Black Executives; Companies Want to Hire More, But What is Keeping Them From Being Hired?

  • After 15 years of being on the company’s board, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned, pledging his seat to a Black candidate.
  • Adam Rapoport stepped down as editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit after a racist photograph circulated online of him and his wife depicting Puerto Ricans.
  • Matt Duckor, Condé Nast’s vice president of Video, stepped down after criticism for racist and homophobic tweets.
These are a few examples of CEOs who have stepped down under the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, for the last 18-months, there have been a lot of CEOs who have stepped down due to retirement, strategic change, or ethical violations.
The Black Lives movement has highlighted the relationship between organizational leaders and racial injustice. Stakeholders are demanding more Black executives in the workplace. Currently, there are only four Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
According to Dr. Scott Dust, an assistant professor of management at Miami University, now is the time to hire Black executives. Yet, there are three consistent challenges Black executives face: the “bold moves theory”, the “glass cliff theory”, and the “corporate savior theory”.
What are these theories and how do they affect Black executives?

An impression isn’t everything

When society demands a sense of urgency — in this case, an increase of Black executives in the workplace — shareholders’ reactions influence the decision to find leaders with industry experience fast, despite research showing the minimal impact between experience and performance.
The problem with this strategy is that this “industry experience” pool is the size of a puddle for Blacks.
Unfortunately, the promotion of a Black candidate becomes more of an impression strategy than a business strategy.
This is the bold moves theory.
If you are looking to hire high-level leaders, then it’s time to look more broadly. There are great strategic thinkers out there, just go outside your “pool” of employees.
In hiring lower-level employees, Dr. Dust suggests using technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and simulations. The purpose of this technology is to eliminate cognitive bias.
When they do get hired, Black executives face the perception of leadership performance correlating with organizational performance. Essentially, if the organization struggles, the leader is to blame; and organizations need to be careful in making sure Black executives are not set up for failure.

The glass cliff theory

According to Shraysi Tandon, a New York-based business reporter for CCTV America, if the board of directors at an organization are unsatisfied with the results they want under a man’s leadership, Tandon states that they look at the gender aspect as part of the necessary change.
In a sense, the “caretaker” aspect of a woman is brought in to clean up the company’s “mess”. This “glass cliff theory” applies to Black employees as well. Compared to white employees, Black employees are given opportunities to lead when the likelihood of failure is high.
For minority leaders, unfortunately, their chances for failure are much higher as they are expected to turn water into wine. Last time I checked, Jesus is the only one who can miraculously do that.
Both Dr. Dust and Tandon agree that leaders’ evaluations should be based on decisions and behavior, regardless of gender and color.

Tokens are objects, not people

The corporate savior theory states that Black leaders experience tokenism. Meaning that their leadership is under an intense magnifying glass, where they are vulnerable and experience scrutiny.
No one likes being under a magnifying glass. With that amount of pressure, you end up making decisions you normally wouldn’t make; which is exactly what Black leaders experience.
They also become a “signal” for racial equality in the organization’s values. This emphasizes the continuous treatment of an object, not a person.
If Black executives succeed, it’s a call for celebration; failure initiates the common reaction of putting a “traditional” leader in place. Therefore, Black executives feel that they are “tokens” in the company’s appreciation for their leadership work.
If all three challenges exist within your organization, hiring a Black executive because it will make the company look good, but the Black executive feels like a “token” in an environment that has set them up for failure, this hiring screams disaster for all three parties: the Black executive, you, and the organization.

The race leadership is very much imbalanced, and it doesn’t help that the “bold moves theory”, the “glass cliff theory”, and the “corporate savior theory” exist.
Dr. Dust states and I agree, that these three challenges exist because leadership performance is tied too much with organizational performance. Once organizations don’t rely too much on this belief, Dr. Dust believes we will have more Black executives.
The future of racial equality in leadership is in your hands, so let’s do it right and address these issues for our Black executives.