With few black women in top leadership roles, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns and Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer stand out as leading business role models for black women. Although there are few black women leaders, a recent survey’s findings reveal that black women leaders possess a certain advantage, which may be due to their lack of numbers.
The survey, led by Robert Livingston, an assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, observes that the common negative view of the assertive and demanding black woman does not carry over to the business world. In fact, while assertive white women and black men were judged harshly for their behavior, assertive black women leaders were judged on the same level as white men.
Forbes reports that the survey gave examples of a dominate supervisors who made comments such as “I demand that you take steps to improve your performance,” and “I am a tough, determined boss and intend to do everything in my power to ensure that your performance improves.” The less severe boss would then make comments such as “I encourage you to take steps to improve your performance,” and “I am a caring, committed boss and intend to do everything in my power to ensure that your performance improves.”
Participants of the survey were asked to grade the fictional supervisors on their ability to handle situations effectively, how much respect they earned and how much salary they believed they deserved. The information was then analyzed by researchers and a composite score was created for each supervisor.
Previous research on women leadership styles revealed that assertive women leaders were judged more harshly than unassuming women, but these studies did not take race into account. Livingston suggests that because there are so few black women in high positions of power, people are not yet familiar with evaluating black women leaders.