This Is Why I Leave: Race and Voluntary Departure

By Adina Sterling
2021| Working Paper No. 3939

Taking seriously the notion that race influences how proximate or distant groups are from resources, this paper develops a theory about how voluntary departure from the workplace reflects race as a structural position, meaning it shapes the constraints and opportunities facing workers, not only within organizations but also outside the workplace. I argue that there are differing reasons underlying voluntary departure for black employees and white employees, and I predict and test these differences using detailed personnel files for over 15,000 professional sales employees in the retail industry. Findings indicate that white employees are more likely to leave their jobs for career-related reasons, such as the type of work they are performing or because of pay. Black employees are less likely to voluntarily depart than whites overall, but they are more likely to voluntarily depart due to factors related to societal racial disparities. By clarifying how race links to the underlying reasons for employees’ departure, this paper advances understanding of workplace inequality and the ways in which race influences careers and mobility.