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Everyone has identities or distinguishing characteristics important to her or him. On my Twitter profile, I list I am a partner, dad, diversity scholar, yogi, and Episcopalian—all things that represent an important part of who I am.
Our identities can also influence the opportunities we have at work. One’s gender or racial identity can influence how others see her, as well as her attitudes and behaviors.
Identities do not operate in isolation, either. One's race and gender can interact. For instance, minority women might have different opportunities and experiences than minority men.
Jacqueline McDowell, of George Mason University, and Akilah Carter-Francique, of Prairie View A&M University, recently examined these very issues in a study of African American female athletic directors. The research team interviewed 10 administrators, asking them about their experiences at work and the influence of their race and gender.
Participants experienced various forms of bias. In some cases, the barriers were gender-based. For example, some people questioned how the women could be an athletic director, especially if the school supported a football team.
In other cases, the athletic directors’ gender and racial identities intersected. They reported people viewing as angry Black women and tough to work with. In other cases, people believed the women were hired to fill a quota or for political reasons.
Women in the study were aware of the biases and sometimes tried to prevent them. Some participants changed their behaviors in meetings. Others altered their identities based on the situation to be accessible to all people with whom they interacted.
McDowell and Carter-Francique’s study shows that our identities can influence how others see us, and in turn our actions in the workplace.