Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

The Effects of Organizational Demographics and Social Identity on Relationships among Professional Women

Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

The Effects of Organizational Demographics and Social Identity on Relationships among Professional Women

Article excerpt

limited access to senior positions may foster these kinds of competitive experiences:

It's a divide and conquer strategy on the part of men I can see it starting to happen in terms of the women who are thinking about how the men perceive them vis a vis the other women, and thinking that we can't all quite make it--that being a woman is going to be a factor in their decision, so what kind of woman do they want? It's very subtle. . . . And I'm very concerned about that because I think that means we're going to modify our own self-concepts and the way we treat each other. I'm not so sure that isn't going to be somewhat painful.

Changes in the demographic composition of the labor force are creating more opportunities than ever before for professional women to work with and for other women. If similarity on attributes such as sex makes communication easier and fosters relationships of trust and reciprocity, as some research suggests (Lincoln and Miller, 1979; McPherson and Smith-Lovin, 1987), then these relationships have the potential to provide women with an important source of emotional and instrumental support (Kram, 1986; Ibarra, 1992). Yet research investigating the quality of women's same-sex work relationships has yielded inconsistent results (for a review, see O'Leary, 1988). These studies support one of two competing stereotypes about women's relationships. According to one stereotype, women are insecure, overcontrolling, and unable to engage in team play (e.g., Hennig and Jardim, 1977; Briles, 1987; Madden, 1987); their relationships are therefore competitive and difficult. According to the other stereotype, women are relationship-oriented, nonhierarchical, and interested in sharing power and information (e.g., Helgesen, 1990; Rosener, 1990), which reinforces the notion of solidarity among women and portrays their relationships as mutually supportive. In light of these inconsistencies, further research is needed on work relationships among women and how they might contribute to women's career success.

Proponents of both views rely on women's sex-role socialization to explain the personality traits and behavior patterns they attribute to women, largely ignoring the sociocultural contexts within which women work. These accounts assume that role socializations based on sex are always activated and that they are activated in psychologically similar ways for all women (Wharton, 1992). In addition, researchers focusing on women's sex-role socialization compared with men's may attribute sex differences in patterns of relationships to dispositional differences between men's and women's orientations toward interpersonal relationships when social structural explanations may be more valid (Moore, 1990). These person-centered explanations reinforce constraining, often negative stereotypes about women and their capacity to work productively with one another (Kanter, 1977; Riger and Galligan, 1980; Keller and Moglen, 1987).

Two theoretical perspectives relevant to this topic that may be more promising than sex-role socialization are social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978, 1982) and organizational demography (Martin, 1985; Konrad and Gutek, 1987; Zimmer, 1988; Yoder, 1991). This paper unites work in these two areas and extends each to address questions about relationships among women at work. Social identity theory explicates how social structure informs the meaning people attach to their membership in identity groups, such as sex, and how this in turn shapes their social interactions with members of their own and other identity groups. Research on organizational demography investigates the disproportionate representation of some identity groups over others as an important factor in the social structure of the work environment that may influence these processes (Wharton, 1992). Taken together, these two perspectives offer a psychological account of how demographic structure influences the kinds of work relationships women establish with other women. …

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