Black female leaders take more career risks than other leaders, finds research

Research from Durham University Business School finds black female leaders take more career risks than other leaders, highlighting persistent challenges over 200 years.
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New research from Durham University Business School reveals that black female leaders take more career-focused risks than any other leaders, including white female leaders, to reach top positions. The study also finds that the challenges and negative experiences faced by black female leaders 200 years ago remain prevalent today.

Dr Spyros Angelopoulos, associate professor at Durham University Business School, and colleagues from Cambridge University Judge Business School, Cranfield School of Management, The University of Sydney Business School, and Charles Sturt University conducted the research. They reviewed data spanning 200 years to understand the career challenges faced by female leaders and how they overcame these to become globally recognised figures.

The study examined the careers of female leaders from 1850-2019, including Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey, focusing on the risks they took and the challenges they discussed. The researchers identified three key career stages: identification, progression, and achievement. In each stage, black female leaders were more likely to take risks to advance their careers and faced similar challenges throughout their journey.

Dr Spyros Angelopoulos said, “Despite modest progress in the representation of women in senior leadership positions, black women continue to face unique challenges, being promoted at a slower pace and significantly underrepresented in top leadership roles. The statistics reflect this disparity: in 2021, white women held 32.6% of managerial positions in the US, while black women occupied only 4.3% of such positions. It’s clear that we need to create a more inclusive environment for black women to flourish in their career, not constantly having to overcome hurdles.”

The study found that black women were more likely to diversify their careers, working in an average of 2.13 sectors compared to 1.59 sectors for white women. Throughout their careers, white women tended to reduce risk-taking behaviours, while black women increased theirs.

The researchers suggest that these findings indicate a lack of progression for black female leaders and that organisations should broaden their diversity focus beyond merely employing or promoting more minority groups. Addressing the persistent challenges faced by black female leaders could improve inclusion and encourage more black women to pursue leadership roles.

Ryan Fowler

Ryan Fowler is Publisher of Workplace Journal

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