Wharton operations and information management professor Katherine L. Milkman and Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn, investigated how race and gender affect career mobility for young professionals, especially those entering career fields where they must be promoted to remain (law firms, universities, consulting firms).
They examined five years of personnel data and employee interviews from a large national law firm and found a correlation between the number of female supervisors and the probability of promotion and retention of junior-level female employees, published in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge as “Looking Up and Looking Out: Career Mobility Effects of Demographic Similarity among Professionals.”
The enabling benefit of demographically similar employees and supervisors was accompanied by a perhaps surprising correlation.
Work groups with a high number of same-gender or same-race underrepresented minorities had a higher attrition rate, attributed to employees’ perception that the competition reduced their chances for promotion.
Milkman and McGinn noted that placing many underrepresented employees (women and underrepresented minorities) in the same group may lead to structural marginalization, or “ghettoes” of low-power.
This effect was present in groups composed mostly of men.
In contrast, the exit decisions of white and Asian employees did not seem affected by working in groups with other white and Asian employees.
The researchers cited the massively unequal representation of women and minorities among partners in professional services organizations.
A 2009 study that showed women made up 46% of associates but 19% of partners across U.S. law firms, and racial minorities represented 20% of the lawyers across the country but only 6% of partners.
Milkman is currently analyzing data on the role that race and gender play in sponsorship or patronage in academia.
She sent emails to 6,500 professors at academic institutions across the country from purported male, female, white, or minority “students” requesting a 10-minute meeting for one-time mentoring, either that day or next week.
She found that “female” and “minority” students received significantly fewer responses from prospective mentors, particularly when asked for assistance in the future.
She noted that these findings contrast with the popular expectation of less overt or unconscious discrimination in academic settings.
-*How have you seem race and gender affect career mobility in the past year?
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