Race & Gender in Formal Organizations Research Paper Starter

Race & Gender in Formal Organizations

(Research Starters)

This article discusses social interaction within formal groups and organizations, and the influence race and gender have on the frequency and quality of those interactions. Social interaction occurs when at least two individuals converse and respond to one another. The language and symbolic gestures that are used during these interactions affect each person's behavior and thought process. Race and gender disparities within both work organizations as well as service organizations are discussed in this article.

Keywords Coercive Organizations; Formal Organizations; Gender; Glass Ceiling; Groups; Hierarchy; Ingroups; Minority Group; Mixed Groups; Normative Organizations; Organizations; Outgroups; Race; Social Cognitive Theory; Social Interaction; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Unexplained Wage Gap; Utilitarian Organizations



Social interaction occurs when at least two individuals converse and respond to one another. The language and symbolic gestures that are used during these interactions affect each person's behavior and thought process. Ultimately, each individual defines, interprets, and places meaning on the interaction (Stark, 2006).

In essence, social interaction can be understood as the exchange of information and ideas in various modes and mediums. Whether the medium is face-to-face or electronic, the expressions, eye contact, posture, and tone of voice used all have some affect on the outcome of the interaction (Goffman, 1997).

Social interactions take place within a variety of settings, particularly, within different types of formal organizations. Margaret L. Andersen explains that formal organizations are sizeable secondary groups, designed to accomplish intricate tasks and to effectively achieve goals (2003). Examples of formal organizations include companies, service organizations, political parties, schools, etc. Compared to a small group such as a family or circle of friends, formal organizations are distinguished by their large size.

Types of Organizations

Formal organizations are classified into three different categories based on the type of membership affiliation:

• Utilitarian,

• Coercive, and

• Normative (Blau & Scott, 1974; Etzioni, 1975).

Utilitarian organizations include large for-profit or nonprofit organizations that form for particular purposes, such as generating profit. Large corporations such as General Motors, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble are all examples of for-profit utilitarian organizations. Colleges, universities, and the companies that produce the standardized testing materials and services are considered large for-profit utilitarian organizations that pay salaries to their employees (Andersen, 2003).

Some utilitarian organizations can be also considered coercive organizations as such organizations become increasingly privatized. Coercive organizations are formal organizations made up of individuals who have involuntarily joined. Prisons and mental hospitals for example, are considered coercive organizations. Individuals are often placed in these facilities involuntarily for various forms of psychiatric treatment (Goffman, 1961; Rosenhan, 1973). Coercive organizations have been described as total institutions, organizations that are isolated or are cut off from the rest of the world, in which individuals within these organizations are subject to strict conditions (Goffman, 1961).

The last type of formal organization is normative organizations. People join normative organizations to pursue personal goals in which personal satisfaction, rather than profit, is obtained. Individuals also join these organizations to benefit from the social prestige associated with the organization. Social and charitable organizations, also referred to as voluntary organizations, include the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), political parties, religious organizations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other related voluntary organizations that focus on specific issues. Each falls into the normative organization category (Andersen, 2003).

Race and Gender in Formal Organizations

Race and gender play a role within organizations in various ways, including how men and women interact with one another. In many cases, race and gender affect how the organizations are run, who holds the leadership positions within the organizations, and the level and quality of interactions among employees. For this reason, both men and women have unique experiences in both same-sex groups and mixed groups (Garvin & Reed, 1983).

Ingroups and Outgroups

In leadership organizations, the gender and race of the group's leader affects how certain situations are carried out, because individuals enter a group or organization with their own social frames of reference. Issues of status, power, inclusion, and intimacy all come into play with members based on where they see themselves, as an ingroup member or an outgroup member (Brower et al., 1987). Ingroup is a sociological term used to describe a group that people identify with and feel some form of attachment to. In many instances, the attachment is based on opposition toward "outgroups." Outgroups refer to a group of individuals in which members of an ingroup harbor a sense of opposition, resistance, fear, and even hatred toward. Outgroups are required for ingroups to exist (Stark, 2006). The group a person belongs to (ingroup/outgroup) dictates who they will interact with the most and the quality of those interactions.

Both ingroup members and outgroup members are part of most formal organizations. From the social interactive frame, an African American in a predominantly white organization may take the frame of reference as being dismissed by the white members in the organization. The African American in this case, identifies as a member of the outgroup. In a similar fashion, the social frame of reference of a female group member is likely to be influenced by experiences she has had with being discriminated against some way, by male members of the group or organization. Women may subconsciously view their male counterparts as superior and being more powerful than they are (Shapiro, 1990). In each case, the level of interaction between racial groups and gender groups is affected by which group one is in.

Though women often feel disadvantaged when they interact with men in mixed groups (both men and women in the groups), because their needs often relegated as secondary to those of men, men generally prefer to be a part of mixed groups because they benefit from them (Garvin & Reed, 1983). Though often unconsciously, the presence of women within the organization is used by men to "permit" them to be more open and in touch with their feelings compared to interacting in an organization with all men (Sternbach, 1990; McLeod & Pemberton, 1987).

Race and gender play various roles in different formal organizations, including places of employment, where hierarchy often drives these roles. Oftentimes within organizations, power and influence resides with only a few individuals at the top of the hierarchy, and like the broader society, organizations reflect the hierarchal structure that is often characterized by race and gender discrimination. For example, broad disparities exist among white and African American workers when it comes to promotion rates within work organizations (Andersen, 2003; Eichenwald, 1996, Collins, 1989, McGuire & Reskin, 1993). White men generally hold the most powerful positions within organizations and women and minorities traditionally have had the lower positions in organizations with little opportunity to advance (Andersen, 2003).

Measures were put in place in an attempt to prevent employment discrimination. In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of race and gender. However, despite this effort and other policy efforts to eliminate employment inequality, African American men and women of all races continue to lag behind their white male counterparts in regards to their pay and positions held within organizations, despite their qualifications (Marini 1989; Goldin 1990; Grodsky and Pager 2001; Reskin and Padavic 1994; Darity and Mason 1998). In fact, in 2002 alone, there were almost 85,000 charges of employment discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (Hirsh & Kornrich, 2004). In 2012, there were 99,412 charges of employment discrimination filed, of which 33.7 percent were based on race, 30.5 percent on sex, and 10.9 percent on national origin (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013). These disparities all affect social interactions among race and gender groups.

A disproportionately small number of women and minorities are promoted within most organizations, and a "glass ceiling" remains in effect in most industries. The "glass ceiling" refers to the barriers that keep women and minorities from being promoted to the same level and at the same rate as white male employees.

Studies show that remnants of the glass ceiling effect, as well as gender and race discrimination in general continue to persist inside organizations, despite the fact that formal obstacles to advancement and historical barriers, such as access to education, have been reduced or eliminated. For example, race disparities continue to persist in various formal organizations. Disproportionately, white men are promoted over their African American, Hispanic American, and Native American coworkers who have the same education and skills. The same is true when it comes to white or minority women within these organizations. Women are less likely to be promoted when compared to white men with the same level of education. Being a man trumps gender in some cases, as white men are promoted over women even if the woman has more education than the man (DeWitt, 1995; Zwerling & Silver, 1992). In fact, according to a 2012 study by Lauren A. Rivera, a professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, managers are more likely to hire individuals based on “cultural matching” than qualifications; the study found that cultural similarities between managers and job applicants are a significant factor in hiring decisions, in some cases, even more so than productivity levels and qualifications (Rivera, 2012).

Women of all races have experienced difficulty attaining equal roles as their male counterparts within various organizations. Gender inequalities made it necessary for a number of laws and regulations to be passed in the 1960s to address issues of discrimination in salaries and fringe benefits within different types of organizations. For example, women in US colleges and universities have dealt with the "unexplained wage gap," also referred to as the "total wage gap" for many years. The unexplained wage gap refers to the proportion of the total wage gap between women and men that cannot be explained by an individual's age, qualifications, or seniority (Walters & le Roux, 2008). Each of these issues place strain on employee relationships and affect the level of interaction among diverse groups.

Further Insights

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