Managing my Racial Identity at Work: The When, Why, and How of Racial Identity-based Impression Management in Organizations

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Wheeler, Jasmine
Gelfand, Michele
In the past 10 years, burgeoning research has merged social identity theory and impression management theory to examine how individuals manage their distinct social identities such as race (Roberts, 2005; Roberts, Settles, Jellison, 2008; Robert sand Cha, 2014). This extension of impression management theory is especially relevant for Black employees who are often stigmatized because of their racial group membership and must determine the extent to which they either express or suppress their racial identity at work. Therefore, this research seeks to understand when, how, and why Black employees engage in racial identity-based impression management (RIM) and the organizational outcomes related to using these strategies. Additionally, this research seeks to understand majority group reactions to minorities RIM strategy use. Therefore, RIM strategy use was examined across four studies. Qualitative interviews and a construct validation study revealed two forms of RIM, Passive (distancing strategy) and Active (expressive strategy), in study 1. Study 2 revealed that diversity climate and racial centrality interact to predict Active RIM. Black employees whose race is central to them were more likely to engage in Active RIM in positive climates for diversity. Active RIM strategy use also interacted with racial centrality to predict authenticity at work. When race was less central to their identity, Black employees felt less authentic engaging in Active RIM. In turn, authenticity was found to predict important job outcomes such as satisfaction and stress. An experimental follow-up study revealed that diversity climate did not affect RIM strategy use among Black employees, however Black employees evaluated organizations more favorably in terms of diversity climate and were more interest a pursuing a job with an organization described as having a positive climate for diversity. Lastly, in study 4, majority group members evaluated Black employees differently as a function of an organization’s diversity climate and a target’s RIM strategy, due to perceived norm violation. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.