Female and black professionals more often viewed as ‘lucky’ than competent when they succeed

How we view the success of others from different sociodemographic groups is a crucial leverage point for inclusion and diversity.
- Odessa S. Hamilton
Woman working on laptop Stocksnap by Pixabay

Female and black professionals are more likely than their male and white colleagues to be viewed as lucky in their accomplishments rather than competent, according to new research from The Inclusion Initiative at LSE.

Odessa S. Hamilton and Dr Grace Lordan systematically reviewed 50 years of research, from 1970 to 2020, finding that in a pooled sample of 4,182 individuals, black professionals were even more likely than females to be regarded in this way. The authors highlight that being viewed as lucky, rather than able, translates into fewer opportunities, less pay and fewer promotions. Companies could therefore be disadvantaged by holding back some of their most talented employees.

The paper concludes: “Decades of research in psychological and social sciences have pointed to individuals making systematic errors in attributions of success…What we do see consistently is that these biases underlying attribution errors lead to disparities between opportunities afforded or denied to individuals, and so they have important implications for organisation diversification and occupational engagement.”

Odessa S. Hamilton, Behavioural Scientist at LSE’s The Inclusion Initiative and lead author, said: “How we view the success of others from different sociodemographic groups is a crucial leverage point for inclusion and diversity, particularly as women and under-represented ethnic groups continue to be systematically disadvantaged in the workforce. Ignoring this bias has direct implications on individuals and can have knock on effects for future success.”

Dr Grace Lordan, Director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE, said: “Sadly, I am not surprised that women and black individuals are less likely to get personal credit for their successes. We now need inclusive leaders to make sure this does not happen going forward. These leaders do not doubt that this is happening and recognise the need for structures to be put in place to make sure it no longer happens.”

Ability or luck: A systematic review of interpersonal attributions of success by Odessa S. Hamilton and Grace Lordan is published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology.

Behind the article

The Inclusion Initiative (TII) at LSE launched in November 2020. TII leverages behavioural science insights to advance the understanding of factors that enhance inclusion at work. Our areas of focus include financial and professional services. TII brings industry, academics, and other stakeholders together regularly to exchange ideas, highlight new findings and build partnerships.