Racial Disparity in Leadership: Performance-Reward Bias in Promotions of National Football League Coaches
61 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2016 Last revised: 16 Mar 2016
Date Written: January 7, 2016
Organizational leaders remain predominantly white despite increasing U.S. workforce diversity and efforts to increase racial minority representation in leadership. We propose that performance-reward bias (i.e., lesser rewards for equivalent performance) generates racial disparity in leadership by suppressing the rate at which minorities, relative to equally-performing whites, are promoted to positions considered prerequisite for organizational leadership. Career history analyses of over 1,200 National Football League coaches from 1985 to 2012 support this claim. Various fixed-effects specifications hold constant a coach’s initial and current position, enabling us to differentiate performance-reward bias from allocative mechanisms that match minorities, at hire and post-hire, to positions with inferior upward mobility prospects. We also examine racial disparity before and after implementation of a league-wide policy explicitly designed to increase the number of minorities interviewed for leadership positions. Although the disparity in head coach representation decreased after implementation, pre-implementation demographic trends prevent us from conclusively attributing this increase to the policy. Less equivocally, after implementation white assistant coaches continued to be promoted at higher rates than similarly-performing minority ones. Moreover, consistent with our arguments, this white advantage in promotion rates is specific to the transition from lower level positions to the one typically occupied prior to promotion to head coach (i.e., coordinators); no racial advantage is evident among occupants of this position. We conclude that racial disparity in organizational leadership is largely attributable to performance-reward bias in lower level positions.
Keywords: racial disparity, promotions, performance-reward bias, National Football League, leadership
JEL Classification: M12, M51, D63, J70, D73, L20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation