You’ll Never Guess Who Doesn’t React Well When Women or People of Color Become Their Bosses

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OK, you probably guessed. It’s white men.

At first glance, especially if you’re a woman or minority in the workplace, this seems like the kind of news you could file under “Well, fucking duh.” But what’s notable here is the ways these white male leaders react.


A recent study shared by MarketWatch and set to publish in the April issue of the Academy of Management Journal finds that when a woman or person of color assumes a top leadership role at a company, white males start to feel disaffected and take those feelings out on their colleagues, becoming less helpful to co-workers.

From MarketWatch:

Top white male leaders tended to become less helpful to other workers — particularly women and people of color — after the appointment of a minority-status CEO.

If white men are scared they’re being run out by female and/or POC talent, the numbers show that they have nothing to worry about. As MarketWatch notes, only 27 Fortune 500 CEOs are women (or 5.4 percent)—none of whom are black. Only three Fortune 500 companies have a black man leading them.

Nonetheless, some people feel that white men are being discriminated against. One Ernst & Young national survey of 1,000 full-time employed Americans found that more than a third of all respondents think increased attention to diversity in the workplace has overlooked white men.

When white men react poorly to working for a nonwhite boss, their negative, unhelpful attitudes disproportionately affect their female and POC co-workers, MarketWatch noted. It’s not as though being a woman or a person of color in the workplace is a cakewalk under ordinary circumstances—these groups suffer disproportionately from wage gaps and lack of visibility in leadership roles. But a recent Catalyst survey found that both groups paid an “emotional tax” at work that impacted their broader health as well.


This phenomenon was most prominent, unsurprisingly, among women of color.


Finally, the reaction some white male leaders have to answering to a nonwhite-male executive can ultimately undermine the company and the leader they answer to.

As MarketWatch writes, women and people of color who ascend to top roles are not often set up for success. In 2014, one study confirmed the existence of the “glass cliff”: the elevation of people from minority groups to leadership roles to clean up the messes made by white men. The study confirmed that women and people of color are more likely to be promoted to leadership roles during times of crisis (hello, 2008 presidential elections). But if your subordinates are so resentful of your success that they start being less helpful and cooperative, this makes it harder for you as a leader to right the company’s path and makes your upward climb even steeper.


And what happens to these women and minority CEOs if they can’t turn things around quickly enough? The 2014 study found that they were quickly replaced by white men.

Staff writer, The Root.



I am literally going thru that right now...I started as a temp at my current job in September 2013. I quickly moved to a permanent position, and was promoted in May 2016. I’m now in line to manage a program that entails all of our 3rd party, independently produced business. It accounts for anywhere from 25-40% of all our annual take in a given year, and has under-performed in recent years due to poor management (guess who?). And now, I’m supposed to magically turn this around with limited resources (re: non-existent). I smirk at that, but I’m actually thrilled at the opportunity and have a plan to address these ‘challenges’.

But, there. is. resentment. I’m not “supposed” to be here, at least not this quickly. And since I am here this quickly, it can’t be because of my qualifications or accomplishments, it HAS to be because of..something else. The something else is never directly stated, but the hints are there that I’m just an affirmative action hire - the way I’m addressed or spoken to by certain people who are not my subordinates but would need my approval for things: interrupted on a call or ignored on an email. All shit that was written by their ancestors in the passive aggressive manifesto. I read it already, know the publisher, and am ultimately not stressed by it. I get challenged openly like few others do here and I always respond professionally and objectively. I am the only black man who will be in a position of senior leadership, and minority leadership across the board here is extremely lacking. I think I can count on one hand all of the minorities in those kinds of roles; there are over 600 employees in this company. It’s all good though.