Newswise — Black women represent 7% of the U.S. population, yet until recently, no Fortune 500 company had been led by a Black female CEO since 2016, and, additionally, black women make up a smaller percentage of total women employed in management, business and financial operations than their white or Asian counterparts.

One barrier to the success of black women in business is the “angry black woman” stereotype, which has long been embedded and perpetuated in American culture through books, movies and television.  

Now, researchers at the University of Arizona, Hofstra University and the University of British Columbia have found evidence of heightened awareness to anger by black women—reinforcing the existence of the “angry black woman” stereotype.

Further, in two experiments, the researchers found that when a black woman displays anger, it actually activates that stereotype in observers and causes her co-workers to view her as less able to lead.

“When we compared displays of anger across race and gender, people were more likely to perceive an angry black woman as a worse performer and less capable leader,” says Aleks Ellis, Stephen P. Robbins Chair in Organizational Behavior in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.

The researchers—Ellis and Lehman Benson, associate professor of management and organizations in the Eller College, plus Daphna Motro of Hostra University and Jonathan Evans of the University of British Columbia—conducted two experiments—one in which observers either watched a video of an employee reacting to poor performance feedback or listened to an employee admonishing a coworker. The employee was either a black male, white male, black female or white female. For each employee, two versions were recorded, with the employee displaying anger in only one version. Compared to the other employees, observers were more likely to attribute the black woman’s anger internally rather than externally and, as a result, observers were more likely to perceive her as a worse performer and less capable leader. Reactions were the same no matter the race or gender of the observer. “Given the glaring underrepresentation of black women in business, there is a clear need to identify barriers preventing black women from progressing up the corporate ladder,” says Ellis. “Even though black women are not actually angrier than other groups, the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype could represent one of those barriers. Only by actually showing the negative effects of this stereotype can we start the process of reducing its impact on our behavior and limiting backlash against women of color in the workplace.”

The research is forthcoming in Journal of Applied Psychology under the title “Race and Reactions to Women’s Expressions of Anger at Work: Examining the Effects of the ‘Angry Black Woman’ Stereotype.” Ellis is available for interviews.

Register for reporter access to contact details

Journal of Applied Psychology