The Boundary Conditions of Backlash for Black Women: When Black Women Escape Backlash for Agentic and Dominant Behavior in the Workplace

Open Access
Dicicco, Elaine Claire
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 18, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Stephanie A Shields, Dissertation Advisor
  • stereotypes
  • gender
  • race
  • workplace
  • intersectionality
  • backlash
  • agency
  • dominance
  • leadership
When vying for leadership roles, women who act in stereotypically masculine ways are considered less likable and less hireable compared to similarly behaving men, furthering the gender disparity in leadership roles (Rudman, 1998). Backlash for agentic and dominant behavior in the workplace is an established phenomenon for White women, but less is known the extent to which Black women experience backlash. Although Black women’s race and gender are incongruent with leadership prototypes, Black women may escape backlash for dominant behavior because of their nonprototypicality as Blacks and as women (Hall et al., 2014; Livingston et al., 2012) and because of stereotypes about their assertiveness and strength. Informed by an intersectional perspective, three studies explore when Black women experience backlash. Study 1 analyzed prescriptive and proscriptive stereotypes about agency and dominance and found that Black men and women were prescribed agency and proscribed dominance in similar ways. Overall, it was considered more ideal for Black women and men to posses agentic and dominant traits compared to White women, but less ideal compared to White men. Study 2 examined whether dominance or agency descriptions in an employee review would influence promoting intentions, but found that Black women and men received more favorable reviews compared to White women and men, regardless of how they were described. Study 3 failed to replicate Rudman et al.’s (2012) sabotage paradigm, as neither race nor gender influenced sabotage allocation. Considerations for future work on race, gender, and backlash are discussed.