Black women leaders are seen as atypical and less effective—but only when their organization is failing

Black women face “double jeopardy” in the workplace

Reviewed by Tyrone Fleurizard


In 2009, the number of Black women leading Fortune 500 companies was one. Today, that number is zero, even as the number of Fortune 500 female CEOs hit an all-time record of thirty-seven this year. How are we to contend with this seeming contradiction? 

Dr. Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and Dr. Robert W. Livingston, Lecturer of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, point to the “double jeopardy” Black women face in the workplace. The authors highlight the intersectionality of racism and sexism as a framework to understand how Black women are perceived at the highest levels of corporate leadership. 

Rosette and Livingston investigate how Black women leaders are perceived, relative to Black men or White women leaders with only one marginalized identity, under varying degrees of organizational performance. They hypothesized that because of the compounding nature of their Black and female identities, Black women will be perceived more negatively than Black men and White women, but only if their organization is not successful. The authors found that, indeed, only in the context of failing organizations, Black women leaders were perceived more negatively than other groups because their two marginalized identities are closely associated with failure rather than success.

Methods and Findings

The researchers asked over two-hundred participants to read a news article about a corporation, its senior executive, and its recent performance. Participants were then asked to rate how effective and typical they thought the executive was typical.

They found that:

  • Men were perceived as more effective and typical leaders than women.
  • White leaders were perceived as more effective and typical than Black leaders.
  • When organizations led by Black women were failing, the Black women leaders were rated more harshly than if the leader was from any other group. 
  • Under conditions of organizational success, Black women leaders were perceived just as effective and typical as Black men and White women leaders.


Based on the study findings, Black women executives may have to work extraordinarily harder than both Black men and White women executives to minimize mistakes on the job, given how high the stakes may be for them. The researchers suggest that companies establish measures to ensure that employees with intersectional identities are evaluated fairly, especially during times of organizational failure. This study adds to the growing body of work to better understand the intersectionality of racism and sexism and its consequences.


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