WOCA 2023: Research Roundup: Cutting Edge Research on Women of Color in the Workplace

Leading academic researchers shared groundbreaking insights at Fair360’s 2023 6th annual Women of Color and Their Allies event. The session shed light on the experiences of women of color at work and how to create thriving environments.

The five presentations discussed intersectional invisibility and action versus inaction for allies of women of color in the workplace. 

Board directors may seem unlikely allies to women of color due to perceptions of risk and favoritism. However, according to research from Dr. Stephanie Creary, Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership at The Wharton School, board directors actively recruit women of color and view representation as a primary responsibility. 

Dr. Rebecca Ponce de Leon, Assistant Professor of Management at Columbia Business School, discussed the intersectional invisibility hypothesis. The theory suggests that a person with multiple subordinate group identities is rendered “invisible” to those with a single subordinate identity. In the U.S., whiteness is the norm for race, while men are the norm for gender. Differing from these norms displays someone as a less typical group member and decreases the believability of discrimination allegations. 

“I urge all of you to actually disaggregate outcomes of claims being made in your organization, by race and gender by different identity groups to ensure that women of color aren’t being disadvantaged when they do come forward,” Ponce de Leon said. 

Julie Ann Crommett, Professor of Practice at the Georgia Institute of Technology, presented research on perceptions of risk and opportunity that affect women of color film directors. Consequently, intersectional invisibility causes risk-averse hiring practices in Hollywood, favoring white male directors. This occurs even if films by first-time women and women of color directors do as well financially as others. 

Dr. Alexis Smith Washington, Associate Professor at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, cited the importance of composure and vulnerability to help Black executives thrive. 

“Sometimes you do have to seek out connection and understand who you are when you do so. Give them a little something about who you are. Make sure that you’re open to getting feedback because that’s how you build some of those relationships,” Smith Washington said. “So, embrace ambivalence, understanding differences, as a tool. Be very mindful about crafting these relationships across differences and find that useful emotion.” 

Lastly, Dr. Samantha Erskine, Assistant Professor at the College of Management at UMass Boston, presented the concept of white apathy. Also, she discussed its role in enabling systemic gendered racism in the workplace. She urged leaders to integrate racial and emotional intelligence into their training programs. 

“Emotions are historical and contextual. Recognizing emotions are racialized, gendered and classed. This is institutional work that empowers leaders to center intersectional forms of anti-racist care, compassionate decision making and again equity,” Erskine said. 

Watch all our 2023 Women of Color and Their Allies event sessions here!