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blind audition

Image: Igen, CCO Public Domain, Pixaby

A lot of us are familiar with the story, thanks to economists Goldin and Rouse and later Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, about the innovation in orchestra auditions. In the 1970s, when auditions consisted of a musician performing in front of judges, orchestras were nearly 95% male.  When orchestras turned to blind auditions—ones in which the identity of the musician was hidden by a screen—women’s share of orchestras rose to about 25%.  These blind auditions, it seemed, allowed judges to assess musicians on quality alone, leaving no room for gender bias (or any other prejudices) to enter the assessment process.

This leads me to consider two questions:

  1. Does gender bias exist outside of orchestra settings?
  2. If so, can blind auditions minimize gender bias outside of orchestra settings?

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Image: Luigi Mengato via Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Image: Luigi Mengato via Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, has an op-ed in the New York Times that describes the decline in workplace friendships. Grant notes that compared to workers in other countries, Americans are much less likely to claim close friends at work or to see the workplace as a social space where close friendships are built. He refers to several important sociological studies in analyzing why this is so, noting that the nature of work has changed so that workers are more likely to switch jobs frequently and thus may not feel a close sense of association with colleagues.

Grant references classical sociologist Max Weber’s theory that Calvinism shaped the perception of work as a place where money is made and emotions are inappropriate. Importantly, however, Grant notes that ignoring the workplace as a site where friendships can blossom may rob us of important opportunities. Jobs can become more pleasant and workers more effective when they work with friends.

This is an interesting piece that has important implications for a work world that has changed significantly, and one where issues of diversity are of paramount importance. Sociologists have documented the myriad challenges that people of color encounter at work—stereotyping, tokenization, difficulty finding mentors, closed socialnetworks, discrimination, and others.

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Image: pixabay.com

Image: pixabay.com

by Michael L. Rosino, Devon R. Goss, and Matthew W. Hughey

One only need picture the typical American corporate boss (white, male, and wealthy) in order to conjure up the history of discrimination and inequality within the business realm. Over the past few decades, business leaders have attempted to address these problems through efforts oriented at increasing diversity. For instance, in 2014, major tech companies including Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook released their diversity statistics in reports to the media under pressure from journalists and activists. While the reports revealed the overwhelming white masculinity of the modern corporation, the companies still framed their statistics as reflecting their commitment to diversity.

The release of these reports garnered media speculation about the causes of this lack of racial and gender diversity and the implications for the future of race and gender inequalities. Alongside news publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post, articles in business media outlets such as Forbes, Businessweek, and The Wall Street Journal also weighed in on “Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem” as these elements of the 4th estate have long discussed diversity initiatives in the business world.

Despite the active discussion on the wide spectrum of abstract issues around diversity, business media outlets generally present business diversity in highly specific terms. Activists and scholars might argue that diversity—especially along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality in the business sphere—matters due to concerns about macroeconomic stability, ethical fairness, and/or social justice. However, articles published in business media outlets often discuss the merits of business diversity efforts solely in terms of the “business case” for diversity.

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Race_Together_2-201x300

Image via Starbucks Newsroom.

by Ellen Berrey

Corporate executives and university presidents are, yet again, calling for public discussion on race and racial inequality. Revelations about the tech industry’s diversity problem have company officials convening panels on workplace barriers, and, at the University of Oklahoma spokespeople and students are organizing town-hall sessions in response to a fraternity’s racist chant.

The most provocative of the efforts was Starbucks’ failed Race Together program. In March, the company announced that it would ask baristas to initiate dialogues with customers about America’s most vexing dilemma. Although public outcry shut down those conversations before they even got to “Hello,” Starbucks said it would nonetheless carry on Race Together with forums and special USA Today discussion guides. As someone who has done sociological research on diversity initiatives for the past 15 years, I was intrigued.

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Credit: Lindsey G (Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

Credit: Lindsey G (Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

Corporations today proclaim a strong commitment to gender diversity. They publicize this commitment in their mission statements, job advertisements, recruitment materials, public relations, and personnel policies. Since the 1990s, a cottage industry of diversity consultants has developed to help companies become more diverse, advertising their services as a means to improve the corporate bottom-line and reduce potential legal liabilities. In response, most major corporations have instituted a variety of diversity management initiatives; some of the most popular of these include affinity groups, formal mentoring programs, diversity training, and targeted recruitment and promotion programs.

On the surface, corporate efforts to promote gender diversity seem promising. However, despite two decades of the corporate “diversity craze,” executive suites are still overwhelmingly male-dominated. For example, even though women now account for more than 50 percent of college graduates and roughly half the paid labor force, they comprise fewer than 17 percent of board directors and 15 percent of executive officers. In addition, most contemporary workplaces remain characterized by high levels of horizontal gender segregation, with women overrepresented in “feminized occupations” characterized by lower pay, prestige, and little room for advancement.

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