Social Discrimination in the Corporate Elite

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In the new article from Administrative Science Quarterly, Dr. Sun Hyun Park at University of Southern California and Dr. James D. Westphal at University of Michigan identify possible sources of social discrimination against minorities who have managed to acquire high-status positions.

From their paper, Social Discrimination in the Corporate Elite: How Status Affects the Propensity for Minority CEOs to Receive Blame for Low Firm Performance:

While scholars have devoted considerable attention to determining the ways in which demographic minorities are disadvantaged in gaining access to prestigious positions in corporate leadership, little attention has been devoted to identifying possible sources of social discrimination against minorities who have managed to acquire high-status positions. The importance of this issue has increased in recent years as women and racial minorities come to occupy an ever-increasing portion of CEO positions at large and mid-sized public U.S. companies.

From the Abstract:

This study examines social discrimination in the attributions that top executives make about the performance of other firms with minority CEOs in their communications with journalists. Drawing from the literatures on intergroup relations and status competition, our theory suggests how out-group biases and negative forms of envy toward higher-status minority CEOs may increase the propensity for white male CEOs to make negative or internal attributions for the low performance of the minority CEOs’ firms.

We also examine how CEOs’ internal attributions in conversations with journalists increase the tendency for those journalists to attribute performance to internal causes in reporting on the minority CEOs’ firms. We consider how the gender and race of journalists could moderate the influence of CEOs’ performance attributions on journalists’ reports, such that female or racial minority journalists would be less easily persuaded by white male CEOs’ internal attributions for the low performance of firms with female or racial minority CEOs, and thus less prone to issuing negative statements about the CEOs’ leadership. Empirical analyses based on original survey data from a large sample of CEOs and journalists provided strong support for our hypotheses. We discuss implications of the findings for theory and research on social discrimination in the corporate elite and social psychological determinants of corporate leader reputation.

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