Gendered Performances in Employment Interviewing: Interpreting and Designing Communication Research

Article excerpt

The idea that organizational politics and experience are gendered is not new. Nor is it groundbreaking to argue that organizational cultures tend to be male dominated, based on patriarchal structures, and directed by traditionally masculine values and worldviews (see Buzzanell, 2000). Feminist theorists, standpoint theorists (Coffins, 1986; Harding, 1991) and muted group theorists (Kramarae, 1981) have made important contributions to our understanding of the alternatives to and possibilities for equity-based organizational realities, which have yet to be fully realized. Because our foundations of organization are gendered in such a way that "the experiences and perspectives of women as a group are distinguished from, and usually subordinated to, the experiences and perspectives of men as a group" (Maier, 1997, p. 229), it takes no great inferential leap to conclude that workplace gender bias exists. As such, and given that gender bias is communicatively constituted, it seems that scholars of business communic ation ought to be able to agree on this: Gender bias does in fact exist in the workplace and, further, it is prevalent.

Using such an understanding of gender bias as the starting point, the next logical step in our research would be to dis-cover the precise circumstances of bias in the workplace. That is, current research ought to be asking the following questions: On what grounds are the seeds of gender bias sown? What makes some ground more fertile than others? What organizational values and expectations cultivate this bias? What is happening beneath the surface that keeps it flourishing? How firmly embedded is it and how can we weed it out? How can its growth appear sparse when we have ample evidence of its tightly networked roots? The purpose of this essay is to present a framework that can help researchers in their continuing efforts to answer these questions. The present essay is not concerned with whether or not gender bias exists, nor is it addressed to researchers who are. Rather, the paper is addressed to business communication scholars who find the "whether or not" question to be, in the spirit of Richard Rorty (19 79), not particularly interesting. Moreover, the paper is addressed to scholars who take workplace gender inequity as a given, assume its prevalence, and are interested in moving on to more useful questions that direct us toward positive social change. Specifically, I examine employment interviewing and what appears to be inconclusive evidence of gender bias in this context. First, using a theatrical metaphor, I look at the employment interview as an organizational drama and explore the job applicant's dramaturgical challenges. It is here that I begin to answer questions such as: how can the growth of gender bias appear sparse when we have ample evidence of its tightly networked roots? and What organizational values and expectations cultivate such bias? Second, I suggest guidelines for researchers interested in continuing the movement toward digging out and pulling apart organizational gender bias.

Studying Gender in Business Communication Scholarship

An exploration of business communication that is motivated by a concern for enriching the lives of those who work within an organization requires a careful examination of the discourses that create and sustain organizational reality. One of the most scripted forms of organizational discourse is employment interviewing. As such, examining employment interviews can provide us with insights into the complexity that is organizational culture and how employees are socialized into it. As Ralston and Kirkwood (1999) have argued, employment interviewing is an important gateway into organizations: They function as a kind of test case about "how things are done here," laying the groundwork for and giving the job candidate a sense of how employees will be treated when hired. Likewise, employees provide information about how they expect to be treated and how they will fit into the current mode of "how things are done. …