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White and minority employee reactions to perceived discrimination at work: evidence of White fragility?

Eddy S. Ng (Freeman College of Management, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USA) (James Cook University, Singapore Campus, Singapore)
Greg J. Sears (Sprott School of Business, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)
Muge Bakkaloglu (Sprott School of Business, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 18 September 2020

Issue publication date: 22 June 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

Building on the notion of “White fragility,” this study aims to explore how Whites react and cope with perceived discrimination at work. Specifically, the authors explore whether: (1) Whites react more negatively than minorities when they perceive discrimination at work and (2) Whites are more likely than minorities to restore the status quo by leaving the situation when they perceive discrimination at work.

Design/methodology/approach

Data for this study were obtained from the Professional Worker Career Experience Survey. In total, 527 working professionals from multiple organizations across the central USA participated in the survey.

Findings

The authors find evidence that Whites experience more negative psychological effects (i.e. lower job satisfaction and higher work stress) from perceived discrimination than minority employees and are more likely to act to restore conditions of privilege by leaving their current job and employer. The stronger negative effects of perceived discrimination for Whites (vs minorities) were restricted to work outcomes (job satisfaction, work stress, turnover intentions from one's employer) and were not evident with respect to perceptions of overall well-being (i.e. life satisfaction), suggesting that White fragility may play a particularly influential role in work settings, wherein racial stress may be more readily activated.

Originality/value

Consistent with the notion of White fragility, the study’s results demonstrate that the deleterious impact of perceived discrimination on employee work outcomes may, in some cases, be stronger for White than minority employees.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Preparation of this manuscript is supported by SSHRC Insight Grant 435-2016-1227 and the James and Elizabeth Freeman Chair in Management at Bucknell University.

Citation

Ng, E.S., Sears, G.J. and Bakkaloglu, M. (2021), "White and minority employee reactions to perceived discrimination at work: evidence of White fragility?", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 661-682. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJM-12-2019-0535

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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