Published: June 25, 2019

At the Leeds School of Business, a number of faculty have focused their research efforts on investigating the impact that diversity and inclusion (D&I) has in the business world. David Hekman, Stefanie Johnson, and Sabrina Volpone are some of these professors. Sabrina Volpone, Assistant Professor and Doctoral Program Director for the Organizational Leadership and Information Analytics division at the Leeds School of Business, has recently conducted several research studies that examine D&I issues in the workplace to better understand the opportunities that D&I can create for organizations and employees. 

Why is D&I Important?Diversity and Inclusion Research with Sabrina Volpone

“Diversity and inclusion are commonly referenced in a singular, intertwined phrase (D&I), because we can’t have one without the other” Volpone explains. “We have to leverage both simultaneously to drive success.”

According to Volpone, successful D&I efforts can improve the lives of employees and the quality of the work being produced in organizations. That is, these efforts can contribute to employees’ feelings of belonging and importance at work, resulting in higher levels of productivity in the workplace when employees are more engaged. Many companies mistake D&I for an added benefit, but Volpone insists that it is a core component of any business.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment stems from a core idea in business that we have to take care of our resources. Employees are perhaps our most expensive resource and we often fail to manage them correctly. When you’re not thinking about D&I, it’s a huge missed opportunity for businesses,” says Sabrina Volpone.

How can Businesses and Organizations Better Incorporate D&I?

Many companies “have good intentions when implementing D&I programs, but fail to get diverse people through the door,” Volpone says. She offers the following advice to help correct common mistakes that prevent recruiting efforts targeted at increasing diversity from achieving success:

“The first step is to recruit differently,” she says. “Many organizations recruit only at the places where they are familiar with - the schools they went to - or where they know individuals like them. Instead, they need to be more strategic and recruit outside of these locations to bring in a more diverse crowd.”

Additionally, Volpone warns against relying on diversity goals; D&I is not something that can be successfully implemented if organizations are forcing it to reach a target. In order to have enduring changes, it is important to strategically reform HR practices, starting with recruitment strategies, rather than aiming for some arbitrary goal or number. 

Volpone’s Recent Studies

Study on Negotiation in the Workplace

Today, existing research on the role of demographics in negotiations concludes that differences exist between men and women and the outcomes that result in negotiations; this is one of many possible reasons for the gender pay gap. In Volpone’s study with Drs. Morela Hernandez, Derek Avery, and Cheryl Kaiser, however, she examined the influence of race in negotiations. 

“We researched black male job seekers negotiating a pay increase and found that in doing so, they violated an expectation held by the hiring manager, which often led to that individual being worse off - they are penalized in negotiations with lower salary outcomes, especially when they negotiate with a hiring manager who is more racially biased,” Volpone says.

The hiring managers of black, male employees had unconscious biases that prevented them from making impartial decisions based solely on the quality of their application or negotiation skills. To limit these negative effects in various situations, Volpone suggests ways we can work to eliminate these biases.

“If you hear your colleagues describing an experience atypical from your own, take a moment to pause and think about it,” she says. “Different people have different experiences in the same workplace. There might be a lot of barriers that you don’t personally experience, and you have to consider them. If you can, you should work to break down some of these barriers, particularly if you are responsible for hiring and pay raises.”

Study on Non-Visible Disabilities

Volpone recently published research on non-visible disabilities with Dr. Brent Lyons, Jennifer Wessel, and Ms. Natalya Alonso where she studied the effects of disclosing a disability that is not visible during a job interview. Examples of non-visible disabilities are depression, epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, or diabetes. In the past, there have been studies that showed that disclosing a disability during an interview relates to unfavorable hiring outcomes such as receiving fewer job offers than an applicant without a disability. Volpone’s work expanded upon this conclusion.

“If you disclose the non-visible disability during the job interview and do so quickly, without a lot of explanation, then it could hurt your chances of getting hired,” she says. “Sometimes applicants do take this approach because they think it might make the person uncomfortable if they talk about it too much or they may want to move on to another topic that is more job-relevant. This work shows that if you manage the identity by highlighting the positive aspects of that identity in the interview, then hiring outcomes can be positive; by talking about the different perspective it has given you and relating that to the workplace, the hiring manager’s impression of the disability is managed and that can actually result in more positive hiring outcomes.”
Future Studies on Breastfeeding in the Workplace:

Volpone has a personal connection to some future studies on the topic of breastfeeding in the workplace; in a previous position, she began work shortly after giving birth to her daughter. As a result of not having a maternity leave, she frequently pumped during work hours in her office. She recalls meeting her new coworkers when they would knock on her office door to ask what the noise was coming from her office. When she answered that it was her breast pump she thought to herself, “why do I, someone well versed in having conversations about diversity topics, not know how to have this conversation about breastfeeding with my new colleagues? This is a natural body function that plenty of women balance with their work demands. We have to have more open conversations about this in workplaces. It seems that people are finally open and accepting of talking openly about maternity leave, but there are still topics such as breastfeeding that we are afraid to talk about in the workplace.” Volpone has a number of studies that are in progress on this topic. An article from U.S. News referenced her research on the topic last month.

Learn More!

For more information, browse recent journal article publications by the Diversity and Identity Management Research Lab at Leeds, led by Sabrina Volpone. Sign up for CESR’s bi-weekly newsletter for updates on upcoming events, opportunities and research studies.