Are you concerned about hiring people who are racist?  Many of our clients are, and rightly so.  Apart from the obvious concern about how they might treat people from different ethnic backgrounds, there is another concern which might surprise you.

Firstly, how do you measure racism and sexism?  The answer is that some years ago we generated a number of questions relating to “attitudes to diversity” which is what the research community calls questions and measures associated with people’s attitudes to gender or race.  We administered these questions to some thousands of people, we mathematically screened and evaluated them and turned them into measures of “ethnicity” and “gender”, normed against the Australian working population.

If people score higher than average on either of these it suggests that they have comparatively unhealthy attitudes either to women, or to people from different ethnic backgrounds, or both.  These measures are available in our Care Worker assessment, our Foundation assessment and our Short Psychological Risk assessment. They have been applied to many thousands of people now, and we find that people regularly confess to these attitudes, suggesting that they do not see a problem with thinking this way, so they tell the truth.  These measures fit into the category of “integrity tests”.

Clearly, many organisations believe that it is an enormous advantage to be able to find out about these characteristics before they hire a person and then find out about the problem once they are on the job.  Even worse, of course, is hiring them and not finding out.  Sadly the vast majority of such bad behaviour goes unreported in the workplace, as we have found when we have surveyed people confidentially about their bad behaviour.  They confess to markedly more than ever sees the light of day.

But did you know that there is a link between racism and occupational health and safety risk?

Please see the diagram above.  What you have here is a mathematical model which asks the question of whether you can predict occupational health and safety behaviours (the box in the middle) from a combination of personality, values and attitudes to diversity (the things spread out along the left hand side).  The safety behaviours were measured from an internationally validated measure of safety behaviours (Neal and Griffin, 2006).

This was a study of about 800 employees across Australia, and we found that we were able to predict safety behaviours with about 25% accuracy using this short form instrument.  Using our longer form measures we have found that we are able to predict with about 37% accuracy.  Given that the average interview has accuracy of about 12%, this is pretty good.

If you look at the blue box in the bottom right hand corner you will see the best predictors of safety behaviour.  The bigger the beta weight (number in the right hand column) the better the prediction of safety behaviour.  The best is “assertiveness” – a personality characteristic.  This is an interesting finding in its own right.  It suggests that the best contributors to safety are those who are assertive enough to say and do something about it – advocate the safety cause.

The second best predictor is “ethnicity”.  The negative beta weight means that low ethnicity means high OH&S score.  In short, people who are low in racism are safer employees.  So racists tend not to obey your safety rules and tend not to be motivated to make the workplace safer.  Why?  Goodness only knows.  I have not seen any other research based explanations for this, so it is a fascinating topic for further investigation.  If anyone has any suggestions as to why this happens, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line on the topic. In the meantime, this is another excellent reason for not hiring racists.

Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Neal, A., & Griffin, M. A. (2006). A study of the lagged relationships among safety climate, safety motivation, safety behavior, and accidents at the individual and group levels. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 946.

Andrew Marty