Millicent Sheridan was excited about her new job in Charlotte, N.C. It was a dream job working for a nonprofit that focused on financial literacy. She thought her MBA would help her fit right in. The first few days were an adjustment she thought with new people and a new environment with mostly White women. Six months later, she began to feel diminished, and her ideas were constantly rejected. One year later, Ms. Sheridan was looking for another job.
“It wasn’t the best fit and I didn’t feel like my skill set was being utilized appropriately,” she told The Final Call. “I need to be in an environment where I am valued for what I bring to the table. That’s what I’m looking for, nothing less.”
Her experiences are consistent with a new study that found Black women working with mostly White teams are more likely to face significant challenges. Those challenges include being evaluated as “low performers” and over time, were less likely to receive promotions, or even stay with the company.
The recent Harvard Kennedy School report analyzed the job outcomes of more than 9,000 new employees in a professional services firm from 2014 to 2020. The study investigated retention and promotion rates for Black, Asian, Hispanic, and White workers. According to Harvard University, the study found that the largest turnover gap was between Black and White women.
It found that Black women were the only demographic group to face significantly worse promotion and retention outcomes as a result of being placed on a whiter team. The study showed that when the share of White coworkers went up by 14 percentage points, that was associated with a 10.6 percentage-point increase in turnover for Black women. The study is titled, “Asymmetric Peer Effects at Work: The Effect of White Coworkers on Black Women’s Careers.”
“No other employees of color, even similarly sized numerical minorities such as Black men or Hispanic women and men, were negatively affected by their initial White coworkers,” the study’s researchers wrote. The negative effects on job outcomes for Black women may be attributed to challenges in the work environment, such as barriers to participation, according to Harvard.
“While the share of White coworkers does not affect formal task assignment, Black women who were initially assigned to whiter teams subsequently report fewer billable hours and more training hours and are more likely to be labeled as low performers in their first performance review,” the researchers found.
They noted, “Black employees, and particularly Black women, reported numerous ways in which interacting with their majority White co-workers negatively influenced their participation and identified challenges related to their task assignments and performance evaluations.”
These challenges are significant for Black women looking to advance their careers or even get their careers started.
“One of the main metrics used to define employee success is billable hours and so, regardless of your race and gender, employees who report lower billable hours are also likely to receive lower performance scores,” explained study co-author Elizabeth Linos, who is an Emma Bloomberg Associate Professor of Public Policy and Management.
She adds: “The ‘penalty’―how much your performance evaluation drops based on a reduction in billables―is larger for Black women than other groups.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion are big words in the workplace. The goal is to make room for all kinds of people to favorably contribute their skills. But are these just buzzwords that hide ill intent from White workers to derail Black careers?
In the 2016 election, an analysis of exit polls found that 53 percent of White women voted for Donald Trump regardless of his derogatory remarks about women. White women helped secure his victory. That support increased in 2020 with 55 percent of White women voters casting ballots for then-President Trump, according to exit polls.
Political scientist, author and commentator Wilmer Leon told The Final Call, “White women galvanize around their Whiteness first. When an issue presents itself, White women will more times than not, galvanize and rally around their Whiteness. We see this playing itself out not only in the political realm. We see it playing itself out in the workplace. I did a show two weeks ago around nursing. Black nurses continue to find themselves under attack and getting lower evaluations.”
“They’re being put on what are called DNR lists, do not return lists. Black nurses, both male and female, find themselves under constant attack because of how White nurses perceive them. Filipino nurses are having conflicts with Black nurses as well. It’s a White supremacist mindset. White people continue to see us as the ‘other’. They rally around what galvanizes them, their Whiteness.”
The researchers see their report as a reflection of society.
“Ultimately, I interpret these findings as confirmation that while as a society, we may be making progress in diversifying workplaces on some dimensions, Black women may still face additional hurdles for promotion at work,” Dr. Linos told the media. “We need more research on how White employees can adjust their behavior to ensure they don’t contribute to existing racialized and gendered dynamics at work.”
Ryan Christopher Palmeter, 21, was identified as the Dollar General shooter in Jacksonville, Fla. Photos: MGN Online