Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

By Cynthia Estlund | Go to book overview
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Workplace Interaction across Gender Lines
(and Some Other Lines of Social Division)

There is ample evidence that the experience of working together across lines of social division such as race, though not untroubled by prejudice and hostility, tends to reduce prejudice and hostility. This experience fosters cooperative social ties and skills, conversations about a wide range of work-related, personal, and political matters, and bonds of empathy and affinity across salient lines of social division. Can anything like this claim be made in the case of gender?

Part of the powerful significance of interracial contact on the job stems from the relative paucity of close and cooperative interracial contact outside of the workplace. That is manifestly not the case as between men and women. Most importantly, men and women usually live together for much of their lives as spouses, brothers and sisters, and parents and children, not to mention as neighbors. There is not a general pattern of “gender segregation” in neighborhoods, most schools, and many other spheres of society from which workplace integration is an important departure. On the contrary, notwithstanding women's recent progress in the labor market, there is still more gender segregation in the workplace than in most of the rest of the society. Given the much more frequent and intimate connections between men and women within families and neighborhoods, what difference does it make that men and women increasingly work together in the same jobs and workplaces?

The key to this question may be found in the phenomenon of “role segregation.” There is not much spatial segregation on the basis of gender outside the workplace. But role segregation—the assignment of positions and tasks on the basis of gender—remains prevalent, and largely unassailable through law, in many of the spheres outside of the workplace within which men and women interact closely. The workplace is different. Antidiscrimination law prohibits explicit role segregation; and although there is still a lot of de facto role segregation in the workplace, the law affords some leverage against it. The law's condemnation and partial breakdown of role segregation at work has helped to


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Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy


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