Discrimination happens without effort
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Black women human resources managers exist on the margins of organizational power structures, possessing neither race or gender privilege nor positional status. They are understudied in academic research where their issues are often subsumed under those of White women or Black men. They work in a field that has been described as a “corporate ghetto” where they are often assigned responsibilities relating to diversity. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to describe how Black women human resources managers negotiated diversity issues in a Fortune 1000 corporation. Two research questions guided the study: (1) how do Black women human resources managers resolve the struggles of implementing diversity policies in a corporate environment? and (2) how do Black women human resources managers negotiate their organizational and personal identities within the corporate structure? Semistructured interviews were conducted with six Black women human resources managers who worked at a corporation from 1987 to 2007. All of the women had responsibility for developing, communicating, and/or enforcing diversity-related policies and programs. The researcher, who was also a participant in the study, was interviewed by the professor supervising this study. Three themes emerged during data analysis: Negotiating the Vagaries Commitment to Diversity, Counteracting the Effects of Positionality on Work Life Through Psychological Compartmentalization, Using Black Women-Specific Work Strategies. The findings indicated that participants worked without a corporate commitment to diversity and therefore developed creative ways to continue their diversity work; that the participants were outsider-insiders, negotiating racism and dealing with isolation and hostility; and that participants were confident without being threatening and while staying true to their personal values. Two conclusions were drawn from the findings: (1) the Black women human resources managers used a strategic approach to doing corporate diversity work that was informed by their common experiences of gendered racism, and (2) the Black women human resources managers maintained a delicate balance between their personal desire to be and to appear confident and their professional need to avoid being typecast as stereotypically threatening Black women. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research are offered.
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