Unique threats to members of the dominant group in the face of increasing diversity

Who represents what it means to be American? Or an engineer? Across contexts, it is generally the dominant group (e.g., White Americans, men) that holds the claim to best represent the broader social categories to which they belong. This privilege of best representing what it means to be a part of a particular group, and thus setting the norms to which all other groups are expected to conform, is called prototypicality. With social change, such as an influx of members of non-dominant groups, members of dominant groups feel that their prototypicality is threatened, leading to backlash against increasing diversity. This prototypicality threat, in turn leads members of dominant groups to oppose growing diversity and demand the assimilation of other groups to their norms. I first explored prototypicality threat in the context of White Americans responding to projections of changing demographics (which suggest that by 2043 Whites will no longer be a numerical majority in America; Danbold & Huo, 2015; Danbold & Huo, in review). In addition, I have examined prototypicality threat among men in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math),  who in response seek to undermine effective efforts to bring more women into these fields. This work highlights how understanding the unique threats experienced by members of dominant groups is important to prevent them from undermining important social change (Danbold & Huo, 2017).

Interventions to increase inclusivity within organizations

Why are women so underrepresented and undervalued in fields such as firefighting and business leadership? One reason is that they do match the very masculine prototypes in these domains (i.e., what one thinks of when they think of an ideal member of these profession). To improve attitudes towards non-prototypical group members, I developed prototype inversion, an intervention that emphasizes the importance of necessary, but typically overlooked feminine traits in these domains (Danbold & Bendersky, in review). For example, compassion is critical to modern firefighting, as the large majority of calls firefighters now go on are medical. Prototype inversion emphasizes the importance of compassion, while still recognizing the need for masculine traits like physical strength, to broaden the existing professional prototype. As a result, people exposed to this intervention view women firefighters as more capable and show greater support for increasing gender diversity in the fire service. This effect was replicated with a large sample of professionally employed firefighters and highlights how subtly reframing professional identities can help increase inclusivity in non-diverse organizations.

Strategies of the dominant group to limit diversity

As the representation of members of non-dominant groups (e.g., women, ethnic minorities) increases within an organization, when does that organization cross over from being not diverse to diverse? In my research (Danbold & Unzueta, invitation to revise & resubmit), I show that members of dominant groups (e.g., men, White Americans) set lower thresholds of diversity than members of non-dominant groups. As a result, members of different groups may look at the same organization and come to conflicting definitions about whether sufficient diversity has been attained and whether efforts to increase diversity within that organization are still needed. This disagreement is especially the case when members of non-dominant groups are a small minority in the broader context. This work reveals how members of different groups use conflicting numerical definitions of diversity to preserve or challenge group-based hierarchies, and highlights the need to move beyond raw demographics to assess diversity within organizations.