Black woman, White team

Study Shows Black Women Working In Majority White Teams Experience Worse Job Outcomes

A Harvard study shows that work outcomes decrease for Black women who are employed in less diverse work environments.

Several companies are focusing on diversifying the workforce. A new study shows that their emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion has helped transform the workplace and Black women’s work outcomes.

Employers are finding ways to recruit a diverse team of workers. But retaining talent is just as significant. A new study from Harvard University shows that Black women working on teams that are majority white can lead to worse job outcomes in elite firms.

Emma Bloomberg, public policy and management associate professor; Elizabeth Linos; and colleagues Sanaz Mobasseri from Boston University and Nina Roussille from Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed the turnover and promotion of new hires in a large, professional service elite firm from 2014 to 2020. The analysis investigated retention and promotion rates for Black, Asian, Hispanic, and white workers. According to Harvard University, the study found that the largest turnover gap was between Black and white women.

Forbes reported that turnover measures how many workers leave a place of employment over a certain period.

Additional analysis of the Harvard study showed that the racial makeup of Black women’s co-workers also affected turnover and promotion. It revealed a 14% increase in the share among white workers was correlated with a 10.6% increase in turnover for Black women.

“No other employees of color, even similarly sized numerical minorities such as Black men or Hispanic women and men, were negatively affected by their initial white co-workers,” the study’s researchers wrote.

The negative effects on job outcomes for Black women may be attributed to challenges in the work environment, such as barriers to participation, according to Harvard. Researchers noted, “Black employees, and particularly Black women, reported numerous ways in which interacting with their majority white co-workers negatively influenced their participation and identified challenges related to their task assignments and performance evaluations.” 

They also found that Black women initially assigned to teams with more white workers often logged fewer working hours and a high number of training hours. On the other hand, turnover decreased when other Black co-workers surrounded Black women. These same effects were not apparent in other gender or racial groups.

“This is in line with a common finding in the literature that having more similar peers (in this case, Black co-workers) can have a positive effect on retention,” Lino and colleagues wrote. 

“Our findings call for an increased scholarly and managerial focus on the longer-term impact of conventional staffing and promotion systems that inherently rely on peers, shedding light on their role in perpetuating racial inequalities in the workplace.”

Overall, researchers concluded that there needs to be an emphasis on recruiting and retaining diverse employees.