Diverse_faces_lineup(1400 × 300 px) (1)

Black employees are penalised for promoting themselves, LSE study shows

"We are still in the early days of how to detect unconscious bias."

We’re told that to get on in our careers, we need to highlight our successes in the workplace. But a study led by the LSE and the University of Illinois has found that for Black employees, any form of self-promotion could in fact damage their career prospects. 

Employees_group_diverse(747 × 560 px)
Dr Sun said that although the study’s findings relate to a large financial institution in the US, they may well be applicable for other sectors in other countries. 

A study, by Professor Sandy J. Wayne of the University of Illinois Chicago and Dr Jiaqing Sun from LSE’s Department of Management, has discovered that Black employees are more likely to be penalised for self-promotion than White, Hispanic or Asian colleagues. 

The management academics analysed the attitudes of 249 employees of a large, global financial institution in the US through manager surveys and human resources information. Of the 249, 56 were of Afro-Caribbean descent, 69 were White, 48 were of Asian heritage and 76 had a Hispanic background. All had White managers. 

The study, which has been published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that when the Black employees promoted themselves to their managers, this had “detrimental consequences” because it was seen as “a violation of stereotypical behaviour”. 

Dr Sun, Assistant Professor of Management at LSE, said: “It was clear that the White managers we interviewed tended to assume that their Black employees had relatively low competency levels so that when Black employees talked about their accomplishments and successes in the workplace, managers viewed this behaviour as disingenuous and it counted against them when it came to their promotion and performance rating.” 

The study found that the opposite was the case for White, Hispanic and Asian employees - self-promotion in the workplace counted in their favour. 

Dr Sun said that although the study’s findings relate to a large financial institution in the US, they may well be applicable for other sectors in other countries.  

“I would expect similar findings in any workplace where there is a high emphasis on competence and where Black employees are in the minority,” she said. 

The study controlled for employees’ education levels, tenure at the company, length of time in their current role and how long they had worked with their direct manager. Of the employees and the managers involved in the study, over half were men and the majority had at least a college degree. The White managers had, on average, 16 years of management experience.  

Dr Sun said organisations should take responsibility for tackling this inherent discrimination. “Too often they place this burden on their Black employees. It’s organisational leaders who need to take action to address racial bias; it’s not Black employees’ responsibility to change their behaviour to obviate racial stereotypes in the workplace.” 

Sun said companies need to detect managers’ implicit biases through, for example, training courses. However, she said, we are still in the early days of how to detect unconscious bias. 

“Manager diversity training should be implemented with care, as it is a point of contention whether such training breaks down stereotypes or reinforces them or has other negative consequences,” she said. “Due to the challenges of designing effective training programs, organisations should monitor manager judgements and resource allocations, such as performance ratings, P-O fit, and developmental i-deals, by conducting analyses to determine if those decisions are impacted by employee race.” 

“Black employees are in a very difficult position because they may anticipate bias due to negative racial stereotypes and this might make them especially proactive in managing their professional image.” 

The research quoted in this article is entitled 'The cost of managing impressions for Black employees: An expectancy violation theory perspective' published in the Journal of Applied Psychology by Sandy Wayne, Jiaqing Sun, Donald Herbert Kluemper.