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.
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.