In the corporate world, it looks like women are making significant strides. This year’s Fortune 500 list boasted 18 female CEOs, more women to make the list than ever before.
But despite those gains, black women aren’t faring quite as well, facing harsher penalties than other leaders when organizations fail.
It’s a reality that professors Ashleigh Shelby Rosette of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Robert W. Livingston of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management say exists whether an organization is performing negatively or not.
In a study conducted by Rosette and Livingston, 228 participants read fictitious news articles about a company’s performance, including permutations in which the leader was black or white, male or female and successful or unsuccessful. What they found was that black women who failed were viewed more critically than their underperforming white or male counterparts — even those of the same race.
The findings, which were published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology this month represent a case of “double jeopardy,” the study authors say, or the product of being neither white nor male.
According to a report called “Risk and Reward” released by the League of Black Women Global Research Institute last year, professional black women made up only one percent of U.S. corporate officers, despite the fact that 75 percent of corporate executives believed that having minorities in senior level positions enables innovation and better serves a diverse customer base.
Similarly, black women held just 1.9 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500 compared to 12.7 percent for white women, numbers that The Huffington Post said compounds overall dissatisfaction among black women in corporate jobs.
The disparity, along with limited opportunity for upward mobility might also explain the shift black women have been making from corporate America to entrepreneurship, with black women starting their own businesses at three-to-five times the rate of all businesses.
In July, the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), an independent, non-profit organization designed to aid in the advancement of African-American corporate leaders at Fortune 500 companies, hosted more than two-hundred black female executives at the annual Women’s Leadership Forum in Minneapolis.
On the agenda: The ELC’s plan to work with companies to promote and hire at least one African-American woman to a CEO or senior level executive position at every fortune 500 company for the next five years.