The backlash of choosing a minority-status CEO

By Harry Garretsen and Janka Stoker *

(exechange) — July 1, 2020 — Firms are facing pressure to increase diversity at management levels, particularly at top management positions.

Some countries have introduced quota, whereas others have laws where firms must state targets with respect to board diversity.

Consequently, the percentage of female and racial minority CEOs is gradually increasing.

For example, the Fortune 500 has hit an all-time record in 2020 with 37 female CEOs.

Research by McDonald, Keeves and Westphal (1) shows, however, that appointing a female or racial minority CEO can have a backlash effect.

Based on a large sample of top executives at U.S. firms, the above authors’ results show that, following the appointment of a female or racial minority CEO, incumbent white male top managers experience a lower level of identification with the firm, and, consequently, provide less help for, in particular, minority-status colleagues.

The authors suggest that the counterproductive behavioral responses by white male top managers are based on biased perceptions of the abilities of racial minorities and female CEOs, which make them feel less optimistic about the firm’s prospects.

(1) McDonald, M. L., Keeves, G. D., & Westphal, J. D. (2018). One step forward, one step back: White male top manager organizational identification and helping behavior toward other executives following the appointment of a female or racial minority CEO. Academy of Management Journal, 61(2), 405-439.

* The writers are professors at the University of Groningen.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post.