UCL School of Management

Research seminar

Diversity in Leadership: Race, Gender, and the Dynamics of Social Hierarchy Reversal


Robert W. Livingston, Sussex University


Friday, 26 September 2014
South Wing, 9 Garwood Lecture Theatre, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT


Women and ethnic minorities comprise less than 6% of Chief Executive Officers in Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies. Similar underrepresentation can be found in public and non-profit sectors as well. This presentation examines the factors that contribute to the systemic underrepresentation of women and minorities in top leadership roles, and explores the unique challenges that they face when they do attain such positions. Prior research posits that individuals from traditionally low-power groups (e.g., Blacks) who occupy high-power roles (e.g., leaders) create tension and discomfort because they upend traditional and prescribed hierarchical arrangements. Using a social cognition approach, I demonstrate that “disarming mechanisms”— traits, attitudes or behaviours that signal warmth, humility, or deference—can increase power and leader emergence for Blacks by making them appear less aversive and threatening to majority group members. Data from various experiments, using targets as diverse as Fortune 500 CEOs, US Presidents, and NFL Football players, converge in demonstrating that disarming mechanisms benefit Black males but not White males. On the other hand, disarming mechanisms disadvantage White female leaders because they are already “disarmed” by their gender, and thus their challenge is to affirm strength/agency rather than warmth/communality. Finally, I present intersectional data demonstrating the complex ways in which race interacts with gender to produce distinct outcomes for Black women leaders. I conclude by dissecting “disadvantage” into stigma, subordination, and marginalization, and highlighting how they differentially apply to Black men, White women, and Black women, respectively. Implications for the positive impact of diverse leadership on team performance, creativity, and innovation are discussed.

Open to
All students
Last updated Thursday, 25 September 2014