Abstract

Kanter's theory of proportional representation suggests that tokens should experience more work stress and psychological symptoms than nontokens. We examine the effects of proportional representation by race and by gender on work stress and symptoms. Data come from structured personal interviews with a disproportionate stratified sample of elite black leaders in the U.S. (N = 167). Consistent with expectations, analyses showed that numerical rarity by race and by gender significantly increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, respectively. Numerical rarity by race significantly increases “token stress” (e.g., loss of black identity, multiple demands of being black, sense of isolation, having to show greater competence) and a high degree of gender tokenism increases role overload. Some, but not all, of the total impact of proportional representation is mediated through work stressors since these stressors are themselves directly associated with higher psychological symptoms.

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