“Each accused soul scrabbles for gain at any price because wealth alone is deemed proof of authenticity and freedom from censure – always gained at the price of our fellow humans. Thus it is that our innate passion for transcendence is sidetracked and derailed. Often our minorities seem selected for cultural stoning, scapegoat victims and captives of our lie” (Pearce, 2002, p. 150).
As a culture, we pride ourselves on our ability to get down to brass tacks, to take the bull by the horns, and to tell it like it is. We pull no punches, and we let people know where we stand. None of these tendencies prima facie are necessarily bad. But some have argued that these tendencies can constitute what may be the new millennium form of discrimination. Researchers have noted that in the presence of societal disapproval and legal sanction, discriminatory attitudes now more commonly manifest in insidious, more covert behaviors known as “selective incivility.” These types of behaviors allow majority employees to denigrate out-group members, while at the same time preserving their image as non-prejudiced individuals.
The film “A Tale of O,” depicts the exclusion and isolation that minority Others, or “Os,” experience when working in “X” dominated organizations. Os are viewed as unwanted interlopers, as unmistakable outsiders who by way of legislative mandate have crashed the company party. Xs regard their corporation as “our house,” a place in which O presence is an encroachment on their territory.
Kanter argues that to obtain protection from the X ingroup Os must engage in behavior conformance with majority norms, and in activities that Xs desire from their respective O group. These include taking sides against other Os on issues important to Xs, and denigrating fellow Os whom the Xs deem unacceptable. Under conditions of “clear and abiding status differences between groups that create negative or ambivalent feelings in members of low-status groups about their group identity… members of low-status groups are more likely to engage in self-enhancing strategies that undermine solidarity within their groups” (Ely, 1994). Internalized racism and sexism occur when hatred projected by society, employers, and the media takes root, and when the organization’s lie becomes O’s reality.
Each semester without fail my students demonstrate the ingrained nature of negative stereotypes toward women. I ask: “In which dyad do individuals have the most trouble communicating?” The choices are Male supervisor/Male subordinate; Male supervisor/female subordinate; Female supervisor/male subordinate; and Female supervisor/female subordinate. The most popular answer is invariably Female supervisor/female subordinate, with female students acting as the most vehement opponents of their own gender. This viewpoint is mirrored in the real world. Pam Martens observes the behavior of female stockbrokers toward one other: “There is a dearth of senior women on Wall Street. To talk with some of them is to discover how often they speak in conflicted ways, denigrate female peers for lacking critical attributes such as aggressiveness – even in cases where the colleague clearly has it” (Antilla, 2002). Through an outward display of O non-support, X subordinates attempt to win the favor of X power-holders. As Kanter explains in A Tale of O, the Xs did not realize how much they had in common until the O arrived on the scene.
The benefits of diversity (e.g., enhanced decision making, more novel decisions, ability to view issues from multiple perspectives) will remain unrealized in an environment in which free expression is not permitted, and in which bullying behaviors are accepted. Perhaps ingrained stereotypes and their covert expression are two reasons why we see an increase in female entrepreneurs. Dr. Jeff Cornwall discusses the numbers:
“Over the past couple of decades we have seen a steady increase in the number of women becoming entrepreneurs. At Belmont University, for example, 45 percent of students studying entrepreneurship are women. Across the country, women now make up more than 40 percent of all entrepreneurs as well.”
Until (and unless) we see a shift in attitudes and behavior, what we may witness over the next several years is a continual brain drain away from corporate America.
Antilla, S. (2002). Tales from the boom-boom room: Women vs. Wall Street. New Jersey: Bloomberg.
Ely, R. J. (1994). The effects of organizational demographics and social identity on relationships among
professional women (p. 204). Administrative Science Quarterly, 39, 203-238.
Kanter, R. M. (Narrator). A Tale of O: On being different. (Available from HRPress, P.O. Box 28, Fredonia, NY, 14063).
Pearce, J. C. (2002). The biology of transcendence: A blueprint of the human spirit (p. 150). Rochester,
VT: Park Street Press.