  7,387 alumni expressed interest in participating and 6,186 completed the web-based survey.  The sample was limited to organizationally employed U.S. workers who graduated within the last 25 years. Analyses were conducted on 2,173 White, 215 Black, 248 Latino and 284 Asian employees from a variety of organizations and professions. The survey measured perceptions of organizational career supports and obstacles, career-related psychological processes (career self-efficacy, career expectations and career goals), and outcomes, including career satisfaction and organizational attachment (measured as job search behaviors). Structural equation model (SEM)-based invariance testing was used to verify that the same model of relationships fit data from all four racial/ethnic groups; SEM-based assessments of group differences in variable means are also reported.

View the full list of SHRM Foundation funded research.