Over the past several years, two momentous social justice campaigns – Black Lives Matter and #MeToo – have drawn attention to patterns of racial discrimination and gender-based harassment and misconduct.
Both movements were founded by Black women, which makes recent research from Professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business somewhat ironic, Rosette said: “Our experimental studies and analyses of data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) show Black women are believed less than white women when they make allegations of gender discrimination. Similarly, they are believed less than Black men when they make assertions of discrimination based on their race.”
The research , which Rosette co-authored in the Academy of Management Journal with Rebecca Ponce de Leon, former Fuqua PhD student and currently on faculty at Columbia Business School, finds this is specifically because Black women do not fit the expected profiles of typical targets of either type of discrimination.
“Our research shows that Black women are not the prototype for gender discrimination – white women are,” Rosette said. “Similarly, Black women are not the prototype for racial discrimination – Black men are. This means Black women’s credibility may be challenged more, and their statements may be scrutinized more than if they were prototypical victims of gender and racial discrimination.”
Black women and financial remediation
Although the results showed Black women were believed less than other targets of discrimination, Black women appeared to have both advantages and disadvantages over more typical targets when they received monetary awards for the discrimination they endured.
According to the researchers’ analysis of available EEOC data which was from 2011 to 2016 for gender cases and 2010 to 2017 for race cases, Black women who were granted financial compensation after being discriminated against were awarded less money compared to white women for gender discrimination, but more money than Black men who endured racial discrimination.
A victim’s warmth influences compensation
In a series of experimental studies, the researchers investigated why these disparities in compensation might exist and found it may have to do with perceptions of a victim’s attributes. Specifically, white women were perceived as warmer than Black women and elicited more sympathy. Similarly, Black women were perceived as warmer than Black men, and elicited less disdain, Rosette said.
“Warmth elicits pity, and pity can motivate individuals to want to help,” Rosette said. “Black men are not typically perceived as warm. That lack of warmth actually incites contempt, which decreases the likelihood that people are going to provide aid or assistance.”
What makes this research ironic, Rosette said, is that it highlights the invisibility of Black women as victims of discrimination, which is the subject of the exact movements they founded.
“This invisibility has given rise to other campaigns like Say Her Name that shine a spotlight on Black female victims of police brutality, such as Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland,” she said.
The research should highlight an important consideration for firms, Rosette said.
“As organizations attempt to implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, we want to encourage them not to focus only on single identities, but instead take into account the impact multiple identities can have on the experiences of people in their organizations when attempting to rectify inequities,” she said, “specifically the experiences of Black women and other women of color in cases of gender and racial discrimination.”