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Study Finds Community Diversity Climate Impacts Workplace

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Research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business indicates that a community’s diversity climate may impact the ability of companies to retain talented workers of all races.

Using a national sample of 2,045 professionals living in communities across the U.S., the researchers found that employees who experienced their communities as racially intolerant were more likely to want to leave their communities, and ultimately their workplaces, than those in communities perceived as having a positive and inclusive climate for diversity.  This spillover effect was found for both white employees and employees of color.

The study also found that community diversity climate may also affect stress-related symptoms at work.   Employees who experienced their communities as racially intolerant not only were more likely to want to leave their communities, but also reported more stress-related symptoms at work (e.g., shortness of breath, stomach ache, trembling hands) than those in communities perceived as having a positive and inclusive climate for diversity.

As ethnic diversity and shifting population patterns continue to change the racial composition of communities throughout the country, this issue will become increasingly important to employers seeking to recruit and retain talented employees, irrespective of their race.  Most companies recognize the advantage of fostering inclusive climates within the workplace.  This study suggests that the benefits of climate extend well beyond the workplace threshold.  The study may also have implications for managing rising health care costs.

“The takeaway is that organizations need to get involved with their communities on long-term initiatives that foster better climates for diversity,” said the study’s primary author, Belle Rose Ragins, Professor of Organizations & Strategic Management.  “Organizations lose talent if the community does not support diversity.” 

The study was co-authored by Jorge Gonzalez (University of Texas-Pan American), Kyle Ehrhardt (UWM Lubar School of Business) and Romila Singh (UWM Lubar School of Business).

Their research will receive the Dorothy Harlow Award at the Academy of Management meeting this summer for best paper in the Gender and Diversity Division and will be published in Personnel Psychology in November. 

Belle Ragins specializes in diversity, mentoring, and gender issues in organizations.  She has received ten national awards for her research, including two lifetime achievement awards. Dr. Ragins is a Fulbright Scholar and an elected Fellow of four national professional associations.  She holds her PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, University of Tennessee-Knoxville.