Leadership roles no longer automatically go to white men — at least, not overtly. While many companies have made strides in opening up management positions to women and people of color, we have a long way to go before the corporate ladder allows everyone to ascend based solely on merit. Recent research shows that unconscious bias still informs leadership decisions, promoting white men to positions of power when the chips are down.
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(Still) Waiting in the Wings: Group-Based Biases in Leaders’ Decisions About to Whom Power Is Relinquished, which will soon be published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, is based on a series of three studies at Pennsylvania State University. The research examined workers’ tendency to cede power to white, male leaders.
When Power Changes Hands
The project simulated leadership positions with white men, black men, and white women. What they found was that when decisions made by all of the leaders did not work out, or when leaders made the wrong decision, people in mixed groups tended to let the white men decide how to fix it. This was not necessarily a conscious decision on anybody’s part; rather, it was an unconscious group dynamic.
The editors at Scientific American argue that good intentions are not enough to fight race and gender biases. Biases are unconscious and often subtle, but they may have huge, detrimental effects.
Still, it’s a good idea to keep biases in mind over the course of the workday. Slow down and think through whom you hire, promote, and turn to for help. Remind yourself of people’s qualifications, education, and behavior before assigning tasks. And, never give up on yourself. Keep learning and keep working toward success and promotion. Awareness is key.
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