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Diversity, Ethnicity/Nationality, Gender

Intersection of Race and Gender Affects Leadership Choices


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By Melissa J. Anderson

We know that race and gender can influence who gets jobs and promotions, and ultimately who becomes a leader within corporations. But new research has revealed that the intersection of race and gender – “gendered race” – also has an impact on leadership decisions.

The study, “Gendered Races: Implications for Interracial Marriage, Leadership Selection, and Athletic Participation” examines how gendered characteristics are implicitly assigned to racial categories. The phenomenon can have a profound affect both in the workplace, when considering what jobs are considered appropriate for individuals of particular race/gender combinations, as well as in people’s lives outside work (from athletic participation to spousal selection).

The researchers, Adam D. Galinsky, Northwestern University; Erika V. Hall, Northwestern University, and Amy J. C. Cuddy, Harvard University, write that the intersection between racial and gender stereotypes has “important real-world consequences.”

They explain, “…we demonstrate that the overlap between racial and gender stereotypes goes beyond facial features and is captured in the content of stereotypes.” Then they performed additional studies to show how these stereotypes play out in real life.

How Race and Gender Overlap

Galinsky, Hall, and Cuddy began their research by performing a number of tests to find out if there really is an overlap for gender and race (Asian, Black, and White). They found that people tend to associate more masculine traits with Black people and more feminine traits with Asian people. They write:

“Even at the implicit level, there was a link between racial and gender stereotypes. When participants were subliminally primed with Black, masculine traits became relatively more accessible. Conversely, subliminally priming Asian made feminine traits more accessible.”

Next the researchers performed a number of studies and research reviews to find out how the concept of “gendered race” played out in the real world.

They found, for instance, that in interracial heterosexual couples, more frequently the woman was a member of the more stereotypically feminine race (for example, an Asian woman paired with a White or Black man, but less frequently a Black woman paired with a White or Asian man, or a White woman paired with an Asian man).

They also reviewed NCAA data to find out whether race influenced the types of college sports students participated in. This study also showed evidence of gendered race. “The more masculine a sport was perceived to be, the more likely Blacks were to be college athletes in that sport relative to Asians,” the researchers write.

They also performed a study to see how race and gender intersect when it comes to hiring workplace leaders.

Gender, Race, and Leadership

Galinsky, Hall, and Cuddy designed two leadership positions, describing them in ways to make them appear gendered. One position relied on “feminine” traits like being collaborative and good at building relationships. The other relied on “masculine” traits like being “fierce, competitive, and contentious.”

Then study participants were given job applications denoting the gender and race of applicants. They also used names that were distinctive to specific races and genders. As the researchers expected – race did influence which people were nominated for each position.

For the “masculine” job, 16 percent nominated the Asian person, 37 percent nominated the White person and 43 percent nominated the Black person.

The research has implications for hiring and promotion in the corporate workplace. When a job is viewed as more “feminine,” it is likely that fewer Black candidates will be hired for it. When a job is viewed as more “masculine,” it is likely that fewer Asian candidates will be hired for it.

This suggests that minority candidates have many biases to overcome when advancing toward leadership – that job discrimination it is not simply a matter of race or gender, but of race, gender, and the intersection of the two.

The researchers write:

“The present research demonstrates that the intersection of race and gender has important real-world consequences. Considering the overlap between racial and gender stereotypes opens up new frontiers for understanding how stereotypes impact the important decisions that drive our most significant outcomes at work and home.”

Hiring managers and HR practitioners should be mindful of how leaders are being selected and evaluated for advancement. By making job qualifications more transparent, companies can better ensure that the most qualified candidates are being hired. If implicit bias around gendered race is ignored, top performers could be slipping through the cracks simply because they fit expectations of what a leader should look like.

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