Rachel M. Korn, Joan C. Williams, and Cecilia L. Ridgeway
When President Biden announced that he would nominate a black woman for the upcoming vacancy on the US Supreme Court, there was an almost immediate public response. In one high-profile example, Sen. Roger Wicker was quick to say that a future justice would receive affirmative action quotas, and Sen. Ted Cruz called the proposal insulting and insulting to Americans.
The criticism began before the names of any potential black female candidates were offered, meaning that the actual qualifications of any particular candidate were not the cause of the backlash. Obviously, the assumption of these detractors is that no black woman in the entire county could actually be qualified for the job. Another assumption is that a black woman elected to the Supreme Court should have gained an unfair advantage by lowering standards. Since the Supreme Court’s inception, 94% of the justices have been white men. If Supreme Court justices qualify because of their race and gender, they are white men.
Let’s take a step back. Imagine a Supreme Court Justice. Or a genius architect, a smart tech entrepreneur, or a powerful lawyer. If you’re like most people, you’ve been shot in the head by some tall white guy. This means that it is more difficult for all other groups to find their way in the workplace. These non-prototypical workers face the usual burden of extra work to advance in the workplace, a burden that is largely invisible to the white men around them.
Our research, reported in a recent article in Gender & Society, examined six forms of workplace bias in the architecture profession: “Prove it again” reflects assumptions about who is competent and who is not. The tension bias suggests that white men are more receptive to authority and ambition than other groups, and as a result face more complex office politics as they walk the tightrope of being seen as “too humble” or “too much.” Other forms of bias include not conforming to the dominant culture, being excluded from information-sharing networks, being expected to work with emotions (for example, to act as a peacemaker), and constant interruption.
We surveyed male and female architects from five racial groups about their experiences of bias in the workplace, and the results highlight the impact of intersectionality. Time and time again, we have found that women of color tend to have the most disparate experiences from white men, and black women tend to have the most disparate experiences from other women of color. White women and men of color tended to fall in between, but were generally closer to the experiences of women of color than white men. A notable exception was Latinos, who often reported similar experiences to white men (perhaps because architecture is such a class-conscious profession and Latino architects come from upper-class families? We’re not sure). We see these intersectional patterns very clearly, such as how often women of all races and men of color report having to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as their male counterparts, or that they receive less respect for the same quality of work. . These are stark, everyday examples of habitual bias, showing that white men were far less likely to report experiencing it.
A strong bias means that white men are generally seen as great in leadership roles, while others are the respectable worker bees. Meeting such expectations takes work: self-editing to prioritize the comfort of others in the workplace can be exhausting and exhausting. While employees who are closer to the image of the ideal employee are free to behave authentically, other groups must invest energy to become competent and not be seen as “too aggressive.” For example, women of all races and men of color were less likely to say that people expected them to take on leadership roles and more likely to say that they faced rejection for assertive behavior.
From the Supreme Court to architecture firms, those who don’t fit the ideal worker prototype feel they have to put in more effort and energy to achieve the same results as white men. This extra work is usually invisible to those in charge, but it doesn’t have to be. Our work is a step toward making common burdens visible and easier to eliminate, from architecture jobs to the Supreme Court.
Rachel M. Korn is Director of Research at the Center for Work-Life Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
Joan C. Williams is the Sullivan Professor of Law, chair of the Hastings Foundation, and founder of the Center for Work-Life Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
Cecilia L. Ridgeway is the Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences, Emeritus, in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University.
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