Commentary: Do Black Women Face Less Backlash in Business?

New research out of Duke University calls into question the assumption that Black women aren’t built for the corporate world.

Posted: 02/03/2012 06:45 PM EST

It’s always interesting when science disproves stereotypes you’ve held for years. If someone were to ask you how Black women might fare in America’s business sector, where power suits, white privilege and masculinity are often the markers of certain success, you’d probably say, not great. Three-quarters of Black women in America say they worry about paying their bills, and one-fifth of Black women feel they get less respect than others. In a word, many Black women have a hard time just living in America, let alone making it in America’s hyper-competitive business world.

But now there’s research that says the assumptions you may have about Black women in business could be wrong. According to a study out of Duke University, Black women in power positions in business may sometimes fare better than white women and Black men.

What the Duke researchers found is that when Black females in power roles displayed dominant behavior — whether they’re reprimanding or encouraging people — their subordinates were less likely to give them negative approval ratings than white women who displayed the same behavior. In layman’s terms, said Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, one of the study’s lead researchers, Black women “are evaluated comparably to white men.”

If this is the case, one wonders why there aren’t more Black women in positions of authority in the world of business? If you’re a business owner, perhaps it’s time to ditch your assumptions and put a Black woman in charge.


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