corporate america

What Do White Men Do When Minorities Become CEOs?

What Do White Men Do When Minorities Become CEOs?

By Ryan Velez

In most cases, it’s hard enough for most women and minorities to get into positions of power in the corporate world, a fact that we’ve covered multiple times. What gets missed sometimes is the added tiers of difficulty that pop up when they do get there, a fact that MarketWatch recently discussed.

This isn’t just a feeling people are getting, but one this is backed up by data: on average, white male leaders become less helpful when women or minorities take over. This came from a study set to be published in the Academy of Management Journal’s April issue, examining 1,000 executives working at large and mid-sized public companies.

“They actually identify less, psychologically, with the organization after the appointment of a minority CEO and that reduces their propensity to help their colleagues,” said James Westphal, a finance professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and one of the authors of the study. “Our theory is that the appointment of minority CEOs triggers biases.” If it’s a fear of being supplanted, by all accounts, this is unfounded. As of January 2018, just 27 of the leaders of Fortune 500 companies, or 5.4%, are women and just three, or 0.6%, are black (all of whom are male). Ursula Burns of Xerox was the last black female CEO of a company in that range.

Studies show that these factors can actually affect the well-being and health of people put in those positions. “I just have a lot of grace in my position,” said Felicia Felton, a 39-year-old HR & safety manager at a manufacturing company in Michigan. As an African-American woman, she often finds she’s the only woman or black person in management-level discussions. And she’s cognizant of how stereotypes and long-standing biases may contribute to the way she’s perceived. “I have to constantly think about ‘I don’t want to be the angry black woman’ because I am the only black woman,” she said.

In many cases, for women and minorities, the stakes are higher but they get less support. Women and people of color are more likely to be promoted in times of crisis, and if they can’t succeed, they quickly get replaced with more white men. In addition, if they are poorly received, it may indirectly hurt the perception of other people of the same group who join the company down the line.

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