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Assertive Black Women Leaders Approved in the Workplace

Update Date: Apr 20, 2012 12:41 AM EDT

Black women leaders are approved to be asservice in workplace, according to a new study.

While white men are expected to be assertive leaders, black men and white women are often viewed to be subordinate and communal. However, the study shows that black women seem to be approved to act assertive just like white men.

"Traditionally, women have been assigned to a more subordinate role," said Robert W. Livingston of Northwestern University, who co-wrote the study with Ashleigh Shelby Rosette of Duke University and Ella F. Washington of Northwestern.  

In the study each subject was shown a picture of a fictitious official at a Fortune 500 company. Each picture was paired with a scenario in which the leader was meeting with a subordinate who wasn't performing well. Dominant leaders demanded action and were assertive; communal leaders encouraged the subordinate and communicated compassionately. 

Participants rated the leader on questions like how well the leader handled the situation and how much they thought employees admire this leader.

While assertive black men and white women were seen negatively by participants, black women had as much latitude as white men to be assertive. 

"Black women leaders occupy a unique space," said Rosette. "These findings show that just because a role is prescribed to women in general doesn't mean that it will be prescribed for black women."

The new paper, "Can an Agentic Black Woman Get Ahead? The Impact of Race and Interpersonal Dominance on Perceptions of Female Leaders", was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.  

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