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Focus on two awards named after late professor

27 October 2022

The article at a glance

Papers dealing with race, business and society win awards named after the late Professor Sucheta Nadkarni of Cambridge Judge, a champion of diversity who died three years ago.

Papers dealing with race, business and society win awards named after the late Professor Sucheta Nadkarni of Cambridge Judge, a champion of diversity who died three years ago.

Sucheta Nadkarni.
Professor Sucheta Nadkarni

The 2022 winners of two awards named after the late Professor Sucheta Nadkarni of Cambridge Judge Business School focus on issues of race and business.

Sucheta, who died three years ago in October 2019, was a champion of diversity in the workplace and in broader society, and served as Director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge.

The two awards were created the following year. They are the Sucheta Nadkarni Award for Outstanding Publication on Women Executive Leadership, launched by the Strategic Management Society, and the Phillips and Nadkarni Award for Outstanding Paper on Diversity, created by the Academy of Management – which is named after the late Dr Katherine W. Phillips who pioneered research on the benefits of diversity in the workplace and the late Professor Sucheta Nadkarni.

Making the invisible visible

The Sucheta Nadkarni Award for Outstanding Publication on Women Executive Leadership, sponsored by Cambridge Judge, was launched by the Behavioural Strategy and Strategic Leadership & Governance Interest Groups of the Strategic Management Society, to recognise a refereed journal publication with “potential to significantly impact our understanding of women executive leadership”.

This year’s award was for the paper “Making the Invisible Visible: Paradoxical Effects of Intersectional Invisibility on the Career Experiences of Executive Black Women”, which was published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The paper’s co-authors are Alexis Nicole Smith of Oklahoma State University, Maria Baskerville Watkins of Northeastern University, Jamie J. Ladge of Northeastern University, and Pamela Carlton, Founder and President of Springboard Partners in Cross Cultural Leadership.

Intersecting identities create a unique and complex experience

The paper examines how the “unique and complex experiences of and challenges for Black women, which are tied to their intersecting marginalised identities, have largely been overlooked in management research”.

The authors conducted two waves of in-depth interviews over seven years with 59 Black women in senior-level roles to explore the role that “intersectional invisibility” plays in the perception and experience of Black women.

“Although Black women are physically visible in that they are different from most of their colleagues, intersectional invisibility research suggests that they can be simultaneously invisible – easily overlooked or disregarded – because they are non-prototypical members of their gender and racial identity groups,” the study says.

How the model explains the ‘outsider within’ status

The research developed a theoretical model to explain executive Black women’s “outsider within” status – and how they “adopt a number of critical strategies to gain credible visibility needed to ascend in their careers”.

One woman quoted in the study, a former Senior Vice President in pharmaceuticals, said: “I was black, they were white … I was female, they were all male … There was nothing that was an obvious similarity between us. I think I spent my early years trying to mask how different I really was … I would have spent the next 15 years trying to hide from them how different I was, but, when you do that, you miss where there are similarities and the ability to build a real relationship. I decided I’m going to have to take the risk here because nobody can accept and like me if they don’t know me.”

The study says in its conclusion: “Our findings highlight the notion that Black women executives operate as both intriguing and also threatening outsiders within their organisations, which leads to competing pressures of intersectional invisibility that they must balance.

“Although Black women have to deal with negative race- and gender-based stereotypes, they may also find permission to be authentic by circumventing these stereotypes. Our findings challenge prior notions of intersectional invisibility as being wholly negative or positive, and instead offer insight on the paradoxical effects therein.”

The intersection of diversity and cognition

The Phillips and Nadkarni Award for Outstanding Paper on Diversity and Cognition is awarded by the Academy of Management to honour the best paper at the intersection of diversity and cognition submitted to the Annual Academy of Management Meeting, which was held this year in Seattle.

The 2022 award went to Stephanie Creary of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Tiffany Smith, who was a Research Assistant at Wharton and is currently a doctoral student in organisational behaviour at the Sociology Department of Harvard University. Their winning paper is entitled “How a Reenacted Racial Violation Shifts How Organizations Manage Race”.

How are racial issues integrated into organisational consciousness?

The authors conducted a qualitative study of 13 corporate organisations to illustrate the conditions under which organisations “integrate racial issues more deeply into their consciousness and actions following a racial incident in the community”.

While some research has suggested that organisations proactively respond to social issues through activism, other research suggests that community-based racial issue primarily enter the workplace through the consciousness of minority group members wrestling with these events rather than through active organisational response.

The winning study focuses on a “racial violation that closely resembles one or more past racial violations, and triggers a number of organisational-level actions over time”, and the authors also say they “offer practical insights for responding to reenacted racial violations from an organisational perspective”.

Study is a response to George Floyd murder and other injustices

In a LinkedIn post, Stephanie Creary says the paper “was our written response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the tragic killings of multiple Black Americans in the US. It is how Tiffany and I decided to cope with the senseless loss of lives when we were both struggling during the Summer of 2020.

“Tiffany and I have both shed a lot of tears working on this paper and I’ve found it challenging to present this paper to different research audiences without my voice cracking.”