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Study: Anti-Chinese Racism Up at Companies Despite DEI Initiatives

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Apr 28, 2021

A recent study looked at the experiences of Chinese-American workers in the wake of the pandemic, when levels of discrimination and violence against them spiked, and found that while a business's diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives helped many employees, they did not have enough force to overcome anti-Chinese sentiment, according to the Harvard Business Review.

This conclusion was borne out through a series of detail surveys of 250 East and Southeast Asian workers in primarily white-collar roles across the United States and Canada. The researchers, from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, asked subjects about their organizations’ diversity initiatives, their experiences with mistreatment at work due to prejudice associated with COVID-19, their level of exhaustion and desire to stay with the organization, and their perceptions of their job performance.

Half of these workers reported experiencing prejudice or mistreatment at work due to the pandemic, including ostracism by co-workers, the use of stigmatizing language from superiors, and customers refusing to be served to advised by them. This led to greater feelings of burn out, poor job performance and a greater desire to leave the company. Yet the researchers found that, on average, the East and Southeast Asian participants who reported that their organizations invested more in diversity and inclusion policies experienced fewer incidents of mistreatment.

That was the case, except for, specifically, Chinese workers. These employees reported the same levels of mistreatment regardless of how much their organizations paid mind to matters involving diversity, equity and inclusion. The study's authors noted that a key part of building a diverse and inclusive workplace is integration of differences, that is, practices that encourage people to “bring their whole selves to work” by facilitating opportunities for people to share and learn about one another. While this worked well for many workers, it actually seemed to backfire on Chinese workers.They said that, given rising animosity toward China and Chinese people, encouraging workers of Chinese descent to advertise their ethnic or cultural heritage at work could easily turn these employees into targets for mistreatment.

The study said that these results underscore the importance of building equity into one's diversity and inclusion policies, as well as being mindful to complement any "integration of differences" with consistent and genuine support.