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Diversity Hiring & Quotas: Do They Work?

Does diversity hiring work? If an organization has not had adequate and effective change management and anti-racism training and measured behaviour changes, then this can lead to backlash and resentment among employees (Kulik & Roberson, 2008). That same study, shared that if staff perceive that underrepresented individuals are being unfairly favored in hiring or promotion decisions – this can come across as unfair or tokenistic and may have negative consequences for workplace morale and cohesion (Kulik & Roberson, 2008). Planning for unintended outcomes is important.

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review, 2016, found that diversity quotas alone may not be sufficient to address systemic barriers to advancement for underrepresented groups. The study suggested that organizations need to focus on creating inclusive cultures and addressing bias in hiring and promotion processes to achieve meaningful diversity and inclusion outcomes. This requires tackling bias and racism at the micro and macro level with behavioural mitigation mechanisms based on best practices for change.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Management, 2011, found mixed evidence on the effectiveness of diversity quotas or targets for improving organizational outcomes. The analysis concluded that while diversity goals may increase representation of underrepresented groups, their impact on organizational performance varies depending on factors such as organizational culture and leadership support (Bell et al., 2011). We know that for employee retention, wellness and morale – opportunities for growth and advancement matter, as much as value alignment.


Furthermore, an intersectional lens is often overlooked for singular social identities. If we’re looking to recruit for diversity we must also consider the inclusion of the multitude of differences, for example challenges for intersectional groups —disability, income, caregiving status, and age. Deloitte, Brodzik, et al 2023, found research corroborates that remote work creates opportunities for both employers and workers, but also presents unique benefits but also unanticipated challenges. These can include, remote work providing greater inclusion for people who are neurodiverse by way of not having to constantly cover up certain aspects of their identities to avoid stigma, judgment, or discrimination. As well as use of assisted devices more comfortable at home. Alternatively, remote or online work can be difficult for virtual collaboration for persons with dyslexia, ADHD, or other visual or learning needs.

Overall, the effectiveness of diversity quotas or targets for hiring and promotion is a complex issue with research yielding mixed results – therefore an organizational assessment regarding DEI transformation requires a look at all the parts.

Supporting Evidence

Refuting Evidence

As mentioned, there are, at times, an overemphasis on optics, whereby critics argue quotas may lead to hiring less-qualified candidates simply to meet diversity targets. However, focusing on the qualifications is important, recruitment and interviewer bias must also be considered, well evidence in research. There is also the potential for resentment, as some employees may feel resentment or tokenized if they perceive promotions going to quota candidates rather than those deemed most qualified. The sustainability of DEI initiatives and diversity hiring is only as strong as the organizational culture committed to addressing power dynamics with a value system focused on true inclusion and equity in our world. There are limited long-term impacts, where studies suggest quotas may be most effective when coupled with broader diversity and inclusion initiatives that address unconscious bias and create a culture of belonging.

A 2019 report by McKinsey found that companies with diverse leadership teams outperform those without on several metrics, including profitability. This suggests that excluding qualified candidates, due to bias, has a negative impact on business outcomes. The research suggests that quotas or targets, when implemented thoughtfully alongside other diversity and inclusion efforts, can be a positive step towards building a more representative and successful workforce. However, quotas alone may have limited impacts or even unintended consequences, which must be considered thoughtfully.



Bell, S. T., Villado, A. J., Lukasik, M. A., Belau, L., & Briggs, A. L. (2011). Getting Specific about Demographic Diversity Variable and Team Performance Relationships: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Management, 37(3), 709-743.

Brodzik, C., Pearce, J., Mahto, M., Sniderman, B., Kulkarni, A., & Corduneanu, R. (2023, June 11). Inclusive or isolated? New DEI considerations when working from anywhere. Deloitte Insights.

Diversity and inclusion. Deloitte Insights. (n.d.-b).

Dixon-Fyle, S., Hunt, D. V., Huber, C., Del Mar Martínez, M., Prince, S., & Thomas, A. (2023). Diversity matters even more: The case for holistic impact. In McKinsey & Company.

Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016). Why Diversity Programs Fail. In Harvard business review (Vol. 94, Issue 7/8, pp. 52-). Harvard Business Review.

Estupinan, D. (2020) Diversity as a tool in enhancing profitability, efficiency, and quality of decision-making, RRAPP. Available at: (Accessed: 19 March 2024).

Kulik, C., & Roberson, L. (2008). Diversity initiative effectiveness. In Diversity at work.

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