Demographic similarity between subordinates and leaders as predictor of leaders’ observed cultural intelligence

  • Renier Steyn
Keywords: Similarity-attraction, in-group bias, gender, race, cultural intelligence, post-apartheid South Africa


In post-apartheid South Africa, organisations strive to be gender, race and culturally neutral. However, the similarity-attraction and the in-group bias hypotheses acknowledge that individuals tend to judge those similar to them, or belonging to the same group, favourably compared to those who are members of out-groups. This research aims to measure the prevalence of in-group bias within the workplace through assessing whether subordinates who are similar to their leaders evaluate them as equally competent to engage in advantageous interaction across cultures, compared to leaders who differ from them in terms of demographic characteristics. Data was collected in South African organisations, typified a by a multi-cultural workforce and a history of racial segregation and gender discrimination. Cross-sectional data was collected on the demographics of subordinates and their leaders, as well as subordinates’ perceptions of their leaders’ cultural intelligence (CQ). Gender, race, as well as gender combined with race, were used to create in and out-groups. Analyses of variance were performed to compare the measured CQ of groups of leaders (segregated by gender and race), as perceived by similarly differentiated groups of subordinates. It was found that gender similarity did not result in in-group bias, but rather that race introduced in-group bias. In-group bias was found amongst Black employees, in general, and also in Black male and female employees separately, who rated their in-groups more positively than their out-groups. The same bias was not observed amongst White employees. Conclusion: In-group bias, based on race, continues to exist in post-apartheid South Africa, as assessed when considering the CQ of leaders. However, the presence of in-group bias amongst Black South Africans employees regarding CQ may be rooted in the fabric of the South African community, where Blacks may be culturally more intelligent, based on the fact that many Blacks are multilingual and most Whites bilingual, a circumstance that may directly affect the actual levels of CQ. This, however, does not explain the absence of bias within the White group.

Key words: Similarity-attraction, in-group bias, gender, race, cultural intelligence, post-apartheid South Africa


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1596-9231