Employees share less information with minority group colleagues, according to a study by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. The larger the cultural differences between a majority and minority nationality, the less likely it is that employees will share information with them.
The research examined problem-solving in 60 mixed groups of three nationalities: German, Dutch and Chinese. In all cases, the Chinese participants were given less information by their team members, leaving them unable to complete the task.
Burcu Subaşi, the lead researcher, says: “In the workplace, people tend to categorise colleagues based on nationality and attribute a particular status to it. Being part of a country’s majority nationality typically leads to higher status and being seen as more competent by others. And, because people are more likely to share information with those of a higher status, people with the dominant nationality tend to receive more information.
“Until now, most research has assumed that having a minority nationality left an employee at a disadvantage, but not all minorities are stereotyped and categorised equally. When the cultural differences are small, the status of the minority group is not necessarily much lower.”
The study showed that bias disappeared when the groups were being observed.
Subaşi says: “An observer, which in practice could be a colleague or a manager, makes people feel more accountable for their actions. The social pressure of being watched forces them to look beyond the stereotypes and start looking for individual merits in their team members.
“In order to prevent performance deficits of ‘low-status’ minorities, companies could encourage knowledge transfer between colleagues, increase the diversity of work teams, emphasise task-relevant abilities of employees or even introduce open plan offices where employees can be easily observed by managers or other colleagues. It is important for organisations to tackle both conscious and unconscious biases in order to prevent underperformance in their employees.”