“If I were to tell you right now that your favorite company has been accused of discriminating against their employees based on their gender, would you still consume from them?”
Dr. Arunima Krishna, Associate Professor of Public Relations at COM, and her colleague Dr. Soojin Kim from Singapore Management University pose this question in their latest research about how workplace discrimination influences public relations.
Dr. Krishna and Dr. Kim conducted their research by providing study participants with a fictitious paragraph explaining that a company the participant consumes from has been accused of gender discrimination. Then, they asked participants to evaluate their relationship with that company.
“For this particular study, we wanted to understand how people’s perceptions of their relationships with an organization change after they just learn about such accusations,” Dr. Krishna said. “Do your perceptions of your relationship decrease, or do they remain constant? And if it does decrease, why? What are some factors, or some features that are unique to you that factor into that relationship, that contribute to you reporting low levels of that relationship?”
The study found that after reading the paragraph, most participants reported a decreased relationship with the offending company, as well as decreased loyalty and decreased satisfaction. The participants were not happy with the way that the company treats their employees, which could negatively affect the way they consume from the company in the future.
This research is the first of its kind to quantify consumers’ relationships with a company, and how that relationship (and their buying habits) could change and decrease after learning about workplace discrimination. It’s also the first study to suggest that a company may lose profits if it engages in discriminatory behavior.
“We wanted to provide PR practitioners with some sort of evidence to take to top management to support what we’ve been telling you for so long – that we need to be ethical and morally responsible,” Dr. Krishna said. “We need to fulfill the standards–or at least be up to the standards–that our consumers have set for us.”
Because of the large-scale systematic gender discrimination scandal surrounding Uber beginning in February, public interest has recently turned to gender discrimination in Silicon Valley and other large corporations. However, Dr. Krishna explains that this has always been a problem.
“Gender discrimination is something that has been happening for years and there is extensive research that tells us that.” Dr. Krishna said. “But in the past few years, because of social media and the anti-corporate sentiment that you see among the younger generation – and the older generation after the financial crisis – there is more of an outpouring of emotion and negativity against corporations that do engage in such behavior.”
Dr. Krishna hopes that by completing this research, she can assist in finding solutions to this problem and help PR practitioners who practice crisis communication for companies who engage in gender discrimination.
“PR research should be ethical and aim at making the profession and its practice more ethical,” Dr. Krishna said. “Here, we have support for people’s arguments that gender discrimination does not pay in the long run.”
Amelia Henning, Staff Writer
Amelia Henning is a junior in COM majoring in advertising. Her passions include travel and baking cupcakes. Her goal in life is to have visited all seven continents before she retires as the CEO of an ad agency.