Gender, Ethnic Diversity, and Career Advancement in the Workplace: The Social Identity Perspective

By Chow, Irene Hau Siu; Crawford, Ronald B. | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Gender, Ethnic Diversity, and Career Advancement in the Workplace: The Social Identity Perspective


Chow, Irene Hau Siu, Crawford, Ronald B., SAM Advanced Management Journal


Introduction

Effectively managing demographic diversity in the workplace is an increasing but necessary challenge because of the way demographic composition shapes our organizational life. The justification for promoting diversity and a multicultural work environment is based on the claim that such policies create better decision-making processes, enhance creativity and innovation, and increase business competitiveness (Dessler, 2001). The organization can fully utilize its diverse human resource talents to sustain its competitive advantage (Shapiro, 2000) and comply with requirements of equal opportunity employment.

Social identity theory suggests that people classify themselves and others in categories based on some salient characteristics, such as gender, race, or ethnicity (Brunetto and Farr-Wharton, 2002; Haslam, 2002). They identify more with members who are similar to their category (in-group) than with dissimilar outgroup members. Such distinctions and attachments affect their group and self-attribution, including stereotypic attribution (Abrams and Hogg, 1999). The consequences of socially constructed identities include in-group favoritism, negative stereotyping and subordinating of out-groups, inter-group competition, and role conflict (Wharton, 1992). The distinctive identity of employees in a work setting subsequently results in the exclusion of minorities from group membership and important decision-making and less access to support, which, in turn, jeopardizes career advancement. The perception of unfair treatment eventually creates an overall negative work environment for all employees (Capozza and Brown, 2000). From a social identity perspective, group membership and the perception of group status are relevant to understanding intergroup relations in organizational settings.

This study examines a number of pertinent issues regarding gender and ethnic group participation in the work place. The issues include effective use of human resources, workers' perceptions of their work environment, participation in decision-making, support from managers and colleagues, and opportunities for career advancement. We focus on three issues: Do members of gender and ethnic groups perceive different level of inclusion and support within their organization? Are there group differences in their reactions to attitudinal responses in atmosphere and commitment? Are there group differences in the extent to which perceived support is linked to career advancement, measured by the number of promotions? These issues are investigated from the perspectives of social identity theory and organizational demography.

Conceptual Framework

Ely and Thomas's (200l) study on professional organizations (consulting, law, and financial services) found that perspectives on diversity shape members' identity, the proper functioning of work groups, and outcomes. A work group's role can be viewed as task and maintenance functions. The task function consists of keeping the team on track and getting the work done. Maintenance consists of behavior that fosters constructive relationships among team members (Hellriegel, Slocum, Jr., and Woodman, 1998, P. 244). In the present study, task function refers to committee membership, consideration of views at meetings, consultation by managers, and assistance from managers and colleagues. Maintenance functions include commendation and feedback from managers, volunteering to provide input, access to external information, and the overall work atmosphere and attitude. A conceptual framework for the present study is depicted in Figure 1.

Social identity theory connects social structures and individual identity through the meanings people attach to their memberships in salient identity groups, such as racial, ethnic, or gender (Brunett and Farr-Wharton, 2002; Haslam, 2002). These meanings, in turn, shape social interactions with members of their own identity groups or those of other groups. …

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