Failure Is Not An Option For Black Women: Effects Of Organizational Performance On Leaders With Single Versus Dual-Subordinate Identities

When an organization is failing, black women leaders are evaluated more negatively than black men, white women or white men.


In an American context, most publicly recognized leaders belong to dominant groups in terms of both race and gender: White people in the case of race and men in the case of gender. These perceptions lead to unconscious assumptions that white men are typical and effective leaders. Previous research has established that White female leaders are evaluated more negatively than White male leaders. Similarly, Black leaders are evaluated more negatively than White leaders who perform equally well. Since Black women are members of two marginalized groups (Black and female), they might experience greater discrimination, a “double jeopardy”, compared the discrimination faced by individuals that hold one marginalized identity (i.e. White women or Black men). In organizational settings, leaders are often judged based on the performance of the whole organization. Biases about race and gender could impact judgments of how much a leader is given credit for organizational success or judged harshly for organizational failure. When they are judged harshly for failure, it also results in the leaders being penalized more for mistakes. This study examines how the effectiveness of leaders of different races and genders are evaluated under conditions of positive or negative organizational outcomes.


Black women are more harshly evaluated under conditions of organizational failure when compared with black men, white men, and white women due to the “double jeopardy” effect.  

  • On a seven-point scale, men are perceived as more effective leaders than women with scores of 4.52 to 4.11 points on average, respectively), and white individuals are perceived as more effective leaders than black individuals with scores of 4.44 and 4.17 points on average, respectively.
  • On a seven-point scale, women were also perceived to be less typical leaders than men, with scores of 4.05 and 4.59 points, on average respectively. Black individuals are perceived as less typical leaders than White individuals, with scores of 4.18 and 4.43 points, on average respectively.
  • Under conditions of organizational success, Black men, Black women, and White women are evaluated comparably to each other, but still less favorably than White men. 
  • Under conditions of organizational failure (e.g. corporate financial loss), Black women are evaluated more negatively and as less typical leaders compared to both Black men and White women.

Black women leaders may be unfairly judged as ineffective when organizations perform poorly. This is due in part to perceptions of Black women as atypical leaders.. The evidence also suggests that even though white women and black men also receive lower evaluations than white men, they also benefit somewhat from the dominant aspects of their identities that are congruent with the typical leadership role (being white or male).


A total of 228 participants (50% women), including undergraduate students, graduate students, and working adults, were recruited in the student union of a southeastern university in the United States to participate in a 35 minute experimental session. Participants read a newspaper article that contained experimental manipulations for organizational performance (increasing/decreasing company earnings), leader gender (male/female), and leader race (Black/White). Participants were randomly assigned to read one of eight versions of the article before completing a post-questionnaire that measured the leader’s effectiveness (scale of 1 to 7) and leader’s typicality (on a scale 1 to 7).

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