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Promoting Workplace Diversity

Aiming for more diversity in management staff? Blur the lines between job boundaries, and encourage self-directed work teams.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Cracking the Glass Cages? Restructuring and Ascriptive Inequality at Work
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Alexandra Kalev

American Journal of Sociology, vol. 114, no. 6

Date Published: 
May 2009

The term glass cage refers to how organizational structures, job limitations, and discrimination can prevent women and minority employees from moving into management positions. Cracking the cage, this paper asserts, involves changing the structure of work itself; removing boundaries and increasing teamwork can give women and minority employees the visibility, leadership experience, and strategic ties they need to succeed. The author analyzed 20 years of employment and demographic data from more than 800 companies; she focused on the effects of self-directed work teams, defined as groups of employees pulled from diverse functional groups who met regularly to develop new ideas or tackle specific tasks. She also examined employers’ cross-training programs, in which employees learn about and experience what it is like to work in varied positions throughout the company, and how these efforts affect employees’ advancement to management-level jobs. When managers get to know female and minority employees through these team assignments and cross-training initiatives, they are better able to act as mentors and references for future job openings. The author concludes that when employers restructure their operations in favor of small, employee-directed teams, they increase collaboration across departments and, in turn, greatly improve their management-level diversity.

Bottom Line:
When employers blur the lines between job boundaries and encourage self-directed work teams, they can increase diversity in management-level positions.

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