NIMBY Workplace Secrets on Diversity: Study

According to the results of a new study, while plenty of corporations and managers say they are all about diversity, in reality no one seems to really want it for their teams.  It is a classic example of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) where people say diversity is great, just not where their work teams are concerned.  In other words, the concept of diversity is seen as a positive, as long as said diversity is on someone else’s team.

Study overview

Researchers conducted four studies with a sampling size of 605 people in total. The results showed a significant difference in how people select colleagues for themselves versus for other people.

The research demonstrated that doubts about the practicability of diversity have a greater weight if a person is directly affected. In other words, when a person’s own work group is involved, they tend to prefer team members who are similar to themselves, whereas when people make decisions for other people, these reservations play a lesser role. Typically, a person will then put together a more diverse team.

man wearing white dress shirt and black necktie


Diversity? Absolutely.  For Your Team.

People who have worked to expand diversity in the workplace may be rolling their eyes over these findings–they are painfully aware that the strides made in recent decades are below what they should be.  But for many people, these findings may come as a surprise.  The reason is that they may be unaware they are even participating in the blockage of diversity.  Why?  Because when you ask them if they can see merit in having diverse work teams, they are all over it. And they probably mean it.  In fact, the research study found that managers will openly vote “yes” on creating diverse work teams–when they are talking about teams other than their own, that is.

What is going on?

In the classic “Like Me/Not Like Me” scenario that has been shown to rear its ugly head in the selection of job candidates where less qualified candidates who mirror interviewers’ likes, dislikes, background, previous experiences (including educational institutions), and even physical appearance, are chosen over more qualified candidates who are dramatically different in those characteristics, diversity appears to be secretly viewed as something that will hinder their ability to meet goals and objectives.

On the one hand, people see value in diversity, which can contribute a variety of perspectives, new ideas and innovative solutions. On the other hand, they assume that it might be difficult to work with someone who has completely different views, speaks a different language, or has a different style of work.

-Dr. Mariela Jaffé, Department of Psychology, University of Basel

In short, when a person’s own work group is involved, they tend to prefer team members who are similar to themselves because they secretly harbor reservations that their team can work well together and accomplish goals as intended if “different” or dissimilar members were on the team.  However, when people make decisions for other managers, these reservations play a lesser role. Typically, a person will then put together a more diverse team.  So they do appear to value diversity, but apparently lack the experience to know how to make it work for them.


A clear workaround to this NIMBY approach to diversity in the workplace is to always have a group of managers and leaders (in addition to the leader directly involved) making group decisions for all new hires and team compositions.

…organizations could become more diverse if hiring and team decisions were not (only) made by those directly affected, but (also) by other people who are not directly involved in the group’s daily work later.

Yet another solution is for organizations to offer specific training for managers to learn how to instruct, inspire and manage teams that include people from dissimilar backgrounds, training, perspectives and work styles.  University faculty and independent consultants have been doing this successfully for decades, so it can be done.


Journal Reference: Mariela E. Jaffé, Selma C. Rudert, Rainer Greifeneder. You should go for diversity, but I’d rather stay with similar others: Social distance modulates the preference for diversity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2019; 85: 103881 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2019.103881


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