by Catalyst

Trust Between managers and direct reports is essential to forming productive workplace relationships, facilitating employee engagement, navigating the workplace, and improving overall performance across the organization. The immediate manager can help a direct report grow professionally to the benefit of the employee, work teams, the manager, and the company or firm. Those managers who successfully establish trusting relationships with direct reports will obtain optimal performance from their direct reports, enjoy greater team productivity, and realize personal satisfaction in their successful development of talent. However, diverse women, defined in Catalyst’s report Building Trust Between Managers and Diverse Women Direct Reports as those belonging to racial minority groups in North America, often face greater challenges than white women in forming trusting relationships with their managers. Among other factors, negative stereotyping and exclusion from influential networks can influence the ways in which diverse women experience workplaces and can limit diverse women’s access to trusting relationships. The report examines two dimensions of trust:

  • Disclosure: When a direct report communicates sensitive or personal information to her manager.
  • Reliance: The direct report’s ability to rely on her manager to take action on her behalf.

The analyses, which include perspectives from both diverse women and white male managers, show that:

  • Diverse women’s disclosure with their white male managers is lower than white women’s.
  • Disclosure predicted engagement with the organization for diverse women, but not for white women.
  • Reliance for diverse women and white women is similar. However, diverse women’s perception of their ability to rely on their managers made no difference to their satisfaction regarding career advancement opportunities, while for white women it did.
  • White male managers may over estimate the level of trust in relationships with diverse women direct reports.

Organization-wide efforts are needed to overcome barriers to building trust in relationships between white male managers and diverse women direct reports. Trust is not easily established or maintained when people are dissimilar or are in a workplace that is unwelcoming to diverse groups. Studies indicate that white male managers of diverse women, and the direct reports themselves, have steeper barriers to overcome—including lack of consistency in managerial modeling of disclosure and low managerial awareness of diverse women’slackoftrust—in achieving trusting relationships and leveraging those relationships as compared with white male managers and white women direct reports.

Managers often find themselves overwhelmed by work responsibilities, deadline pressures, and lack of resources. Discomfort and unfamiliarity with those from different backgrounds may inhibit managers in communicating effectively with all team members, and work pressures may then place diversity management low on the priority list. In addition, those from majority groups may find it challenging to give straightforward feedback to those who are different from them, and norms in organizations may also reinforce managerial lack of candor.

If managers themselves fail to disclose—fail to communicate adequately—they are not acting as effective role models for their direct reports and are not doing their part to develop trusting relationships. Barriers diverse women must overcome in building trusting relationships with their managers that are external to the immediate manager-direct report relationship may include perceptions of negative stereotyping or double standards. This may stem from lack of access to mentors and powerful networks, lack of high visibility assignments, or perceived unfair career advancement processes. While everyone, from the human resources staff to managers at all levels to individuals themselves, has the power to influence the environment, Catalyst recommends that senior organizational leaders, in particular, take responsibility for creating more inclusive environments by:

  • Implementing career-monitoring programs.
  • Integrating diversity considerations into talent management processes.
  • Incorporating greater accountability into their organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

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Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.