The Paradox of Diversity: Promotion of Female Government Officials



The global diffusion of diversity norms in the workplace has facilitated women in making inroads into top positions, but whether gender diversity norms have narrowed the gender gap remains in question. This study proposes and tests a “paradox of diversity” hypothesis: diversity norms have forced the dominant groups, which comprise mostly men, to promote more women, but diversity objectives have still not been met because such groups deliberately promote relatively low-achieving women and exclude high-achieving women to preserve their status differentiation and dominance over women. We test this hypothesis and its potential remedies—individual, institutional, and cultural conditions that can mitigate such paradoxical diversity—in the context of China by examining 2,151 Communist Party secretary promotions from 2001 to 2013. We provide evidence to rule out the alternative explanations that low-achieving women are promoted because of a lack of high-achieving women candidates, that low-achieving women have unobserved qualities that lead to strong performance, and that the dominant groups’ benevolent sexism supports low-achieving women. We contribute to the growing literature on diversity and the gender gap, the Weberian state, and institutional resistance and decoupling.

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