Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 11–12, pp 760–774 | Cite as

Navigating the Workplace: The Costs and Benefits of Shifting Identities at Work among Early Career U.S. Black Women

  • Danielle D. Dickens
  • Ernest L. Chavez
Original Article


Although much progress has been made in race relations in the United States, discrimination still persists in the workplace. As a result, Black women, among individuals from other underrepresented groups, develop coping strategies, such as identity shifting, to diminish the negative consequences of discrimination. We used the phenomenological variant of ecological systems theory to examine shifting racial, gender, and class identities among early career (recent college graduates) U.S. Black women working in predominantly White environments. Drawing on ten semi-structured interviews with college-educated Black women, data were analyzed with an interpretative phenomenological analysis. The results revealed two major themes: (a) benefits of identity shifting and (b) the costs of identity shifting, the latter with five subthemes: (a) managing interpersonal rejection: frozen effect, (b) assimilation to the dominant culture and inauthenticity, (c) confronting and dismantling stereotypes, (d) model Black citizen, and (c) mixed feelings toward identity shifting. The findings indicate that Black women vacillate between the benefits and costs of identity shifting, altering their dialect and behavior to meet social norms. Our study’s implications suggest the necessity of a multicultural approach by employers to affirm their workers’ social identities, strengthen employee relationships, and lessen the need for shifting identities.


Black women Intersectionality Stereotyped behavior Workplace politics Identity management 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11199_2017_844_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 22 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySpelman CollegeAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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