Photo: Michael Erhardsson/Mostphotos


There is widespread ethnoracial segregation between workplaces, even within the same job sector (see the linked study for references). Employers contribute to this through hiring decisions, but what is the role of the choices that we make when looking for a workplace?

1,455 American respondents filled in an online survey where they were asked to reflect upon their ideal workplaces. The respondents did not know beforehand that the study would examine

Moa Bursell
Moa Bursell. Photo: Erika Karlsson

workplace segregation. As expected, people mostly prefer their own ethnoracial group.

– We prefer colleagues who are like ourselves, but, if there is a secondary choice, we prefer people from groups with a high societal status, says Moa Bursell, researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies and one of the authors of the study.

According to the survey answers, people do like moderately diverse workplaces. This means that we would like workplaces to be less segregated than they are. At the same time, the respondents clearly avoided workplaces with so much diversity that our own group is in the minority. The fact that there is a maximum tolerable diversity has important consequences.

Fredrik Jansson
Fredrik Jansson. Photo: Johannes Ollson

– We see in our simulations that even if we would like to work in fairly diverse workplaces, the fact that we also avoid higher diversity leads to workplace segregation, since we cannot always get our first choice, says Fredrik Jansson, researcher at the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University and the other author of the study.

Respondents changed their choices to be in line with those of others 

However, when the respondents were asked again a week later, and got to know other people’s responses in the first round, they changed their choices to be more in line with those of other people. This was the case whether the others liked highly diverse or completely homogeneous workplaces. These new preferences remained when they were asked yet once more another week later.

– Since workplaces are more segregated than people would like, we might all also believe that people do not appreciate diversity. This belief can in turn make ourselves prefer less diversity, Fredrik Jansson continues.

So, according to the study, if the message spreads that people like diversity or, on the contrary, avoid minorities and immigrants, then this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

About the study

Moa Bursell & Fredrik Jansson (2018): Diversity preferences among employees and ethnoracial workplace segregation. Social Science Research 74: 62–76.

Fredrik Jansson & Moa Bursell (in press): Social consensus influences ethnic diversity preferences. Social Influence.