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Not So Subtle: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Correlates of Subtle and Overt Discrimination


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Extant research suggests subtle, interpersonal forms of discrimination, though often normalized and overlooked, may be just as detrimental to targets as compared to more traditional, overt forms of discrimination. To further examine this question, we meta-analyzed the current literature to estimate the relationship between discrimination and a host of psychological, physical health, and work-related correlates as a function of its form (subtle or overt). Analysis of 90 effect sizes suggested that subtle and overt forms of discrimination hold relationships of comparable magnitude with a host of adverse correlates. By demonstrating that these two forms of discrimination are not differentially related to relevant outcomes, our findings call into serious question the pervasive belief that subtle discrimination is less consequential for targets as compared to overt discrimination (Landy, 2008; McWhorter, 2008). Taken together, our results suggest that subtle discrimination is at least as important to consider and address as its overt counterpart. Implications for organizational scholars and practitioners are discussed.
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Journal of Management
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0149206313506466
published online 11 October 2013Journal of Management
Kristen P. Jones, Chad I. Peddie, Veronica L. Gilrane, Eden B. King and Alexis L. Gray
Overt Discrimination
Not So Subtle: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Correlates of Subtle and
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DOI: 10.1177/0149206313506466
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Not So Subtle: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of
the Correlates of Subtle and Overt Discrimination
Kristen P. Jones
George Mason University
Chad I. Peddie
Veronica L. Gilrane
PDRI, a CEB company
Eden B. King
George Mason University
Alexis L. Gray
Federal Management Partners
Extant research suggests subtle, interpersonal forms of discrimination, though often normalized
and overlooked, may be just as detrimental to targets as compared to more traditional, overt
forms of discrimination. To further examine this question, we meta-analyzed the current litera-
ture to estimate the relationship between discrimination and a host of psychological, physical
health, and work-related correlates as a function of its form (subtle or overt). Analysis of 90
effect sizes suggested that subtle and overt forms of discrimination hold relationships of compa-
rable magnitude with a host of adverse correlates. By demonstrating that these two forms of
discrimination are not differentially related to relevant outcomes, our findings call into serious
question the pervasive belief that subtle discrimination is less consequential for targets as com-
pared to overt discrimination (Landy, 2008; McWhorter, 2008). Taken together, our results
suggest that subtle discrimination is at least as important to consider and address as its overt
counterpart. Implications for organizational scholars and practitioners are discussed.
Keywords: meta-analysis; diversity/gender; well-being; affect/emotion; attitudes
Corresponding author: Kristen P. Jones, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive MS 3F5, Fairfax, VA
22030, USA.
506466JOMXXX10.1177/0149206313506466Journal of Management / Month XXXXJones et al. / Not So Subtle
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2 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
Workplace discrimination is said to occur when individuals from a stigmatized group
“are put at a disadvantage in the workplace relative to other groups with comparable poten-
tial or proven success” (Dipboye & Halverson, 2004: 131). Until recently, the term discrimi-
nation conjured up images of workplace behaviors that reflect “blatant antipathy, beliefs
that [members of stereotyped groups] are inherently inferior, [and] endorsement of pejora-
tive stereotypes” (Cortina, 2008: 59). These old-fashioned acts of prejudice, commonly
referred to as overt discrimination, can be contrasted with subtle discrimination (e.g.,
Benokraitis, 1997; Brief & Barsky, 2000; Brief, Buttram, Elliott, Reizenstein, & McCline,
1995; Deitch, Barsky, Butz, Brief, Chan, & Bradley, 2003; Dipboye & Halverson, 2004),
which encompasses actions that are ambiguous in intent to harm, difficult to detect, low in
intensity, and often unintentional but are nevertheless deleterious to target employees
(Cortina, 2008; Rowe, 1990).
Given the significant costs associated with workplace discrimination including worsened
employee attitudes and increased turnover intentions (King, Hebl, George, & Matusik, 2010)
and litigation costs (Goldman, Gutek, Stein, & Lewis, 2006), many organizations have
undertaken initiatives to reduce the experience of discrimination for their employees (McKay,
Avery, & Morris, 2008; Wentling & Palma-Rivas, 2000). Nevertheless, racial and gender
inequalities in organizations persist (e.g., Benokraitis, 1997; Brief et al., 1997). One reason
for this continued inequality may stem from the tendency of these diversity initiatives to
target overt, easily recognizable forms of discrimination and to overlook subtle, interpersonal
discrimination (Shih, Young, & Bucher, 2013). While instances of overt discrimination can
be quelled with organizational or legal policies, subtle and seemingly benign occurrences of
discrimination may prove particularly pernicious by both compromising an organization’s
effort to facilitate a supportive diversity climate and remaining ambiguous, thus escaping
castigation. In an effort to pinpoint the root of inequity between stigmatized and nonstigma-
tized employees, organizational researchers (e.g., Cortina, 2008; Deitch et al., 2003; Dovidio
& Hebl, 2005) have called for a closer examination of subtle discrimination.
We contend that the ramifications of subtle discrimination are at least as substantial, if not
more substantial, than the consequences of overt discrimination for three reasons. First, sub-
tle discrimination is particularly deleterious given the difficulty in its identification and
assessment (Hebl, Foster, Mannix, & Dovidio, 2002; King, Dunleavy, et al., 2011). Indeed,
attributional ambiguity theory predicts that negative feedback will be attributed to prejudiced
evaluators in clear but not ambiguous situations. Thus, targets of overt discrimination can
easily externalize the negative experience to discrimination (e.g., “it’s not my fault they are
prejudiced”) whereas targets of subtle discrimination may instead make internal attributions
(e.g., “it’s not them, it’s me”). Experimental evidence confirms this expectation, showing that
Black targets attribute negative feedback to prejudiced evaluators when their own race is
observable but not when it may be hidden. This phenomenon has implications for self-
esteem, self-regulation, and task performance (Crocker, Voelkl, Testa, & Major, 1991;
Salvatore & Shelton, 2007; Singletary, 2009). Thus, harmful actions with ambiguous intent
might be even more confusing and stressful for targets as compared to explicitly discrimina-
tory actions.
Second, because subtle discrimination is often more difficult to detect than overt discrimi-
nation (Hebl et al., 2002), targets may experience subtle discrimination more negatively than
overt discrimination as a function of the sheer fact that there are not as many clear options for
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reporting and/or remedying this type of treatment. Many organizations have formal policies
in place for reporting overt discriminatory behaviors (Hebl et al. 2002); however, the means
by which subtle discrimination can be reported and addressed are less clear.
Third and finally, subtle discrimination may be more damaging for targets because of its
higher frequency and thus the chronic nature of its effects. Indeed, extant research has argued
that one reason for the particularly damaging impact of subtle discrimination lies in its per-
vasiveness, whereas overt discriminatory behavior may occur less often (Van Laer &
Janssens, 2011). This notion is consistent with research showing that chronic stress is a stron-
ger predictor of depressive symptoms as compared to acute stress (McGonagle & Kessler,
1990). Furthermore, studies that have examined both subtle and overt forms of discrimina-
tion tend to show that participants report experiencing subtle discriminatory behaviors more
frequently overall as compared to overt discrimination (Utsey, Chae, Brown, & Kelly, 2002;
Utsey & Ponterotto, 1999; Yoo, Steger, & Lee, 2010).
In order to build an understanding of the comparative effects of overt and subtle discrimi-
nation, we use a meta-analytic approach to examine the relationship between each form of
discrimination and a host of important correlates relevant to both targets and their organiza-
tions. Specifically, we investigate the magnitude of the link between subtle discrimination
and psychological, physical health, and work-related correlates in comparison to the magni-
tude of the relationship between overt discrimination and these correlates. While our primary
focus is discrimination that manifests in workplace settings, we broaden the scope of our
review beyond studies that have been conducted in workplace settings to include studies that
have measured discrimination in nonwork (e.g., educational, health care) settings. This deci-
sion was driven by evidence from the work-life literature suggesting events occurring outside
of work are likely to spill over and influence experiences that take place inside the workplace
and vice versa (Ford, Heinen, & Langkamer, 2007; Grzywacz & Marks, 2000). Thus, the
physical and psychological impact of a discriminatory experience outside of work likely car-
ries over to the workplace to affect physical, psychological, and job-related outcomes. In the
following sections, we review the literature on overt and subtle discrimination and in doing
so, clarify the definition of each form of discrimination, providing examples of the various
ways in which subtle and overt discrimination were operationalized in our primary studies.
Finally, we situate our meta-analysis in the context of recent meta-analyses on discrimination
and describe the process of conducting the current meta-analysis.
Defining Subtle and Overt Discrimination
To build understanding of the broader distinction between subtle and overt discrimination,
Hebl and colleagues’ (2002) distinction between interpersonal discrimination and formal
discrimination provides a useful starting point. These authors define interpersonal discrimi-
nation as more subtle in nature, involving “nonverbal, paraverbal, and even some of the
verbal behaviors that occur in social interactions” and are not prohibited by law (Hebl et al.,
2002: 816). Interpersonal discrimination was operationalized by interaction length, word
count, perceived interest of potential employer, and the extent to which a potential employer
was “helpful,” “standoffish,” “nervous,” “motivated to end the conversation prematurely,”
“avoidant of eye contact,” and “hostile” (Hebl et al., 2002: 819). These types of behaviors
can be contrasted with formal discrimination, which they define as “discrimination in hiring,
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promotions, access, and resource distribution … that in many states is illegal … [and for
which] there are often organizational laws, company policies, or social norms against” (Hebl
et al., 2002: 816).
In addition to interpersonal discrimination (Hebl et al., 2002), subtle discrimination has
been examined under a variety of labels including microaggressions (Sue, Bucceri, Lin,
Nadal, & Torino, 2009), incivility (Andersson & Pearson, 1999), everyday racism (Essed,
1995), everyday sexism (Swim, Hyers, Cohen, & Ferguson, 2001), and benevolent sexism
(Glick & Fiske, 1997). Scholars have conceptualized subtle discrimination as encompassing
behaviors that are seemingly normal, natural, or acceptable (Benokraitis, 1997), often unin-
tentional, perceived as trivial and harmless, and not unlawful (Hebl et al., 2002; King,
Dunleavy, et al., 2011). Subtle discrimination has further been described as “interpersonal
discrimination that is enacted unconsciously or unintentionally and that is entrenched in
common, everyday interactions, taking the shape of harassment, jokes, incivility, avoidance,
and other types of disrespectful treatment” (Van Laer & Janssens, 2011: 1205). In light of
previous literature on this topic, we define subtle discrimination as negative or ambivalent
demeanor and/or treatment enacted toward social minorities on the basis of their minority
status membership that are not necessarily conscious and likely convey ambiguous intent.
Compared to overt discrimination, subtle discrimination is less likely to be unlawful. In addi-
tion, uninvolved bystanders would exhibit more hesitation and experience more affective and
cognitive ambivalence when labeling subtle discrimination as “discrimination” relative to its
overt counterpart. Examples of subtle discrimination measures used in our primary studies
include items such as “you were treated with less courtesy than others,” “people acted as if
they were better than you,” “others expected your work to be inferior,” “others reacted to you
as if they are afraid or intimidated,” “being mistaken for someone who serves others (e.g.,
janitor, maid, etc.),” and “sales people/clerks did not say thank you or show other forms of
courtesy and respect (e.g., put your things in a bag) when you shopped at some White/non-
Black business” (Harrell, 1997; Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996; Williams, Yu, Jackson, &
Anderson, 1997; the full list of discrimination measures used in the primary studies is avail-
able as an online supplement).
In contrast, overt discrimination has been labeled as bullying (Fox & Stallworth, 2005),
old-fashioned racism (Virtanen & Huddy, 1998), hostile sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1997), and
formal discrimination (as reviewed above, Hebl et al., 2002). According to scholars, overt
discrimination occurs when “differential and unfair treatment is clearly exercised, with visi-
ble structural outcomes” and takes the form of behaviors that are unconcealed, intentional,
and easily recognizable and are directed at a target on the basis of his or her stigmatized
characteristics (Van Laer & Janssens, 2011: 1205). Engaging in these behaviors is generally
considered unacceptable by society and is often proscribed in employment contexts as echoed
in Hebl and colleagues’ (2002) conceptualization of formal discrimination. Thus, in light of
previous research, we define overt discrimination as explicitly negative demeanor and/or
treatment enacted toward social minorities on the basis of their minority status membership
that are necessarily conscious. Furthermore, as compared to subtle discrimination, overt dis-
crimination is more likely to be unlawful and less likely to produce hesitation and ambiva-
lence within an uninvolved bystander to label the treatment as “discrimination.” Examples of
overt discrimination measures used in our primary studies include items such as “someone at
work makes derogatory comments about your ethnicity,” “someone at work uses ethnic slurs
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to describe you,” “someone at work fails to give you information you need to do your job
because of your ethnicity,” “someone made unwanted attempts to stroke or fondle you,” “you
have been unfairly fired or denied a promotion,” “for unfair reasons, you have not been hired
for a job,” “you have been unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened, or
abused by the police,” “you were refused an apartment or other housing; you suspect it was
because you were Black,” “you were passed over for an important project although you were
more qualified and competent than the White/non-Black person given the task,” and “you
have discovered that the White/non-Black person employed in the same capacity as you with
equal or less qualifications is paid a higher salary” (Schneider, Hitlan, & Radhakrishnan,
2000; Schneider, Swan, & Fitzgerald, 1997; Thompson, 1999; Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996).
Outcomes of Overt and Subtle Discrimination
Although recent literature has begun to focus primarily on manifestations and conse-
quences of subtle discrimination, research continues to demonstrate that explicit, discrimina-
tory acts still occur and have damaging effects on stigmatized individuals’ work-related
outcomes and attitudes (Hughes & Dodge, 1997), physical well-being (Guyll, Matthews, &
Bromberger, 2001), and mental health (Motoike, 1995; Noh, Kaspar, & Wickrama, 2007;
Schneider et al., 1997). Empirical studies have documented the negative effects of explicit
discrimination on work-related issues such as lower earnings and decreased job satisfaction
(Hughes & Dodge, 1997). In addition, psychological outcomes, such as decreased positive
affect, self-esteem (Motoike, 1995; Noh et al., 2007), and psychological well-being
(Schneider et al., 1997) and increased depression have been related to overt discrimination
(Crouter, Davis, Updegraff, Delgado, & Fortner, 2006). Further, physical health outcomes,
such as cardiovascular problems (Guyll et al., 2001; Thompson, 1999), have been positively
linked to overt discrimination. Taken together, empirical research and theoretical research
indicate that although the incidence of overt discrimination may be decreasing, its continued
negative impact on stigmatized individuals has not been eradicated.
As with overt discrimination, subtle acts of discrimination have been shown to negatively
affect psychological health (Gifford, 2009; Lim & Cortina, 2005; Utsey et al., 2002), physi-
cal health (Lewis et al., 2006; Miscally, 2009; Thompson, 1999), and work-related outcomes
(Gifford, 2009; King, Shapiro, Hebl, Singletary, & Turner, 2006; Stewart, King, Botsford,
Gilrane, Hylton, & Jones, 2010). Several studies have demonstrated that subtle forms of
discrimination are associated with psychological outcomes such as decreased well-being
(Lim & Cortina, 2005), self-worth (Gifford, 2009), and quality of life (Utsey et al., 2002).
Similarly, with regard to health outcomes, research has shown that subtle discrimination may
increase alcohol and illicit drug use (Miscally, 2009) and negatively influence cardiovascular
health (Lewis et al., 2006; Thompson, 1999).
Evidence also suggests that subtle discrimination can have job-related implications for
stigmatized employees and their organizations. For instance, one study found that in response
to subtle discrimination, female police officers disengaged from their jobs in an effort to
protect self-esteem (Tougas, Rinfret, Beaton, & de la Sablonniére, 2005). Furthermore,
employees who attributed negative interpersonal interactions to their stigmatized identity
experienced decreased organizational commitment, lower confidence in their ability to
achieve professional goals, and poorer relationship quality with supervisors (Gifford, 2009).
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In addition, extant research suggests benevolent sexist behaviors that are seemingly subtle
may negatively influence performance (Dardenne, Dumont, & Bollier, 2007; Vescio, Gervais,
Snyder, & Hoover, 2005). Finally, research has shown that interacting with stigmatized cus-
tomers in an interpersonally negative manner may affect the organization’s bottom line by
decreasing purchasing behavior and customer loyalty (King et al., 2006). In addition to the
studies that solely examine subtle discrimination, recent research has begun to directly com-
pare the two types of discriminatory treatment.
Comparison of Subtle and Overt Discrimination
Given postulations that subtle discrimination may be equally or even more damaging than
overt discrimination (Cortina, 2008; Dovidio, 2001; Motoike, 1995), researchers have con-
ducted experimental studies to contrast the two forms of discrimination (Hebl et al., 2002;
Hebl, King, Glick, Singletary, & Kazama, 2007; Hughes & Dodge, 1997; Salvatore &
Shelton, 2007; Singletary, 2009; Singletary & Hebl, 2009). Some research suggests that both
types of discrimination may have equally harmful consequences for stigmatized individuals.
For instance, Hughes and Dodge (1997) found that interpersonal prejudice (i.e., subtle dis-
crimination) and institutional (i.e., overt) discrimination were both negatively related to job
satisfaction for African American women. More recent studies, however, provide evidence
that subtle forms of discrimination may be particularly harmful for targets in performance
settings. For example, Singletary (2009) demonstrated that women exhibited detriments in
performance when treated with subtle discrimination; however, overt discrimination showed
no influence on performance. In addition, Salvatore and Shelton (2007) examined the impact
of exposure to either ambiguous or blatant, racially biased hiring recommendations on cogni-
tive performance. Their findings indicated that, for African American individuals, viewing
subtle discrimination was more detrimental to performance than viewing overt discrimina-
tion. Singletary (2009) and Salvatore and Shelton (2007) both cite attributional ambiguity
theory (Crocker & Major, 1989) as an explanation for their findings. Specifically, they argue
that subtle discrimination may be particularly problematic because deciphering ambiguous
discriminatory cues is more cognitively and emotionally taxing than comprehending overt
discrimination, which can be easily attributed to prejudiced motives. Together, these studies
suggest that the effects of subtle discrimination may be even more damaging to targets than
overt discrimination.
Prior Meta-Analyses
As an answer to the call from organizational scholars to address contemporary discrimina-
tion (e.g., Cortina, 2008; Deitch et al., 2003; Dovidio & Hebl, 2005), five meta-analyses on
discrimination and their outcomes have been conducted within the past 15 years (Bowen,
Swim, & Jacobs, 2000; Davison & Burke, 2000; Lee & Ahn, 2011, 2012; Pascoe & Smart
Richman, 2009; see also Colella, McKay, Daniels, & Signal, 2012, for a comprehensive
review of meta-analytic research on this topic). In contrast to the current study, these works
adopted a homogeneous perspective of discrimination, aggregating across its subforms. In
other words, potentially differential correlates associated with subtle versus overt forms of
discrimination were neither hypothesized nor examined.
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Although these meta-analyses advance knowledge of the relationships of overall exposure
to discrimination and correlates of importance, they fail to consider the influence of discrimi-
nation as conceptualized by frameworks and theory that are more representative in recent
years. For instance, Lee and Ahn (2011) examined the mental health outcomes of (general)
discrimination for Asians, and a second meta-analysis by Lee and Ahn (2012) investigated
the effects of (general) discrimination on mental health, physical health, employment, and
educational outcomes for Latina/o populations. Further, two separate meta-analyses focused
on (general) discrimination directed at targets solely on the basis of gender. Davison and
Burke’s (2000) meta-analysis of simulated employment contexts revealed that women were
rated higher than men for female-typed jobs, whereas men were rated higher and offered
more compensation than women for male-typed jobs. A complementary meta-analytic study
illustrated the existence of formal (i.e., overt) discrimination in field settings by showing that
performance ratings were biased against women when men served as raters (Bowen et al.,
2000). While providing informative results concerning the work-related outcomes of overt
gender discrimination, these meta-analyses do not form a comprehensive review of the mul-
titude of correlates (e.g., mental and physical health) associated with overt and subtle dis-
crimination targeted at a variety of stigmatized individuals.
An additional meta-analysis filled some of the gaps left by the previous meta-analyses by
investigating the effects of perceived discrimination—which they defined as the target’s per-
sonal experience of discrimination—on psychological and physical well-being without limit-
ing the target population to only one group (Pascoe & Smart Richman, 2009). The primary
studies used in this meta-analysis included those that assessed both subtle and overt discrimi-
nation; however, the researchers did not distinguish between the two forms. Their results
suggested that the experience of discrimination is associated with detrimental mental and
physical health outcomes for targets. Specifically, targets were more likely to report suffering
from symptoms of depression and psychiatric distress and less likely to report positive well-
being as compared to those who did not view themselves as being discriminated against.
Furthermore, cardiovascular disease and diabetes were positively linked with perceived dis-
crimination. Although Pascoe and Smart Richmans’s (2009) meta-analysis indicates the
alarming need to consider how discriminatory actions affect targets, our study makes two
important contributions beyond their work. First, we directly compare the relationship
between subtle discrimination and a host of important outcomes to the relationship between
overt discrimination and those same outcomes. Second, in addition to examining relation-
ships between discrimination and both physical and psychological outcomes, we consider a
range of meaningful workplace outcomes. Given existing research on subtle and overt dis-
crimination, the primary goal of this study is to provide a meta-analytic review of the rela-
tionship between discrimination and psychological, physical, and work-related outcomes as
a function of its form (i.e., subtle versus overt).
Additional Moderators
Though our primary research question involves the investigation of the form of discrimi-
nation (i.e., subtle, overt) as a moderator of relationship between discrimination and its psy-
chological, physical, and work-related correlates—a secondary goal of this study is to
examine the presence of additional moderators including minority characteristic, publication
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8 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
date, and study setting. Given the breadth of characteristics along which individuals discrimi-
nate (e.g., race, sex, weight, sexual orientation, disability status), it seems reasonable to sug-
gest individuals may experience discrimination differently as a function of the specific
marginalized group to which they belong. Indeed, extant research has demonstrated that
stereotypes vary in the extent to which they evoke negativity, pity, anger, and fear as a func-
tion of the social threat that a particular group is perceived to pose (Cottrell & Neuberg,
2005; Neel, Neufeld, & Neuberg, 2013; Schaller & Neuberg, 2012). This minority character-
istic moderator analysis was conducted across all four correlate domains for the observed
categories of minority groups in which at least three samples were present. Furthermore,
since about half of our primary studies were conducted in nonworkplace settings, we exam-
ined the study setting (i.e., workplace, nonworkplace) as a potential moderator of the rela-
tionship between discrimination and psychological, physical, and work-related correlates.
Nonworkplace studies included participants who either were undergraduates or were
recruited from the community using snowball sampling methods. In these cases, the data
collection usually involved survey or interviewing methods that took place on a college cam-
pus, in a laboratory, online, or via phone. We found this moderator examination particularly
important given our primary focus was on the experience of discrimination in the workplace.
Finally, scholars have argued that subtle forms of discrimination tend to represent more
recent phenomena, whereas overt forms are considered to be more prevalent in past years
(Dipboye & Colella, 2005; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998; Virtanen & Huddy, 1998). This
prompted our examination of the effect of publication date of the primary studies investi-
gated, comparing the link between discrimination and its correlates in three arbitrary five-
year intervals to examine, for example, whether the relationship between discrimination and
its correlates has been increasing, decreasing, or stable over time.
Literature Search
The literature search procedure for this meta-analysis was designed to locate both pub-
lished and unpublished research. The primary method of identifying relevant studies was
through electronic databases, including PsycINFO, PsycExtra, ERIC, and Medline. Given
there has not been a major quantitative analysis examining aspects of subtle and overt dis-
crimination and their effects, publication date was not restricted. Keyword searches included
terms such as covert discrimination, implicit discrimination, modern discrimination, every-
day discrimination, explicit discrimination, traditional discrimination, blatant discrimina-
tion, and hostile discrimination. These keywords were included with various outcomes of
interest such as health, career success, stress, life satisfaction, well-being, academic achieve-
ment, depression, and psychological distress. We reviewed the reference list of each article
to identify additional citations that were not revealed by other search means. In addition, we
mined the citations of several articles highly relevant to the analysis topic, including recent
meta-analyses examining general exposure to discrimination and subsequent outcomes.
Finally, we sent messages to e-mail lists (e.g., the Society for Personality and Social
Psychology, the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology) that appeal to frequent
contributors to the discrimination research literature requesting copies of in-press or unpub-
lished articles.
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 9
Criteria for Inclusion
To be included in the research synthesis, an article needed to meet three criteria. First, the
article had to contain data representing the relationship between discrimination targeted at an
individual and a correlate that fell into at least one of the following four domains: psycho-
logical health (e.g., psychological distress, anxiety, depression), physical health (e.g., smok-
ing habits, cardiovascular health, blood pressure), individual work-related correlates (e.g.,
satisfaction, attachment, stress), and organizationally relevant correlates (e.g., employee
turnover intentions, employee performance, organizational performance). Second, sufficient
information had to be available for coders to identify each discrimination-correlate relation-
ship as either subtle or overt in nature. Third, each study must have reported the sample size
and a test statistic that could be converted into a correlation between discrimination and the
correlate variable. When possible, attempts were made to contact study authors to obtain
usable statistics. The final tally of effect sizes reflecting the relationship between subtle dis-
crimination and a correlate or overt discrimination and a correlate (k = 90) were obtained
from a total of 44 samples, including 26 journal publications, 11 dissertations, 1 conference
presentation, and 1 unpublished study. Note that a few multipart studies provided effect sizes
from separate samples.
Coding of Studies
Depending on the relationships reported by particular studies, coded statistics included
sample size, correlations, variable means and standard deviations, t tests, or F tests. To ensure
that accurate data were retrieved from each study, studies were coded independently by two
of the study authors (94.5% agreement). This overall index of agreement was calculated by
dividing the number of times two coders actually agreed by the number of opportunities
provided for the two coders to agree. Though rare, sources of disagreement stemmed from
deciding how many and which discrimination measures to use (e.g., when studies took mul-
tiple measures of subtle discrimination) and how many and which outcome measures to use
(e.g., when studies assessed both depression and loneliness). All discrepancies between cod-
ers were resolved through consensus discussions after which 100% agreement was obtained.
Constructs of Interest
Correlates. In line with previously published meta-analyses (e.g., Eby, Allen, Evans,
Ng, & DuBois, 2008; Valentine, DuBois, & Cooper, 2004), variables that were conceptually
similar were combined into one of our four correlate domains. This was critical in order in
examine the relationships between both types of discrimination and each domain of cor-
relates. Table 1 lists the four categories of correlates investigated, which include individual
work correlates, organizationally relevant correlates, physical health, and psychological
health. Within these categories are listed specific outcomes examined in primary studies and
examples of how these outcomes were operationalized. Note that individual work correlates
refer to those outcomes that are primarily relevant to shaping an individual’s experience
at work (e.g., satisfaction, attachment, stress), whereas organizationally relevant correlates
encompass those outcomes that are largely relevant to the organization’s bottom line (e.g.,
employee turnover intentions, employee performance, organizational performance).
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10 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
Grouping variable. The form of discrimination (i.e., overt, subtle) was coded to enable
examinations of whether the relationship between discrimination and its correlates varied
across the experience of subtle and overt discrimination. As such, positive correlations indi-
cated that higher levels of discrimination were positively associated with adverse outcomes.
Specifically, we coded discrimination as subtle when it reflected negative or ambivalent
demeanor and/or treatment enacted toward social minorities on the basis of their minority
status membership that was not necessarily conscious and for which uninvolved bystanders
would exhibit more hesitation and experience more affective and cognitive ambivalence to
label the treatment as “discrimination.” Conversely, we coded discrimination as overt when
it reflected explicitly negative demeanor and/or treatment enacted toward social minorities
on the basis of their minority status membership that was necessarily conscious and less
likely to produce hesitation and ambivalence within an uninvolved bystander to label the
treatment as “discrimination.” For example, studies reporting effect sizes of the relation-
ship between correlates and microaggressions, selective incivility, interpersonal, covert,
Table 1
Examples of Correlates of Discrimination
Correlates of
Discrimination Examples
Individual work correlates
Career success academic rank, pay, promotion rate, prestige of first job
Situational satisfaction job satisfaction, school satisfaction, satisfaction with opportunities, satisfaction
with supervisors, satisfaction with coworkers, satisfaction with pay/benefits
Situational attachment affective organizational commitment, normative organizational commitment,
continuance organizational commitment, career commitment
Job stress preoccupation with job/job security, anxiety in relation to attendance
Organizationally relevant correlates
Job withdrawal disengagement with work activities, absenteeism
Turnover behavior organizational turnover, school dropout
Turnover intentions intent to leave organization, intent to leave military, intent to leave school
Performance scholarly productivity, raw profit, business success, sales performance, academic
achievement, quality of services, work effort
Physical health correlates
Substance use drug use, alcohol use, smoking, attitudes toward drug/alcohol/tobacco use
Exercise persistence/proclivity to engage in physical activity
Food selection unhealthy snacking and food choices
Symptomology experience of physical symptoms
Attitudinal satisfaction with general health
Cardiovascular health systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, coronary artery calcification,
plaque indices
Body size body weight and body mass index
Psychological health correlates
Attitudinal satisfaction with life, self-esteem
Stress and strain depression, anxiety, and general stress
Emotions anger, irritability, negative affect
Symptomology posttraumatic stress, psychological distress, and psychological dysfunction
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 11
implicit, modern, and everyday discrimination were coded as subtle, whereas studies report-
ing effect sizes of the relationship between correlates and formal, explicit, traditional, bla-
tant, and hostile discrimination were coded as overt. Most primary studies used measures
of discrimination that were continuous in nature, ranging on a scale that reflected the fre-
quency with which one was exposed to discriminatory treatment. That is, most studies used
measures of discrimination for which “low levels” indicated discrimination never or rarely
occurred whereas “high levels” indicated discrimination occurred frequently (over some
specified amount of time such as the past 12 months). It is important to note that discrimina-
tion was operationalized slightly differently in the lab studies (9% of the primary studies)
wherein discrimination was manipulated by the researcher. In these cases, discrimination
either occurred (in the discrimination condition) or it did not (in the control condition), so
by default the discrimination variable took on a value of either 1 or 0, reflecting the extreme
end points of the frequency continuum.
Meta-Analytic Method
Using the Hunter and Schmidt (1990) method, effect sizes were meta-analyzed for dis-
crimination in relation to each correlate domain when there were at least three samples pres-
ent. Effect size estimates were corrected for predictor and criterion reliability with the mean
attenuation factor, which was calculated using sample-size weighted means of the available
reliability data. Additionally, 95% confidence intervals were constructed around each meta-
analytic effect size, which can be interpreted as the range of values within which we are 95%
certain the corresponding population parameter lies. Thus, a confidence interval excluding
zero indicates a 95% likelihood that the population parameter is nonzero.
To avoid issues associated with independence of associations, we used a shifting unit-of-
analysis approach (Cooper, 1998). Associations within studies were first coded as though
they were independent estimates and subsequently averaged to provide one overall estimate
from each study. For example, if a single sample reported relationships between subtle dis-
crimination and both income level and career advancement, we first calculated two effect
sizes, one representing the relationship between subtle discrimination and income level and
the other representing the relationship between subtle discrimination and career advance-
ment. We then estimated the overall effect by averaging these correlations such that the
sample provided only one estimate of the relationship between subtle discrimination and
individual work correlates.
There were, however, a few studies that examined the impact of both subtle discrimina-
tion and overt discrimination. For example, Crouter and colleagues (2006) examined the
impact of both interpersonal (subtle) discrimination and institutional (overt) discrimina-
tion on depressive symptoms. Thus, we averaged these two correlations in our overall
assessment of discrimination on psychological health correlates; however, we separated
these two correlations in our subgroup analyses of subtle versus overt discrimination
(which is why the k’s and Ns from subtle and overt subgroup analyses do not sum perfectly
to the k’s and Ns in the overall analysis). The implication of this decision is that the meta-
analytic correlation reflecting the relationship between subtle discrimination and psycho-
logical correlates is not completely independent of the meta-analytic correlation reflecting
the relationship between overt discrimination and psychological correlates. Extant
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12 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
evidence suggests treating dependent correlations as independent produces similar (and if
anything, more conservative) results and is appropriate for rough inferences especially in
cases such as ours in which there are only a few examples of this (Hedges, Tipton, &
Johnson, 2010; Hunter & Schmitt, 2004). Moreover, this decision is justified in light of our
primary research question—the comparison of subtle and overt discrimination. It did not
make sense to penalize primary studies for pursuing this same question.
Moderator analyses. Although moderator analyses were conducted on all theoreti-
cal relationships of interest, the Q statistic (Hedges & Olkin, 1985) was used to indicate
whether reductions in variability of effect sizes accompanied investigations of subgroup dif-
ferences. For relationships suspected to be influenced by moderators, meta-analytic correla-
tions were computed separately for samples at differing levels of the moderators (Hunter
& Schmidt, 2000). As with the overall analyses, three or more samples were required to
conduct a moderator analysis. In the case of our primary moderator variable (subtle versus
overt discrimination), we report tests of statistical significance for the sake of completeness;
however, our primary focus in comparing these effect sizes concerns practical significance,
which we discuss as well. To determine if the effect sizes associated with the particular
moderators differed significantly, we computed t-statistics following the procedure outlined
by Aguinis, Sturman, and Pierce (2008) for evaluating the significance of meta-analytic
moderator variables.
Publication bias. Rothstein, Sutton, and Borenstein (2005) suggested that confidence in
the robustness and validity of meta-analytic findings is related to the extent to which pub-
lication bias affects the results of the study. The software package Comprehensive Meta-
Analysis (Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2005) was used to complete Duval
and Tweedie’s (2000a, 2000b) trim and fill analysis (using the symmetry of a distribution of
correlations to detect bias and impute “missing” correlations to reestimate the overall effect
size). For the trim and fill estimates, Kepes, McDaniel, Banks, and Whetzel (2012) classified
bias as negligible when the difference between the meta-analytic mean and a trim and fill
adjusted mean estimate is less than 20%, moderate when the difference is between 20% and
40%, and severe when the difference is greater than 40%. These analyses were conducted on
observed, not corrected, correlations.
For each of the relationships we investigated in this meta-analysis, we have reported the
number of samples on which the estimate is based (k), the total sample size aggregated across
studies (N), the mean sample-size-weighted uncorrected correlation (ro), the mean sample-
size-weighted corrected correlation (rc), and the upper and lower 95% confidence interval.
Additionally, significant Q statistics for relationships between discrimination and all four of
the correlate domains suggested the presence of between-study moderators: for individual
work correlates, Q(13) = 65.28, p < .01; for organizationally relevant correlates, Q(13) =
62.62, p < .01; for physical health correlates, Q(10) = 30.98, p < .01; and for psychological
health correlates, Q(31) = 170.63, p < .01. Finally, the results of our publication bias exami-
nation indicated negligible bias on all reported analyses.
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 13
Individual Work Correlates
Table 2 lists meta-analytic results for samples investigating the relationship between dis-
crimination and individual work outcomes. The mean sample-size-weighted corrected cor-
relation between overall discrimination (i.e., including both subtle and overt forms) and
adverse individual work correlates is .30.
Furthermore, as can be seen in Table 2, the mean sample-size-weighted corrected correla-
tions were .31 for subtle forms of discrimination and .28 for overt forms of discrimination.
Despite the fact that these two effect sizes were not statistically significantly different from
one another, we focus on the practical significance of the comparison of these two values. At
the very least, the lack of statistical significance suggests that both forms of discrimination
are similarly damaging, and thus neither form should be trivialized or overlooked. Finally,
results suggested that discrimination was similarly related to adverse individual work corre-
lates whether it was race based (.18) or sex based (.29) and regardless of publication date
(1996-2000 = .27, 2001-2005 = .26, 2006-2011 = .31).
Organizationally Relevant Correlates
The meta-analytic results for samples including organizationally relevant correlates are
reported in Table 3. As shown in the table, the mean sample-size-weighted corrected correla-
tion between overall discrimination and adverse organizationally relevant correlates was .24.
Table 2
Meta-Analytic Relationships Between Discrimination and Adverse Individual Work
95% CI
Analyses k N Q rorcL U
Discrimination overall 14 13,824 65.28 .26 .30 .20 .32
Form of discrimination
Subtle discrimination 4 2,624 11.74 .26 .31 .19 .33
Overt discrimination 14 13,824 109.17 .24 .28 .18 .30
Target of discrimination
Sex discrimination 7 11,677 60.27 .24 .29 .20 .29
Racial discrimination 4 1,186 16.39 .16 .18 .05 .27
Date of study publication
1996 to 2000 4 972 7.05 .23 .27 .11 .35
2001 to 2005 3 2,792 25.73 .21 .26 .15 .28
2006 to 2010 7 10,060 28.94 .27 .31 .22 .32
Setting of study
Work 13 13,366 66.26 .26 .30 .20 .32
Nonwork a
Note: CI = confidence interval; k = number of samples; N = total number of data points; ro = uncorrected sample-
size-weighted mean correlations; rc = weighted sample size mean correlations corrected for reliability; L = lower;
U = upper.
aInsufficient cases for analysis.
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14 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
Furthermore, moderator analyses indicated the mean sample-size-weighted corrected cor-
relation for subtle forms of discrimination was .25, whereas overt forms of discrimination
resulted in a mean sample-size-weighted corrected correlation of .22. As with individual
work correlates, results of significance testing did not suggest that subtle and overt discrimi-
nation were differentially related to adverse organizationally relevant correlates. However,
showing that these two forms of discrimination are not differentially related to relevant out-
comes is perhaps even more meaningful given that subtle discrimination is often dismissed
relative to its overt counterpart. In this case, it was possible to examine only date of publica-
tion (i.e., 2001-2005 versus 2006-2011) as a potential moderator. However, the findings did
not suggest the relationship between discrimination and organizationally relevant correlates
generated from studies published between 2001 and 2005 (.20) differed from effect sizes
generated in studies published after 2005 (.25).
Physical Health Correlates
Meta-analytic estimates of the relationship between discrimination and adverse physical
health correlates are displayed in Table 4. The overall mean sample-size-weighted corrected
correlation was .16, which closely corresponds with Pascoe and Smart Richman’s (2009)
meta-analytic estimate of –.13, reflecting the relationship between perceived discrimination
and improved physical health.
Table 3
Meta-Analytic Relationships Between Discrimination and Adverse Organizationally
Relevant Correlates
95% CI
Analyses k N Q rorcL U
Discrimination overall 14 13,745 62.62 .19 .24 .13 .25
Form of discrimination
Subtle discrimination 5 2,691 52.36 .20 .25 .12 .28
Overt discrimination 12 13,411 67.42 .18 .22 .12 .23
Target of discrimination
Sex discrimination a
Racial discrimination 7 11,419 40.43 .18 .22 .13 .22
Date of study publication
1996 to 2000 a
2001 to 2005 3 2,792 28.90 .16 .20 .09 .22
2006 to 2010 9 10,206 32.36 .20 .25 .15 .26
Setting of study
Work 12 13,188 48.51 .20 .24 .14 .25
Nonwork a
Note: CI = confidence interval; k = number of samples; N = total number of data points; ro = uncorrected sample-
size-weighted mean correlations; rc = weighted sample size mean correlations corrected for reliability; L = lower;
U = upper.
aInsufficient cases for analysis.
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 15
Furthermore, moderator analyses yielded a mean sample-size-weighted corrected correla-
tion of .17 between subtle forms of discrimination and physical health correlates and .16
between overt discrimination and physical health correlates. Again, statistical significance
testing suggested these meta-analytic estimates were similar in magnitude. Additionally, our
results suggested the relationship between discrimination and adverse physical health corre-
lates was not significantly different across work (.16) and nonwork (.18) settings, and race-
based discrimination yielded a similar average effect size (.19) as compared to sex-based
discrimination (.15). Finally, effect sizes reflecting the relationship between discrimination
and physical health correlates from studies published between 2001 and 2005 (.13) did not
significantly differ from those published after 2005 (.16).
Psychological Health Correlates
In Table 5, we present the meta-analytic relationships between discrimination and adverse
psychological health correlates. Here, it can be seen that the mean sample-size-weighted cor-
rected correlation between overall discrimination and psychological distress is .30, which is
noticeably larger than the effect size of –.16 found by Pascoe and Smart Richman (2009),
reflecting the relationship between discrimination and psychological well-being.
In addition, moderator analyses reveal average effect sizes of .31 and .28 for subtle and
overt forms of discrimination, respectively. Again, significance testing suggested these two
estimates were comparable in magnitude, which as we argued above is even more practically
Table 4
Meta-Analytic Relationships Between Discrimination and Adverse Physical Health
95% CI
Analyses k N Q rorcL U
Discrimination overall 11 14,637 30.98 .13 .16 .08 .19
Form of discrimination
Subtle discrimination 7 5,596 28.97 .14 .17 .07 .20
Overt discrimination 7 10,161 14.34 .13 .16 .08 .18
Target of discrimination
Sex discrimination 3 9,053 45.93 .12 .15 .08 .16
Racial discrimination 7 4,849 30.05 .14 .19 .07 .21
Date of study publication
1996 to 2000 a
2001 to 2005 4 1,184 9.21 .10 .13 –.01 .21
2006 to 2010 6 13,326 23.97 .13 .16 .09 .17
Setting of study
Work 3 9,691 4.30 .13 .16 .10 .16
Nonwork 8 4,946 30.38 .14 .18 .06 .22
Note: CI = confidence interval; k = number of samples; N = total number of data points; ro = uncorrected sample-
size-weighted mean correlations; rc = weighted sample size mean correlations corrected for reliability; L = lower;
U = upper.
aInsufficient cases for analysis.
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16 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
meaningful as it suggests subtle discrimination is at least as psychologically damaging as
overt discrimination.
Furthermore, moderator analyses revealed similar relationships between discrimination
and psychological correlates for sex-based (.33) and race-based (.30) discrimination.
Regarding the setting of the study, studies conducted in work settings yielded similar effects
(.30) as compared to studies conducted in nonwork settings (.29). Finally, studies published
after 2001, across both intervals, yielded significantly stronger effects than those published
prior to 2001. Specifically, studies published between 2001 and 2005, t(13) = 1.98, p < .05,
and studies published after 2005, t(19) = 5.30, p < .01, held significantly more positive rela-
tionships with psychological distress (.29 and .31, respectively) than those published before
2001 (.20). The effect sizes of the two later interval groups did not differ.
Taken together, our findings advance the existing literature in three primary ways. First,
we have provided the first meta-analysis examining the differential correlates of subtle ver-
sus overt discrimination. While only recently have there been enough primary studies to
support a meta-analytic investigation, the findings here suggest that subtle discrimination is
at least as positively related to adverse correlates as its overt counterpart. Specifically, the
current study indicates that the relationships between subtle discrimination and all correlates
examined were comparable to the relationships between overt discrimination and the corre-
lates examined. Second, the current meta-analysis extended the work of prior meta-analyses
Table 5
Meta-Analytic Relationships Between Discrimination and Adverse Psychological
95% CI
Analyses k N Q rorcL U
Discrimination overall 32 17,498 170.63 .25 .30 .17 .33
Form of discrimination
Subtle discrimination 19 6,133 120.37 .26 .31 .16 .27
Overt discrimination 22 15,602 127.98 .24 .28 .17 .31
Target of discrimination
Sex discrimination 7 10,448 47.38 .27 .33 .23 .32
Racial discrimination 17 5,057 64.84 .25 .30 .15 .36
Date of study publication
1996 to 2000 4 1,203 10.36 .16 .20 .05 .27
2001 to 2005 11 3,945 79.48 .25 .29 .15 .34
2006 to 2010 17 12,350 85.72 .26 .31 .19 .33
Setting of study
Work 9 11,180 71.52 .26 .30 .20 .31
Nonwork 23 6,318 110.15 .24 .29 .13 .36
Note: CI = confidence interval; k = number of samples; N = total number of data points; ro = uncorrected sample-
size-weighted mean correlations; rc = weighted sample size mean correlations corrected for reliability; L = lower;
U = upper.
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 17
on outcomes associated with general forms of discrimination by examining not only psycho-
logical and physical health outcomes but also work-related outcomes and by expanding our
focus to include multiple (as opposed to one single) minority groups. Third and finally, we
have further clarified the distinction between the constructs of subtle and overt discrimina-
tion, providing researchers with a more defined framework for future research.
Interestingly, individual work correlates, organizationally relevant correlates, and psycho-
logical correlates held the most positive relationships with both forms of discrimination,
whereas the relationship between physical health correlates and discrimination was smaller
in magnitude (rc = .16), consistent with the meta-analytic estimate of the relationship between
discrimination and favorable physical health correlates reported by Pascoe and Smart
Richman (2009; rc = –.13). There was, however, a noticeable difference between our meta-
analytic estimate of the relationship between discrimination and psychological distress (rc =
.30) and that reported by Pascoe and Smart Richman (2009; rc = –.16). One potential expla-
nation for this difference is that our estimate was based on a much smaller number of primary
studies (k = 32) as compared to Pascoe and Smart Richman’s (2009; k = 105), which is likely
a function of our inclusion criteria requiring that a study provide enough information to code
discrimination measures as either subtle or overt in nature and could not include discrimina-
tion measures that were mixed in nature. Furthermore, there appeared to be substantial vari-
ance in Pascoe and Smart Richman’s (2009) meta-analytic estimate of the relationship
between discrimination and psychological health (Qmental = 7480.44, p <.001). In fact, mod-
erator analyses found that the absence of social support exacerbated the negative relationship
between discrimination and psychological health (Pascoe & Smart Richman, 2009). Thus, it
is possible that the 32 primary studies used to generate our meta-analytic estimate of the
relationship between discrimination and psychological health reflected samples in which
participants tended to be at the lower end of the spectrum on social support. Nevertheless, our
meta-analytic estimate of the relationship between discrimination and psychological corre-
lates was more similar to the meta-analytic estimates reported by Lee and Ahn (2011; rc =
–.23) and Lee and Ahn (2012; rc = –.28).
Though significance tests did not suggest any of the subtle estimates were statistically
significantly different from their respective overt estimates, it is notable that across all cor-
relate domains, effect sizes for subtle discrimination were larger in absolute magnitude rela-
tive to those for overt discrimination. Indeed, the discrepancy between subtle and overt effect
sizes was larger for organizationally relevant correlates (.31 vs. .28), individual work corre-
lates (.25 vs. .22), and psychological correlates (.31 vs. .28) and smaller for physical health
correlates (.17 vs. 16). Taken as a whole, these results are particularly provocative given that
instances of subtle discrimination are often perceived as less offensive and are easily mini-
mized or dismissed, likely due to the ambiguous nature of subtle discrimination. At the very
least, our results suggest subtle discrimination is at least as important to pay attention to as
overt discrimination.
Although the current investigation primarily focused on the comparison of effects of sub-
tle and overt discrimination, additional moderators were examined. Specifically, we evalu-
ated the possibility that the relationship between discrimination and its correlates may depend
on minority status membership (i.e., race-based, sex-based), setting of the study (i.e., work-
place, nonworkplace), and date of study publication (i.e., 1996-2000, 2001-2005, 2006-
2011). On the whole, our results did not provide support for any moderating effects of the
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18 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
variables examined. However, the one exception was for psychological health correlates, for
which we found that studies published in more recent years (i.e., after 2001) produced stron-
ger negative effect sizes relative to studies published in earlier years (i.e., before 2001). One
possible reason for this finding could be increased prejudiced attitudes toward Arabs and
those of Middle Eastern descent following the events of 9/11 (Merskin, 2004). Finally, it is
worth noting that although we did not restrict the date of publication in our search for pri-
mary studies, we found no usable studies prior to 1996. This highlights the critical need to
further this line of relatively new research and continue building our base of primary studies
for future meta-analytic investigations.
Furthermore, in light of potential concerns that correlates of discrimination function dif-
ferently depending on whether they are examined in work or nonwork settings, it is worth
mentioning that when it was possible to compare work and nonwork study settings, the rela-
tionship between discrimination and its correlates was not significantly different across study
Theoretical Implications
Our findings yield several important theoretical implications with regard to experiences of
discrimination from the target’s perspective. For all examined outcomes, subtle discrimina-
tion exhibited a similar relationship with correlates as compared to overt discrimination,
demonstrating that subtle discrimination is at least as detrimental to targets. Thus, our find-
ings are consistent with both stress and coping models (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams,
1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) as well as attributional ambiguity explanations (Crocker &
Major, 1989; Crocker et al., 1991) in accounting for the potentially damaging impact of
subtle discrimination. Specifically, our results build on attributional ambiguity theory in
demonstrating that subtle discrimination may be particularly damaging to targets as a func-
tion of its inherently ambiguous nature. The ambiguity inherent in subtle discriminatory
behaviors decreases the target’s ability to attribute the negative behavior externally and
increases the likelihood the target will blame himself or herself for the negative experience,
taking a toll on psychological well-being (Crocker et al., 1991). Furthermore, this process of
deciding whether to attribute subtle discrimination externally or internally takes more time as
compared to situations of explicitly overt discrimination, which enable targets to make
quicker, easier external attributions to prejudice. Thus, our results are consistent with prior
research that has shown that the heavier cognitive load required to make an attribution in the
case of subtle discrimination impairs cognitive performance as compared to the lighter cog-
nitive load associated with experiencing explicitly overt discrimination (Salvatore & Shelton,
2007; Singletary, 2009).
Finally, our meta-analytic results bolster the notion that subtle discrimination may be
particularly harmful for targets because of its higher frequency and thus chronic nature. This
is consistent with the notion of “accumulation,” or the idea that seemingly trivial microag-
gressions can accumulate over time to produce substantial negative impact on those who
incur them (Cortina, 2008). Indeed, one simulation study illustrated this phenomenon by
showing that seemingly inconsequential instances of male-female bias can accumulate over
time, and it is the sum of these instances that coalesce into a single significant situation of
bias (Martell, Lane, & Emrich, 1996).
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 19
Practical Implications
Our findings echo those of other scholarly research illustrating that subtle slights and
microaggressions in the workplace likely undermine organizational efforts to emanate prodi-
versity climates and lead to worsened job attitudes, decreased performance, and increased
turnover (Gifford, 2009; King et al., 2006; Stewart et al., 2010; Tougas et al., 2005). Given
recent research in the diversity management literature demonstrating the benefits of organi-
zational climates that are supportive of diversity (Gonzalez & DeNisi, 2009; McKay et al.,
2008; McKay, Avery, Liao, & Morris, 2011), organizations must take action by increasing
awareness and identification of these insidious types of behaviors perhaps by incorporating
information about their potentially detrimental impact into diversity training programs.
To our knowledge, there are only two existing studies that have directly assessed the
impact of diversity training participation on subsequent discriminatory behaviors (King,
Dawson, Kravitz, & Gulick, 2012; Sanchez & Medkik, 2004). Whereas King and her col-
leagues (2012) found diversity training led to less ethnic minority discrimination, Sanchez
and Medkik (2004) found that diversity training led to higher levels of differential treatment
toward ethnic minorities after the training. The divergent results from these two studies sug-
gest the impact of diversity training on discrimination likely depends on a number of moder-
ating conditions, one of which can be gleaned from social psychological research suggesting
the general lens through which diversity is portrayed (i.e., color-blind approach, multicultur-
alism approach) has an important impact on subsequent racially charged attitudes and
The color-blind approach (the predominant approach to diversity training; Plaut &
Markus, 2007; Thomas & Ely, 1996) underscores the importance of minimizing and ignoring
subgroup differences. Generally, research has shown this approach may actually result in
damaging interpersonal outcomes. For example, White confederates experimentally primed
to avoid asking a Black partner about race (color-blind condition) exhibited more negative
nonverbal behaviors (as coded by an independent coder watching a muted version of the
interaction) toward their partners as compared to a control condition (Apfelbaum, Sommers,
& Norton, 2008). Specifically, these participants’ behaviors were evaluated as more unpleas-
ant, unfriendly, unlikeable, cruel, and cold: behaviors reminiscent of subtle discrimination. In
contrast, the multiculturalism ideology, which recognizes and even celebrates group differ-
ences, has been found to predict psychological engagement and lower perceptions among
ethnic minority employees that an organization’s diversity climate was racially biased (Plaut,
Thomas, & Goren, 2009; Sue, 2004). Scholars argue these differential effects are likely a
function of an inclusive, fair, and accepting diversity climate created by the multiculturalism
approach (Plaut et al., 2009).
Taken together, the evidence described above suggests endorsement of the color-blind
approach may actually lead to damaging interpersonal outcomes, particularly in the form of
subtle discriminatory behaviors (Apfelbaum et al., 2008). In light of our meta-analytic find-
ings linking subtle discrimination to a host of adverse outcomes that are both individually
and organizationally relevant, an important practical implication of our study is that organi-
zations carefully and cautiously consider their approach to diversity in various diversity ini-
tiatives (including diversity training). Specifically, emphasizing a multiculturalism approach
to diversity may facilitate more positive interpersonal relationships while decreasing the
likelihood of backlash in the form of both subtle and overt discrimination.
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20 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
In addition to designing diversity training initiatives that are likely to reduce both subtle
and overt forms of discrimination, organizations should consider creating formal policies and
procedures outlining what subtle discrimination is, actions for recourse, and clear disciplin-
ary consequences to match already existing policies and procedures focused on more blatant
(and often illegal) forms of discrimination. Taken together, our findings point to the poten-
tially damaging nature of both forms of discrimination and suggest that diversity manage-
ment efforts aim to improve interpersonal relationships among subgroup members, thereby
decreasing the incidence of both subtle and overt discrimination.
Limitations and Future Research Directions
The current findings should be interpreted in light of the study’s limitations. First, by and
large, our primary studies were field studies and thus correlational in nature (only 4/44 pri-
mary studies (9%) were experimental lab studies). Thus, our meta-analytic effect sizes reflect
the relationship between target’s perceptions of discrimination (as opposed to when discrimi-
nation is either absent or present because it is manipulated by the researcher) and the four
correlate domains. To this end, as the body of evidence on discrimination continues to grow,
further analysis of experimental research that directly manipulates subtle and overt discrimi-
nation is warranted. In line with this goal, our results highlight the need for subtle discrimina-
tion to be examined through a longitudinal lens to build understanding of the processes by
which it emerges, in isolation as well as in conjunction with its more overt counterpart.
Second, because of the relatively small number of studies available, we were unable to
determine the effects of specific subtypes (e.g., microinsults, benevolent sexism) for each
form of discrimination (i.e., subtle and overt discrimination). For instance, it may be that
microaggressions toward disadvantaged ethnic groups function differently than microaggres-
sions directed toward women. Thus, whereas the subtle measures used in our primary studies
generally fit our definition of subtle discrimination, they may not have reliably captured
microaggressions and the more subtle aspects of subtle discrimination—at least not directly.
Furthermore, though our definition of subtle discrimination identifies such behavior as “not
necessarily conscious,” we may not know whether it is unconscious. In spite of this point, our
definition still addresses subtlety at multiple levels: the nature of the behaviors, the percep-
tions and inferences made, and the context being outside of law or formal policy.
Third, single studies examining outcomes that did not conceptually fit one of our four
criterion domains could not be included in this analysis. For example, one study that did not
fit with our specified criterion domains examined the effect of mothers’ perceptions of dis-
crimination on the relationship between mothers and teachers (Rowley, Helaire, & Banerjee,
2010). Indeed, as primary studies continue to build, the moderating impact of different sub-
types of subtle discrimination, more varied outcomes, and more diverse targets on the rela-
tionship between discrimination and its correlates should be further examined.
Finally, given the potential impact the approach to diversity (i.e., color-blind, multicultural-
ism) may have on subsequent prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behaviors, future evalu-
ation research should strive to provide more information on the approaches taken in diversity
training programs. Furthermore, given a reduction in discrimination toward socially disadvan-
taged group members is the most commonly cited goal of diversity training (Bendick, Egan,
& Lofhjelm, 2001; Chrobot-Mason & Quinones, 2002), more careful attention to the
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Jones et al. / Not So Subtle 21
measurement of these behaviors posttraining is warranted. Indeed, postdiversity-training
behavioral measures that distinguish between subtle discriminatory and overt discriminatory
behaviors represent a particularly fruitful direction for future research. In addition, given the
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... Elicitations of anxiety should also follow experiences of benevolent sexism during interpersonal job search events given that, in lieu of external attributions, women are likely to make internal attributions regarding the alleged lack of abilities implied by the perpetrator (Dardenne et al., 2007). This perspective is consistent with applications of attributional ambiguity theory to discrimination (e.g., Major et al., 2003), with Jones et al. (2016) noting that victims tend to make internal attributions ("it's not them, it's me;" p. 1589) following experiences of subtle discrimination such as benevolent sexism. Implications surrounding incompetence and increased self-doubt regarding one's abilitieswhich occurs following exposure to benevolent sexism (Dardenne et al., 2007;Dumont et al., 2010)-likely trigger worries regarding the ability to successfully reach one's employment goal, which should also prompt greater anxiety (e.g., Locke, 1996;McKee-Ryan et al., 2005). ...
... In other words, women who are highly identified are more likely to make gender-based attributions (versus internal attributions) following sexist incidents . Given that hostile and benevolent sexism have differing manifestations and, as such, can lead to different attributions (e.g., Dardenne et al., 2007;Jones et al., 2016) the impact of female job seekers' identification with their gender is likely to have distinct effects on women's affective reactions. Indeed, our theorizing suggests that the overt nature of hostile sexism helps women more clearly identify this interpersonal mistreatment as reflecting the prejudicial attitudes of the perpetrator, leading to increased anger. ...
... In the case of benevolent sexism, which is more ambiguous in its intent (Barreto & Ellemers, 2005a;Dardenne et al., 2007), greater identification with gender may actually buffer female job seekers' affective reactions to this form of mistreatment. In particular, while individuals are more likely to make internal attributions in response to subtle forms of discrimination (Jones et al., 2016;Major et al., 2003), this may not be the case for highly identified women given their greater likelihood of externally attributing discriminatory incidents to the biases and prejudicial attitudes of the perpetrator (Dardenne et al., 2007;Major et al., 2003). In other words, greater identification may weaken the within-person relation between experiences of benevolent sexism and anxiety. ...
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Despite the growing attention devoted to women's experiences of sexism within organizational contexts, there is comparatively less work elucidating the affective and behavioral self‐regulatory processes that unfold following sexist incidents that happen before organizational entry—that is, during the job search process. In the current study, we integrate ambivalent sexism theory (Glick & Fiske, 1996) with self‐regulation theory to explore the differential impact of experiences of hostile (i.e., overt, derogatory, expressions of female inferiority) and benevolent sexism (i.e., subtle, seemingly positive, expressions of female incompetence) during the job search. Further, drawing from research on discrimination, we also consider whether reactions to sexism are shaped by the extent to which women identify with their gender. We tested our conceptual model through a weekly study of 103 female new labor market entrants. Findings indicated that while weekly experiences of hostile sexism related to heightened anger, experiences of benevolent sexism elicited anxiety; these effects were exacerbated for highly gender‐identified female job seekers. Anxiety—but not anger—prompted next‐week job search effort and intensity, which yielded distinct effects on search success and well‐being. Notably, exploratory analyses demonstrated that these affective responses to weekly experiences of hostile and benevolent sexism did not emerge for male job seekers, suggesting that such experiences of sexism can be more impactful for women on the job market. Thus, our work highlights the critical self‐regulatory processes that unfold weekly following female job seekers’ exposure to sexism. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
... I thank Philippe Coulangeon, Emanuele Ferragina and Jocelyne Streiff-Fénart, as well as the other contributors to this special issue, for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. 1 In the first two decades of the 21st century literally hundreds of studies were published on the link between discrimination and mental health. This body of research has been reviewed in a number of meta-analyses that differ in coverage and emphasis but converge with no exception in the estimate of an overall negative correlation between perceived discrimination and mental health (Britt-Spells et al. 2018, Carter et al. 2017, 2019, de Freitas et al. 2018, Jones et al. 2016, Lee and Ahn 2011, 2013, Paradies et al. 2015, Pascoe and Smart Richman 2009, Pieterse et al. 2012, Schmitt et al. 2014, Triana, Jayasinghe and Pieper 2015. 2 While this result seems beyond doubt, critics have observed that it applies within groups, leaving unaddressed the question whether discrimination produces inequalities in mental health between groups (Schwartz and Meyer 2010, see also Williams et al. 2019). For example, a typical result has been to show that among Black Americans a higher score on a perceived discrimination scale is correlated with a lower score on a mental well-being scale (or with more symptoms of a specific psychopathology, or of nonspecific emotional distress). ...
... Subtle forms of discrimination can be more harmful to targets than overt forms of discrimination because the reason for the discriminatory behavior can be unclear, leaving the target to ruminate over the event, question the perpetrator's intent, and be unsure whether discrimination had occurred or not (Ruggs et al., 2011). Indeed, meta-analytic results have demonstrated that subtle discrimination is at least as detrimental on a variety of individual, organizational, and health-related outcomes as overt discrimination (Jones et al., 2016). ...
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Purpose The aim of the present study was to contribute to the workplace diversity literature by experimentally manipulating gender expression through the use of makeup among women and men to determine makeup's impact on interpersonal discrimination in a real-world job selection context. Design/methodology/approach In an experimental field study, we applied either real (i.e. tinted) or placebo (i.e. transparent) cosmetic products to women and men confederate applicants. The women and men engaged in job inquiry and pre-interview conversations with store personnel in 136 retail stores across 3 shopping malls that were randomly assigned to one of 4 conditions in a 2 (confederate gender: women versus men) by 2 (cosmetic usage: real versus placebo) experimental design. The confederate applicants were accompanied by confederate observers and recorded interactions were later analyzed by naïve coders. The applicants, observers, and naïve coders rated interpersonal discrimination from store personnel in each interaction. Findings As hypothesized, women who enhanced their femininity through the use of makeup experienced significantly less interpersonal discrimination than women who did not. In contrast, there was no significant difference in interpersonal discrimination for men as a function of visual gender expression. Originality/value These findings highlight the pervasive gender norm expectations for women at work by examining gender non-conformity of women and men.
... Research based in Europe has found that anti-Muslim prejudice is a distinct construct; even though it is related to other forms of prejudice (e.g., cultural, economic), it is not related to blatant discrimination (Elchardus & Spruyt, 2014). In contrast, meta-analytic results between subtle and overt discrimination have similar associations with health, demonstrating there may not actually be a difference in the effect on outcomes (Jones et al., 2016). In to-Discrimination, Life Stress, and Mental Health Among Muslims: A Preregistered Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Collabra: Psychology tal, meta-analytic results suggest the need for further examination of the association of individual vs. group-based discrimination with mental health. ...
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Research suggests that experiences of discrimination and life stressors are associated with negative mental-health outcomes for Muslim populations in western countries. The current study reports on two meta-analyses based on 295 correlations from 130 unique samples and 27,725 individuals, examining the associations of discrimination and life stressors, both separately and jointly, with mental health. Discrimination was significantly associated with negative mental-health outcomes (rs = .22–.23). Between-study variability in effects sizes was explained by discrimination level, mental-health outcome, number of discrimination measure items, and refugee status. Life stressors were also significantly associated with negative mental-health outcomes (rs = .32–.37). Between-study variability in effect sizes was explained by publication bias, sample population, number of life stressor measure items, continent, and ethnicity. Both omnibus effect-size estimates were robust to tests of publication bias, outliers, and within-study dependence. Results suggest unique associations between both discrimination and life stressors with mental health. In the current sociopolitical climate, this study is an important step to better serve the mental health needs of the growing global Muslim community.
... Benevolent sexism (Swim et al., 2004;Barreto and Ellemers, 2013;Good et al., 2019) as well as non-prototypical forms of sexism, such as men being the targets of sexism (Ashburn-Nardo and Karim, 2019), are harder to detect. Critically, such subtle forms of sexism are similar or even more harmful than overt, more easily detectable forms of sexism (Jones et al., 2016). It is, thus, important to teach detection of not only overt, but also subtle sexism (Pietri et al., 2017;Ashburn-Nardo and Karim, 2019;Monteith et al., 2019). ...
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Empirical evidence for the effectiveness of interventions teaching lay people how to recognize sexism is scarce. The purpose of the present study was, thus, twofold: The first aim was to evaluate a brief intervention using a lecture-like educational video on how to recognize subtle sexism. The second aim was to demonstrate the usefulness of signal detection theory (SDT) for evaluating the participants’ ability to discriminate between subtle sexist and non-sexist statements. Participants (N = 73) were randomly assigned to a subtle sexism treatment group (SSG), an overt sexism treatment group (OSG), or a control group (CG). After the intervention phase, the participants were asked to rate statements in vignettes with respect to how sexist they perceived them to be. The participants in the SSG were significantly better in correctly identifying subtle sexist content than the participants in the OSG and CG. However, they were not more accurate overall. This was because they claimed sexism more often, irrespective of whether it was present or not. We conclude that while our intervention increased participants’ sensitivity in detecting sexist content, it did so at the cost of specificity. Our results make clear that practitioners teaching people how to recognize sexism should control intervention outcomes for unintended effects of biased decision criteria, given that erroneous allegations of sexism could have grave consequences. To this effect, the value of SDT, which allows for fine-grained and, consequently, more accurate insight than standard approaches to the analysis of intervention effects, was demonstrated.
... Second, the bullying scale we used included not only psychological aggression, but also incivility. Incivility, as a subtle and covert from of mistreatment, may be more frequent but equally as harmful as overt aggression (Jones et al., 2013). In addition, unlike Dionisi et al.'s study, we did not include physical aggression, which is relatively rare in the workplace (Neuman & Baron, 1998). ...
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Masculinity contest culture (MCC), which refers to a dysfunctional organizational culture, is correlated with more frequent interpersonal mistreatment (e.g., sexual harassment and bullying) and lower levels of occupational and psychological well-being. The present cross-sectional study using a convenience sample of Chinese working women (N = 694) investigated the mediating role of interpersonal mistreatment in the association between MCC and psychological well-being, as well as potential individual and organizational moderators. Moderated mediation analyses revealed that organizational tolerance for sexual harassment (OTSH) and targets’ position in the organization moderated the links between MCC and interpersonal mistreatment. Specifically, the association between MCC and sexual harassment experiences was stronger when women held higher positions in organizations with greater OTSH. While OTSH also strengthened the association between MCC and bullying, position in the organization was not correlated with bullying and did not moderate the link between MCC and bullying. The results also provided evidence for the indirect effects of MCC on psychological well-being via sexual harassment and bullying; these indirect effects were larger via bullying than sexual harassment. Our findings demonstrate the importance of organizational culture and climate for women’s well-being and may inform recommendations for promoting a climate of respect and justice in the workplace.
Rape survivors face stigma when disclosing their experiences. We hypothesized that a rape survivor who formally reports their rape would experience more stigma than one who does not, and that this effect will be stronger when the perceiver is a man or low in support for sexual consent. Across two studies using self-report, observational, and psychophysiological measures, we found that a reporting survivor was seen more negatively than an identical survivor who did not report their rape. Men and those low in support for sexual consent also responded more negatively to the survivor. Implications of these findings are discussed.
We investigate discrimination experiences of (1) immigrants and racialized individuals, (2) Indigenous peoples, and (3) comparison White non-immigrants in nine regions of Southwestern Ontario containing small- and mid-sized communities. For each region, representative samples of the three groups were recruited to complete online surveys. In most regions, over 80 percent of Indigenous peoples reported experiencing discrimination in the past 3 years, and in more than half of the regions, over 60 percent of immigrants and racialized individuals did so. Indigenous peoples, immigrants and racialized individuals were most likely to experience discrimination in employment settings and in a variety of public settings, and were most likely to attribute this discrimination to racial and ethnocultural factors, and for Indigenous peoples also their Indigenous identity. Immigrants and racialized individuals who had experienced discrimination generally reported a lower sense of belonging and welcome in their communities. This association was weaker for Indigenous peoples. The findings provide new insight into discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples, immigrants and racialized individuals in small and mid-sized Canadian communities, and are critical to creating and implementing effective anti-racism and anti-discrimination strategies.
Although studies have described work processes among employed African American women, few have examined the influence of these processes on job outcomes. This study examined relationships between African American women's exposure to a range of occupational stressors, including two types of racial bias—institutional discrimination and interpersonal prejudice—and their evaluations of job quality. Findings indicated that institutional discrimination and interpersonal prejudice were more important predictors of job quality among these women than were other occupational stressors such as low task variety and decision authority, heavy workloads, and poor supervision. Racial bias in the workplace was most likely to be reported by workers in predominantly white work settings. In addition, Black women who worked in service, semiskilled, and unskilled occupations reported significantly more institutional discrimination, but not more interpersonal prejudice, than did women in professional, managerial, and technical occupations or those in sales and clerical occupations.
In this article we introduce the concept of workplace incivility and explain how incivility can potentially spiral into increasingly intense aggressive behaviors. To gain an understanding of the mechanisms that underlie an "incivility spiral," we examine what happens at key points: the starting and tipping points. Furthermore, we describe several factors that can facilitate the occurrence and escalation of an incivility spiral and the secondary spirals that can result. We offer research propositions and discuss implications of workplace incivility for researchers and practitioners.
This chapter reviews the literature on employment discrimination. The review is organized around targets (e.g., sex, race, religion), causes (e.g., cognitive, in-group favoritism), forms (e.g., harassment, adverse impact), and results of discrimination (e.g., costs, stress). Primarily, literature from the field of industrial and organizational psychology is considered. However, research in other disciplines is also included. The paper concludes with suggestions for future research directions for this rich and diverse area of research: integration across disciplines, integration across levels of theory and analysis, and integration with practice.
Various authors have noted that interethnic group and intraethnic group racism are significant stressors for many African Americans. As such, intergroup and intragroup racism may play a role in the high rates of morbidity and mortality in this population. Yet, although scientific examinations of the effects of stress have proliferated, few researchers have explored the psychological, social, and physiological effects of perceived racism among African Americans. The purpose of this article was to outline a biopsychosocial model for perceived racism as a guide for future research. The first section of this article provides a brief overview of how racism has been conceptualized in the scientific literature. The second section reviews research exploring the existence of intergroup and intragroup racism. A contextual model for systematic studies of the biopsychosocial effects of perceived racism is then presented, along with recommendations for future research.
This chapter focuses on the study of parametric and nonparametric methods for estimating the effect size (standardized mean difference) from a single experiment. It is important to recognize that estimating and interpreting a common effect size is based on the belief that the population effect size is actually the same across studies. Otherwise, estimating a mean effect may obscure important differences between the studies. The chapter discusses several alternative point estimators of the effect size δ from a single two-group experiment. These estimators are based on the sample standardized mean difference but differ by multiplicative constants that depend on the sample sizes involved. Although the estimates have identical large sample properties, they generally differ in terms of small sample properties. The statistical properties of estimators of effect size depend on the model for the observations in the experiment. A convenient and often realistic model is to assume that the observations are independently normally distributed within groups of the experiment.
The manifestation of stigma in the workplace hinders the ability of organizations to adapt given an increasingly diverse workforce. Stigma refers to the process of assigning negative attributions to another person based upon explicit or implied personal characteristics (Goffman, 1963). Stigma occurs between individuals, groups, cultures and societies where individuals and groups seek to manipulate power structure and resources. ^ This study drew upon the extant literature to develop a typology of stigma experienced in the workplace. Based upon Herek’s (2009a) typology of sexual stigma, three types of workplace stigma were proposed. Enacted stigma refers to stigma expressed through overt behaviors towards a target, through policies that promote stigma and/or lack of policies to protect targets. Felt stigma refers to situations where an individual is aware that others hold negative feelings towards an attribute of the target, but those negative feelings do not necessarily affect the target negatively. Internalized stigma refers to situations where an individual is not only aware of stigma, but also accepts the legitimacy of negative attributions of himself or herself because of the stigma. ^ The Workplace Stigma Questionnaire was developed to measure and confirm the typology of workplace stigma. The initial 60 items were analyzed through a six step development process resulting in the final instrument which includes 18 items across 5 subscales and which produced reliabilities between α=.53 and α=.94. Factor analysis indicated that stigma existed on five distinct factors—functional, acknowledged, interpersonal enacted, organizational enacted, and internalized. ^ Individual outcomes of state self-esteem, state hope, leader-member exchange and organizational commitment were tested with stigma as moderated by a series of demographic variables. Results indicated that organizations whose employees experience increased levels of enacted stigma, organizational enacted stigma and internalized stigma resulted in employees with decreased levels of commitment, decreased confidence to pursue professional goals, lower levels of feelings of worth and lower quality relationships with supervisors. Practical implications and future directions for research are discussed.