Thursday, 27 October 2011

Black and white applicants more engaged by diversity-friendly recruitment websites

Organisations don't make recruitment websites for their own gratification, but to attract applicants. Ideally, they want informed ones who've gathered a realistic sense of whether the organisation is for them. So recruiters should take note: a recent study has shown that sites that present cues of racial diversity encourage both black and white applicants to browse for longer and encode more information about the organisation.

H. Jack Walker and colleagues had expected that racial diversity cues such as images and testimonials would appeal to black applicants, by indicating that the organisation was sympathetic to their identity. Rather than just surveying attitudes, the team went beyond previous studies by looking at what applicants did during and remembered following site browsing.

In a first study, 141 students evaluated a website of a fictional website, which under one condition included a diversity cue - two of four company representatives on the "Meet Our People" page were black - whereas under the other condition all four reps were white. A second study increased real-world validity by asking 73 students to make judgements about two genuine company sites with high or low diversity cues.

In both studies, the black students (around a third of each sample) were able to recall more details about the organisation when tested two to three weeks after when they had been browsing a website containing strong diversity cues. The first study measured browsing time too, and found the black students spent more time on those websites. But all this was also true of the white students: the effects were slightly less pronounced - there was an interaction between presence of cue and applicant race - but they were there nonetheless.

Straight off, I should emphasise that use of diversity cues needs to be sincere: misselling an organisation as diversity friendly is a clear recipe for disaster for applicant and employer alike. With that in mind, there would be ample reason to put sincere diversity cues in recruitment websites even if the effect had been limited to black applicants. Even neglecting the wider social effects, increasing diversity in an organisation widens its talent pool, can improve its performance and makes it more attractive to a broader customer base. But the current study suggests that for black and white applicants, sites containing such cues "are more likely to maintain applicant interest so that website viewers evaluate and retain more website information". In a world of short attention spans, that's got to be worth a lot.

ResearchBlogging.orgWalker, H., Feild, H., Bernerth, J., & Becton, J. (2011). Diversity cues on recruitment websites: Investigating the effects on job seekers' information processing. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0025847


  1. Two questions and an observation.


    Did they also check for diversity in other ways -- such as gender, culture, and age? I'd be interested in knowing whether depictions of cross cultural and mixed age and gender groups would have similar effects. I also wonder if the effects would be similar across fields, including ones that don't traditional have parity in race and gender.

    Next, observation:

    Recently I noticed a jobvine infographic on getting a job at google. It was a poorly designed and outdated infographic, and one thing that jumped out at me was the clipart they had chosen for representing applicants and interviewers -- all of the images were of white males in suits, unlike the actual people I've met when visiting google campuses.

    Related Question:
    Would this effect apply for drawn or cartoon depictions or only photo-realistic ones? The jobvine depiction is a clipart example, and I've seen a google help page on security with a line drawings of a person as a cartoon figure of in a dress.

    jobvine infographic

  2. Hi skm

    The study only looks at diversity cues in the context of race, but they could plausibly have effect in other situations. In particular, when individuals may have cause to feel their identity under threat,the value of diversity cues will be greater. This could apply in the context of gender, age and potentially culture too.

    Interesting infographics you found there regarding Google. My hunch is that drawings can offer a diversity cue - or be an example of little diversity - in much the same way as photography can be. I suspect that the power of both is enhanced when the visual elements are depicting a reality within the organisation, eg a real employee. This is more intuitive with photography (if I want to provide a testimonial of Elaine Smith why not use a picture of the real her) so I would guess these to be the strongest cues. But generic stock photography may not be any stronger in effect than an appropriate image. Not aware of any studies that have put this to the test, though!

    Finally, your reference to the poor design of the imagery calls to mind a paper cited in the Walker study. It suggests that more visually appealing recruitment sites capture more attention and gain engagement from applicants. The article reference is below.

    Thanks for your thoughts and great questions!

    Dineen, B. R., Ling, J., Ash, S. R., & DelVecchio, D. (2007). Aesthetic
    properties and message customization: Navigating the dark side of web
    recruitment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 356–372.

  3. Hi, don't know if you are still following comments here, but I wanted to follow up because I found the line drawing representation from google's "good to know" series.

    On those pages you can see line drawings of people, and I would contrast those to the clip art on the jobvine page.

    Now, for salience to this blog post, you could consider whether people will absorb information in Google's pages more or less varying by factors in the people who read the page.