Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

Being Different: Relational Demography and Organizational Attachment

Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

Being Different: Relational Demography and Organizational Attachment

Article excerpt

the employees in Beta (and 18 percent in Delta) work in units with a homogeneous white workforce. The race relations literature (Pettigrew, 1980) suggests that minorities are more likely to be tolerated by the majority when they represent only a small, rather than a large fraction of the group. The results of the current study, however, indicate that the majority may begin to show psychological discomfort, as expressed in lower attachment, even when the minority proportion is very small. A linear function was observed here, with white individuals in the (white) homogeneous units expressing the highest degree of attachment and a systematic decline in the attachment of majority members as the proportion of minorities increased. A careful reading of several distinct bodies of research dealing with social groups and diversity reveals a puzzling omission and a serious contradiction. First, both scholars and the popular press have noted the dramatic increase of women and minorities in the U.S. labor force (e.g., Ahlburg and Kimmel, 1986; Johnston and Packer, 1987; Offerman and Gowing, 1990). Managing a diverse workforce is an oft-repeated challenge confronting managers in the 1990s. A clear implication of this increasing workforce heterogeneity is that more and more individuals are likely to work with people who are demographically different from them in terms of age, gender, race, and ethnicity. Increasing diversity and global competition appear to be the management topics of the next decade (e.g., Thomas, 1990), but relatively little work on organizations has explored the full impact of this diversity. Most work has analyzed the impact of minorities in work groups. Kanter (1977b) has theorized that unbalanced subgroup membership may highlight distinctions among members and focus attention on those in the minority. Minority individuals may experience social isolation and hostility (O'Farrell and Harlan, 1982). While the effects of being a minority group member have been explored in some depth (e.g., Konrad and Gutek, 1987), and despite a large body of literature in sociology that discusses the reaction of the majority toward the entrance into and continued presence of minority members in a social setting (e.g., Pettigrew, 1980), a curious omission in the organizational literature is that far less attention has been paid to the impact of increasing diversity on the majority. A notable exception is the study by Wharton and Baron (1987), who investigated the effect of occupational gender desegregation on men. They found that men in mixed work settings reported significantly lower job-related satisfaction and self-esteem and more job-related depression than men in either male- or female-dominated work settings. This evidence indicates the need for in-depth study of the full effects of diversity in the workplace.

Second, although there is evidence that diverse work groups are beneficial for tasks requiring creativity and judgment (Jackson, 1991), there is also substantial evidence that people routinely classify themselves and others based on social categories such as age, gender, race, and status and evince strong preferences for groups based on these social categories (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). Research consistently has shown that individuals choose to interact more often with members of their own social group than with members of other groups (e.g., Stephan, 1978). Furthermore, homogeneous groups are more likely than heterogeneous groups to be socially integrated and experience higher satisfaction and lower turnover (e.g., O'Reilly, Caldwell, and Barnett, 1989). Homogeneous groups also sometimes outperform heterogeneous groups (e.g., Fenelon and Megargee, 1971; Clement and Schiereck, 1973; Jackson, 1991). Given this tension between the individual's tendency to prefer homogeneity and the structural change in workforce demography toward greater heterogeneity, understanding the effects of demographic differences on individual and group outcomes in organizational settings is of both theoretical and practical importance (Pfeffer, 1983; Thomas, 1990). …

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