An experimental survey used what-if scenarios to examine attitudes towards ethno-racial minorities

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A new US-based survey suggests the COVID-19 pandemic may have amplified harmful attitudes toward East Asian and Hispanic colleagues in the workplace. Neeraj Kaushal, Yao Lu, and Xiaoning Huang of Columbia University, New York, and Northwestern University, Chicago, present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE April 13.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, instances of discrimination and hate crimes against minorities have increased, particularly against Chinese Americans. Most reported cases have occurred in public and have involved strangers. However, because workplace discrimination is less likely to be reported, the potential impacts of the pandemic on workplace attitudes toward ethno-racial minorities are unclear.

Kaushal and his colleagues analyzed survey data collected at the start of the pandemic, in August 2020, from 3,837 American working-age adults. Each participant received one of two versions of the survey; one opened with a brief description of the state of the pandemic, followed by questions about the personal impact of COVID-19 on respondents and, in a hypothetical workplace scenario, their preference for work with a hypothetical colleague from a certain ethno-racial group. The second version first asked about the hypothetical colleague, before asking about the personal impact of COVID-19.

Statistical analysis of survey responses suggests that priming participants with a description and questions about the pandemic reduced their acceptance of East Asians as hypothetical colleagues and supervisors, and also reduced the acceptance of hypothetical Hispanic colleagues, supervisors and staff.

Participants who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19, as well as those from counties with higher COVID-19 rates and lower concentrations of East Asians, showed greater bias towards Asians from the East in their responses. No evidence of prejudice against hypothetical white, black or South Asian colleagues was found.

These findings suggest the possibility that the pandemic has amplified health and economic insecurities among Americans, thereby exacerbating biases against minority groups in the workplace. Previous research suggests that such biases increase the likelihood of discriminatory actions, which can have both short- and long-term intergenerational effects on minorities, including reduced economic opportunity and productivity, damage to mental health, and physical condition and reduced integration into society. .

The authors add: “Our findings highlight a dimension of prejudice, intensified during the pandemic, that has been vastly underreported and absent from current discourse. Workplace discrimination can alienate minorities and sow the seeds of mistrust that can have long-lasting effects on generations.”

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