Interdependence and the Reduction of Prejudice
Susan T. Fiske University of Massachusetts at Amherst
A national retail chain, known for warehouse merchandising, employed roughly 90% men as its sales force and roughly 90% women as its cashiers. Sales positions pay better and lead to managerial positions. When women brought a class action suit against the company, it came to light that qualified women were ignored or discouraged for sales positions. Given the ethnic diversity of the company's customer base, management had worked actively to recruit more ethnic diversity into its sales force. However, the company's customer base was about evenly split between men and women, but the company failed to recognize that its economic dependence on women similarly suggested gender integration of its sales associates. Recognizing and building on economic interdependence would have created more successful contacts between genders in its sales efforts.
Similarly, during school desegregation programs of the mid-century, exponents of intergroup contact, following Gordon Allport's ( 1954) lead, concluded that necessary conditions included equal-status, authority-sanctioned, and common-goal interdependence. Building on interdependence was essential for successful intergroup contact. When two previously segregated groups collide, successful interaction requires that they recognize their mutual need for each other.
I and my colleagues' research addresses the psychology of interdependence -- that is, how needing another person (who happens to come from an outgroup) creates the conditions for seeing that person as an individual and an ally. Our research over the last 20 years underscores the interplay between macro, social-relations analyses and micro, social-cognition analyses, in explaining the individual psychology that underlies successful intergroup contact.