November 21, 2023

Black Women Face Worse Job Outcomes In White-Dominated Work Environments, Study Reveals

Black women in teams with a more significant number of white peers may have worse job outcomes, a new study has found.

Elizabeth Linos, the Emma Bloomberg Associate Professor for Public Policy and Management, along with colleagues Sanaz Mobasseri from Boston University and Nina Roussille from MIT, conducted the study.

Underrepresentation of People of Color In Leadership

According to the study, the underrepresentation of people of color in high-wage jobs, especially leadership positions, still needs to be solved.

To better understand and reduce racial inequalities, researchers have often focused on the hiring processes, such as bias in recruitment and selection practices.

However, only a few have focused on measuring how practices that occur within the workplace impact the retention and promotion of employees of color.

Yet the demographic composition of a firm’s workforce depends on who enters the firm and who stays and is promoted.

The researchers studied 9,037 inexperienced new hires in a large, elite professional services firm from 2014 to 2020, focusing on the effect of the racial makeup of coworkers on employee turnover and promotion.

The researchers examined administrative employment data and billing records over seven years for Black, Asian, Hispanic, and white women and men.

The aim was to investigate how having more white coworkers influences the subsequent retention and promotion of Black, Asian, and Hispanic women and men.

Promotion, Retention, and Turnover 

Overall, the study found that Black employees have the lowest retention and promotion rates, with Black and white women having the most significant gap in turnover rates.

The study found that Black new hires are 6.7 percentage points more likely to turn over within two years of their hire than white new hires.

They are also 18.7 percentage points less likely to be promoted on time than their white counterparts.

The highest turnover gap is between Black and white women, at 8.9 percentage points.

Asian and Hispanic employees also face higher turnover and lower promotion rates than their white counterparts.

The study found a 14 percentage point increase in the share of white coworkers was associated with a 10.6 percentage point increase in turnover for Black women, meaning the more white coworkers, the higher the turnover of Black women.

White employees, particularly white women, have the highest retention and promotion rates.

Black employees have the lowest retention and promotion rates, with the most significant relative turnover.

Black women are 20.3 percentage points less likely to be promoted on time than their white female counterparts, who have the highest promotion rate at 76.8%.

Turnover rates for Black women decreased when they worked in groups with more Black colleagues.

Understanding Black women’s experiences 

Black women were the only group whose turnover and promotion were significantly affected by the racial identity of their coworkers.

Reasons noted by the researchers included Black women who were initially assigned to teams with a higher share of white coworkers were more likely to be labeled as low performers and to report fewer billable hours in subsequent projects.

They also report more hours spent on training, which correlates with lower employee promotion.

Black employees, particularly Black women, reported numerous ways in which interacting with their majority white coworkers negatively influenced their participation and identified challenges related to their task assignments.

“This [Black women less likely to be promoted] is in line with a common finding in the literature that having more similar peers can have a positive effect on retention,” the study read.

“Retaining Black employees in elite jobs is as important as recruiting them. Our findings call for an increased scholarly and managerial focus on the longer-term impact of conventional staffing and promotion systems that inherently rely on peers, shedding light on their role in perpetuating racial inequalities in the workplace.”

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.