Career, Chapter 7: Is Everyone Equal? Dear Habermas Logo and Site Index Link A Jeanne Site

Theory, Policy, Practice of a Career

by Susan R. Takata and Jeanne Curran
Revision of Text from 1993
Copyright on Revised Text: Summer 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: October 1, 1999
E-mail Faculty on the Site.




In the previous chapter, we examined social stratification mainly in terms of social class or "classism." Society is stratified along other lines like sex and gender, race and ethnicity, age to name a few. When an unfair advantage or privilege occurs systematically excluding another group, institutional discrimination has occurred. In this chapter, we will analyze some of these social inequalities or institutional discriminations. VanderZanden (1993:204) defines institutional discrimination as "discrimination not practiced just by individuals. In their daily operation, the institutions of society also systematically discriminate against members of some groups." First, we will examine difference and being different (applying the sociological terms, relative deprivation and marginal man.) Next, we will discuss the gatekeeping isms -- sexism, racism and ageism. And finally, we will focus on the affirmative action in the 1990's.

On Difference

Are we the same? Or are we different? What is different about you when compared to me? Difference is all about comparisons. There are differences in our background, differences in our knowledge, differences of time, differences of geography, and so on. There are gaps, of which we are unaware. The women's movement gave us "consciousness raising" as a means for making us aware. Valuing our differences requires that we see all these complexities that have gone on in the past with all the dangers we know exist when using that word. We recognize the extent to which "difference" changes over cohorts as the conditions of "affirmative action" permit more of us greater access and experience.

Feminism has recognized the need to at least discuss "difference," (Minow, 1990; Minh-ha, 1991; hooks, 1990; Lorde, 1984). To begin, Minow (1990:4) states: "Labels of difference often are assigned by some to describe others in ways they would not describe themselves, and in ways that carry baggage that may be difficult to unload." In other words, there is a power play or power struggle involved. She (1990:20) adds: "Naming differences to distinguish people isolates those who do the naming as well, and naming differences may deny the humanity of those who seem different."

Minow (1990:20) alerts our attention to an interesting irony: "I call this question, 'the dilemma of difference.' The stigma of difference may be recreated both by ignoring and focusing on it." She (1990:374) adds: "I think we must think seriously about difference. Otherwise, its meanings - embedded in unstated norms, institutional practices, and unspoken prejudices - will operate without examination or justification." This is similar to out-of-awareness which Hall (1959) talks about. The differences exist, so how do we treat them? According to bell hooks (1990:54), "Everyone seems to be clamoring for 'difference,' only too few seem to want any difference that is about changing policy or that supports active engagement and struggle (another no-no word)..."

Another way to look at difference is through comparisons. Relative deprivation is a fancy concept for "compared to what?" One feels deprived, compared to one's classmates who could afford to go straight to college and not work. But one feels less deprivation over having to go to college at night, when one compares oneself to one's parents who couldn't go to college at all. Deprivation is relative. It is relative to the reference group we use for comparison. "Compared to what?"

Marginal Man

"Man" in the term "marginal man" is used generically. But the term is useful, even if it holds a reminder of "sexist language." The concept refers to the sense of alienation and isolation that befalls anyone who moves from one reference group to another. The simplest definition we can give you of a reference group is any identifiable group of people to whom you look either for guidance in how to behave [a normative reference group] or for comparisons on how well you are surviving life's battles [comparative reference group] (Shibutani, 1955).

The dilemma of marginal man is that once she leaves an old reference group, with old traditional norms, she no longer is a full-fledged member of the group she has left. Now she aspires to membership in a new reference group, that of executive or writer or doctor or worker. All those roles were once exclusively occupied by males. Women have not yet gained full equality in any of them. So she is not given full-fledged satisfying status in the new reference group. She's left hanging somewhere in between, with a sense of not actually belonging anywhere. Kind of like the "twilight zone."

Social change leaves many of us in the position of marginal man. We can't go back to where we were. In women's case the kitchens. If women don't work to pay or to help pay the rent or the mortgage, there won't be a kitchen for her to stay in. And if she has to work, she can't stay in it. This isn't role strain or conflict. This is role bursting at the seams. Role impossibility!!

But the same role impossibility is there for the male. Women's presence in the work force has increased the number of workers competing for jobs, without correspondingly increasing the number of jobs, particularly near the entry level. More than half of all women are in the labor force, while 79% of all men are in the labor force, (U.S. Department of Labor, 1992). The male worker at the lower level job wants the female competing for his job to go back to the kitchen where she belongs. Unfortunately, she is the female most likely to be a single head of family. She must work or go on welfare.

The same dilemma faces the upper level executives. At the upper echelons we find the male who has theoretically succeeded. And part of the successful male sex role is to keep his wife at home. Yet increasingly, successful female professionals are marrying successful male professionals (in keeping with the norm that women should marry at the same or a higher status level). The executive male who married a non-professional woman now finds that his colleague who married a professional has two executive salaries instead of one. As the cost of living goes sky high that becomes important to anyone not independently wealthy.

One of the problems is that many different norms in different areas of life are changing at one time. Not only is there conflict in the traditional stereotypes, there is conflict as we discover all the social inconsistencies in the unevenness of change. We are encountering change in the labor force with fewer unskilled jobs and more technical jobs. We are encountering changes in availability of all opportunities as we face rises in population. We are encountering change in the quality of life - with greater demands for individual satisfaction in both home and workplace. We are encountering change in social class and status - with money not necessarily the key to higher status, but with no other clear key. Minow (1990:16) tells us:

Making central what has been marginal remakes the boundaries of knowledge and understanding and sheds new light on the whole; we are constituted by what and how we know even as we constitute what we know as we know it.

Strategies for remaking difference include challenging and transforming the unstated norm used for comparisons, taking the perspective of the traditionally excluded or marginal group, disentangling equality from its attachment to a norm that has the effect of unthinking exclusion, and treating everyone as though he or she were different.

Instead of making differences, let us make all the difference.

Marginal man used to be the one who was half way between different reference groups. Today, most of us are likely to experience the dilemma collectively as whole social groups find themselves caught in the midst of social change. Minh-ha (1991:14) explains: "Marginality: who names? whose fringes? An elsewhere that does not merely lie outside the center but radically striates it." She (1991: 16-17) later adds: "For without the margins, there is no center, no heart." In other words, according to Minh-ha, we need the margins so that there will be a center. For what would the center be without its margins? Interesting thought, isn't it?


1. How does the female who enters the labor force get caught in the "marginal man" phenomenon?

2. Is the male affected by this marginality of the female work role?

Person Perception -- Our Tendency to Stereotype

Stereotypes are useful tools for organizing our social experience. If we responded to all people without preconceived expectations we would soon be overwhelmed by the number of stimuli we would have to sort out.

Consider the case of the technical specialist. If she had to start each encounter from a neutral position, it would always be necessary to begin with an assessment of the other's technical ability to help. Fortunately for the organization's production schedule, this is unnecessary. Technical staff are differentiated from generalists by many indicators -- often different dress, often different I.D. badges, different spatial relationships. (Technical staff usually share specially designated operations areas in which they work in close proximity. Managerial generalists at lower levels will be scattered throughout the organization. At upper levels, generalist executives will be clustered at the highest status point -- literally the top floor, in some cases).

Likewise the generalist learns to identify other generalists by similar social indicators,etc. Many well known sociologists, (Rokeach, 1960; Heider, 1958; and Homans, 1974), have cited the basic human tendency for people to like those whom they perceive to be like themselves and to dislike those whom they perceive to be different from themselves.

Exercise 7-1: Person Perception

As a group we want you to take the next fifteen minutes to get to know one another as well as you can. (If you are doing this exercise alone, outside of a workshop, take fifteen minutes to get to know at least one other person at work or at school whom you don't already know). You may sit and talk to a group of people; or you may stand and talk to them; or you may move from group to group; or you may spend the entire time with one other person, as you choose.

At the end of the fifteen minute period, write a list of impressions you have gathered about the person or persons you chose to become acquainted with. (If you are working in groups in a workshop or classroom, it's a good idea to wear name tags during this exercise so you can attach the written information to at least a few first names). nstructions for analyzing and interpreting this material can be found in Appendix A at the end of this chapter.

Stereotypes are an essential component of our perceptions of ourselves and of the world around us. They serve an important function in helping us select appropriate stimuli from our environment, without constantly re-evaluating. (Imagine our predicament in times of war if there were no uniforms to clearly stereotype the "good guys" from the "bad guys"). However, stereotypes can be harmful if we permit them to limit our perceptions. Some stereotypes commonly used in the workplace are the dumb blonde, the superwoman, the nerd, the dragon lady, the whimp, the macho man and so on. The production of the movie Airplane, provides a felicitous example of how the movie industry successfully sidestepped the disastrous effects of stereotyping. Movie tradition dictates that directors shall have experience in directing movies. This reasonable expectation led the film industry to reject categorically anyone without such experience. But the three young men who wrote Airplane, persisted in their demands not only to direct without prior experience, but to direct as a team -- an unprecedented violation of Hollywood's stereotypical norms. The young men won out -- they directed the movie -- and it proved to be a smash hit. Most of the time, the stereotypical expectations of directing experience is valid and useful. In this instance, however, it would have been detrimental. Stereotypes do seem to guide us in initial rough judgments -- but more specialized and specific knowledge must be brought into play before we make career decisions based on these stereotypes.

In the corporate world, technical specialists know through stereotypes what behaviors to expect of generalists. Communication is best served, however, when generalists and technical specialists look for clues beyond these stereotypes on which to base their expectations. Men have long believed that women were unable to perform well in high level management. Many women shared this perception. Executive career paths will open to women only as people are willing to look beyond their stereotypical perceptions.

The Gatekeeping Isms

So far, we have focused on difference, relative deprivation, marginal man and stereotyping. This next section focuses on some of the social inequalities in our society. We call them the gatekeeping isms -- sexism, racism and ageism. We will analyze these institutional patterns of difference and discrimination.


Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls. Boys wear blue while girls wear pink. Have you ever tried buying a baby gift for a friend when the saleswoman asks: "Is it a boy or a girl?" I usually respond, "What difference does it make?" That would throw off the saleswoman who probably had a set of recommendations based on which sex the baby is. I prefer something non-pink and non-blue, which really limits my choices -- maybe, something in yellow, perhaps. Similarly, when my daughter was born the same sex role typing inevitably occurred. Frilly pink dresses were mailed by well-meaning relatives and friends. At that point, I told a colleague how much I hated pink. In fact, boys' clothes were so much more fun and more functional to play in than girls' clothes. My mother-in-law was appalled when she found out about my dislike of pink. She responded by sending the little one: a pink purse, a stuffed Pink Panther and frilly pink sox. I was exasperated. Anything but pink, please!

Sex, like ethnicity, is one of the major variables which we categorize people. These are highly visible characteristics which over time, lead to stereotypical expectations. Just look at how women have been portrayed on television. We begin with "I Love Lucy," a helpless, hapless housewife who stays at home to take care of household and child to "Murphy Brown," a successful career woman and single mom. Oh, how we've changed. Or have we? Have we come a long way, baby? The media and research literature so abound with explorations of the changing patterns of sex roles that it seems hardly necessary to note that the sex of the actor affects the social exchange. But, the main thrust of many current social movements is to bring such stereotypical expectations to consciousness, so that they become subject to rational review.

Sex roles permeate the social context of the career world. Some of the more obvious examples include the conflict between marriage/family roles and career roles from the female, the conflicts between the "traditional" female socialization to nurturance and her current need to compete in task-oriented endeavors. Harragan (1977:34-35) states: "Clearly, 'working' is a game women never learned to play. Not that it mattered much when they weren't allowed on the playing field anyway."

For males and females alike the rapid change in sex role expectations has led to confusions and, sometimes, dismay. The social ambience does not change abruptly and neatly. A society which once valued "submissiveness" as a fine trait in women, does not uniformly admire the woman the media now displays as successful because she is "assertive." Granted that new "idees dans l'air" support woman's role of assertive (we prefer aggressive) business manners, those ideas have not yet wholly replaced the old concepts of "proper" behavior. New ideas bounce off the old and scatter in random patterns through the social ambience, not unlike the Brownian movement of gas molecules as they intermingle, bombarding one another in crazy zig zag paths.

Throughout history, women have been assigned the role of deference to their male authority figures. "I wear the pants in this household," nicely sums up the modern equivalent to this attitude. The Women's Movement and Affirmative Action programs began to alter the publicly acknowledged expectations of female deference to males on the job. The old tendency to label women (and minorities) who displayed aggressiveness as "troublemakers" became socially unacceptable. But the meeting of the concepts of appropriate female (and minority) deference behavior and of equal job opportunities produced a new social phenomenon: the "assertiveness training group". Counselors and teachers have gone to great lengths to explain that assertiveness is the ideal as opposed to aggressiveness, which is undesirable (for males as well as females - we are creating a neutral environment for both - kind of like throwing the baby with the bath water). The Marlboro Man? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Could you imagine calling John Wayne assertive as he whips out his six-shooter? Yet those are our male heroes. Woe unto the 90 pound assertive weakling! Funny, aggressive is ideal for our mythical male hero; but it leads women and minorities to run amok.

Sex, like age and ethnicity, permit us to distinguish between "us" and "them", and the most improbable vagaries of language hang upon these distinctions. As women are afforded new opportunities to enter occupations previously male-dominated, an interesting process occurs. They bring with them many of the language patterns and ideas we have been socialized to value as admirable female traits. Most often this means nurturance and sensitivity, as opposed to cold, male competitiveness (before the "assertiveness" vogue, of course). Aburdene and Naisbitt (1992) describe today's female leadership style as "empowering."

To introduce nurturance-related tasks into the once profit-oriented competitive role of the male is to create role conflict. Few males with highly competitive private sector jobs express a strong desire to advise, educate, and reach out to others. Thus males are not likely to welcome these distracting embellishments to their well-established careers. It is clear that the entrance of females into male-dominated professions has lead to some role confusion.

Consideration of this issue led us to examine some occupations which have experienced gender succession in the past. Banking offers one good example. At one point in history, bank tellers were male. But gradually women were allowed into the job. As the task mix grew more limited, the job became increasingly female-dominated. then, for a very long period of time, until feminists began to protest sex-role stereotyping in jobs, the occupation of bank teller was female dominated. Few males aspired to or held the position, and then only under unusual circumstances. A similar trend had taken place earlier in the clerical world. In the 19th century, clerks were male. Not until well into the 20th century did women begin to assume clerical positions. As more women entered the field, men left it, seeking higher status positions, and clerical work was soon a female-dominated occupation.

More recently, the personnel field has come to be female-dominated. One explanation for the pattern in this case is that most of the counseling jobs in industry fall in the domain of the personnel department.Those women who are drawn to nurturance related tasks often select counseling jobs, and so women have been drawn in increasing numbers to personnel. Ironically, however, many personnel directors have extensive budgetary responsibility, which is almost directly in contrast to nurturance tasks identified with female sex role socialization.

In recent years, banking and personnel have made strong attempts to recruit qualified males. These occupations have found that their prestige and their relative salary ranges dropped as they became increasingly female-dominated. Thus, once the balance tipped toward membership of a lower status group, the profession as a whole begins to suffer a loss in status, and must recruit more high status members in order to regain prestige and competitive salaries. The prestige of the occupation as a whole enters into its image in interaction with other occupations, and this will be reflected in the language of the interaction (both verbal and non-verbal).

The recruitment of males into the female-dominated nursing profession has produced interesting interaction patterns. This has had a marked effect on the doctor-nurse relationship. A considerable amount of communication content in the doctor-nurse interaction is based upon out-of-awareness patterns of sex-role socialization and a division of labor resulting in complementary work roles. In a fashion similar to the division of labor in the family, and to the division of labor between boss and secretary, the complementary roles of doctor and nurse in the care of patients, assign the instrumental, task-oriented role to the (male) doctor; and the nurturing supportive, socio-emotional role to the (female) nurse. Each knows what behaviors and what language to expect from the other. Regardless of the training he undergoes, it is difficult, if not impossible for the male nurse to successfully accomplish the role reversal necessary if he is to fit into the traditional occupational role of the nurse. And even were it possible for him, the successful role reversal would require the cooperation of the entire hospital staff, including female nurses and male doctors. In such situations, it is common for female doctors to be mistaken for nurses and asked to perform nursing duties. It is really common for male nurses to be mistaken for doctors and to be called upon in a medical emergency to perform tasks they are not prepared to cope with.

Rich Man, Poor Man, and the Generic "He" -- Until very recently membership in many occupations was limited by variables such as sex. The stratification was elementary, to be sure. One either possessed the relevant characteristic or one did not. For example, consider the number of occupations that formerly excluded the female sex by their very title: fireman, policeman, ice man, brakeman, advance man, chairman, and so on. Since the name of occupations suggested the exclusion of females, language served to substantiate the impropriety of a female entering the occupation. As opportunities have opened to women in these pursuits, feminists have sought a change in the titles to police woman, chair or chairperson, etc.

This change in language represents more than acquiescence to "appease the ladies," for as we indicated, language serves not only to convey messages, but also shapes our thinking. In socializing youth to career possibilities, the subtle presence of man in many occupational titles has the effect of creating the expectation that men alone will occupy those roles. In the old nursery rhyme "Rich man, poor man. . ." women didn't get a chance at a career role until we came to thief - what kind of choice is that?

Language plays a more subtle, though perhaps more devastating role, in stratifying occupations by sex in the literature and in the media. The generic "he." By generic "he," we mean a personal pronoun with generic "man" as referent; i.e., there is no personal referent, so that the referent could be either male or female. For example, the person who chairs the committee will have a great deal to do. He will have to . . ."He" is generic, the referent could just as easily be a "she." It is in cases of generic pronouns that some writers would insert "he/she". We prefer a generic "she" for at least half the occurrences. In occupations that have traditionally been male-dominated (if not exclusively male) discussions in literature and the media are coupled with the personal pronoun "he." Thus, stories about doctors, real and fictional, usually refer to "he." The same is true of lawyers, engineers, professors, chairmen of the board, etc. Consider the following passage:

Arjay Miller, recently retired dean of Stanford's Business School and one-time president of Ford Motor Co., calls International Business Machines, Corp., the best-managed company in the country. "They haven't canned anybody since 1935 except for cause," Miller says. "Yet they have great creative tension. . ." (Flanigan, 1980).

Is Arjay Miller a "he" or a "she"? It could be easily deduced from the titles alone that Miller is a "he." A female dean of a business school is unusual. The description of prominence at the beginning of the paragraph creates a set of expectations that traditionally applies only to males. Slowly, as females begin to appear in connection with positions of power, our expectations will alter to include women in powerful roles. The trouble is, for that to happen, we must wait until women appear in such roles so we can write about them. Catch 22!

The feminist movement has urged a tentative solution to the dilemma -- the ubiquitous "he/she", designated to replace all generic "he's". Because we really are faced with a "Catch 22", "he/she" may be preferable to no mention of "she" at all. But there are some inherent drawbacks. One of our primary concerns is with equal opportunity to authority and decision-making power. One characteristic of occupants of such positions is their confidence and firmness in decision-making. Hence, the waffling "he/she" is unlikely to appeal to the very people who occupy the positions we would like to see open to female occupancy. A more resolute approach might be to insert a generic "she" as often as one inserts a generic "he". If half our generic uses of "he" were suplanted by "she", we should become accustomed to the concept that women might, in fact, hold such positions as chairman of the board. The language assumes it as a matter of course. "He/she" is not an impressive solution for the female with ambitions of power.

That still leaves us with the embarrassing predicament of far too few women in positions that might be covered by the media as "she's" with specific referents. Although it might even things up rather nicely, we really can't ask the media to refer to Arjay Miller as a "she" for the sake of equal opportunity! But come to think of it, there's not a single reference to Arjay Miller's gender in that whole article. We don't know whether Arjay Miller is a "he" or a "she!" Yet, all along we've assumed a "he".[A call to the Stanford Business School has since confirmed that former Dean Miller is, in fact, male, as presumed. Pity! But it does rather drive home our point!]

Archie Bunker and His Pink Collar Counterpart -- Quite apart from pinpointing the exclusion of female from some occupational pursuits, language also plays grander roles on the work scene. Whole occupational groups have acquired gender-related traits in popular myths, and the language associated with the myths has entered the cultural baggage of the social context.

One of the most common terms to evolve from the occupational context is "blue-collar worker". The term derives from the traditional work shirt associated with manual labor, and has expanded to include the whole category of jobs characterized by uniforms or work clothes suited for heavy, dirty, outdoor work, and having anything more demanding of manual effort than the wielding of a pen. An entire mystique of language and behavioral expectations has grown up around the blue collar worker. First, he is male, for the blue collar worker epitomizes the "macho" image, in open shirt, hardened to the elements (he's always bronzed in ads). He is a hard-driving, beer drinking specimen often pictured with cars and/or horses in keeping with the outdoor image. That reminds us of a classic "Saturday Night Live" skit where Jane Curtin and the late Gilda Radner did a role reversal. They depicted a group of construction workers on their lunch hour "harassing" all the men who walked by with catcalls and comments on their "buns," (wish we had it recorded for classroom use because it's an excellent example of stereotyping). Another term, "hard hat," derived from the protective helmets worn by construction workers, is readily used to describe the blue collar worker and his behavior.

American popular culture portrayed the blue collar worker in Archie Bunker, a bungling bigot whose warm-hearted candor took the sting out of the certainty he claimed where many of us saw imponderable uncertainty. The program anchored the laments of the middle-aged blue collar worker to the floundering of the urban intellectual son-in-law, and captured prime time. The language, the tone, the poignancy that Archie embodied, so accurately depicted a whole segment of American life that his favorite armchair now resides in the Smithsonian. The language culled from the social context created a folk hero.

In her book, Pink Collar Workers , Louise Kapp Howe (1978) developed the concept of the female counterpart to the blue collar worker. Females had traditionally been excluded from blue collar jobs; yet she found that many of the jobs into which they drifted shared certain characteristics of blue-collar jobs. Like blue-collar workers, many of these women wore uniforms or work clothes of some sort. Since blue is for boys, and pink for girls, Howe chose pink-collar to include waitresses, sales clerks, hair dressers, clerical workers. These jobs are usually dead-end, or little advancement possible with oppressive working conditions (time clocks, assembly line, queuing problems, poor health and safety precautions, etc.). Most fall into what Michael Piore (1974) calls the secondary sector of a dual labor market. That is, they are jobs with flaws, flaws that others, given the choice, choose not to live with. These are the jobs we associate with alienation - the worker derives little satisfaction from having performed well. The language of these jobs reflects that alienation. "Ah, so who cares, anyhow?" These are the jobs with which well-meaning people try to entice young women away from prostitution. But often the young know all too well the flaws of the jobs. "Wouldn't a dog want that job. I kin git more in an hour on th' street corner 'n you kin git 'n thet job in a week." That was the answer that once stymied a dedicated teacher. She had just spent a half hour trying to coax the twelve-year-old into reading so that she could "work in an office when she grew up." The language of the streets, proved a stronger motivational force, and rather enlightened the teacher about some aspects of the job market!

Some pink-collar jobs, of course, offer better fare than others. And most are filled, if only because the occupants have no where else to go. (The street corner represents high risk and sharply decreasing rate of return with increasing age. So eventually the unwanted jobs are taken, anyway.) Many pink-collar workers take their jobs "just to tide me over," temporary shelter against ill winds. And the language they use always includes the reference to future plans. That's why you'll find a waitress in her 30's saying, "I'm only doing this `til I find a real job. I don't plan to stay." This myth of the tentative so permeates job outlook for waitresses, sales clerks, clerical help, that unions have never successfully organized these occupations. Why join a union and fight over working conditions when you aren't going to be there long enough to benefit from it all? These are the jobs that attract people trapped by inertia. It's easier to go along than to struggle for change.

The seventies brought some new "idees dans l'air" . The catch words floating about now emphasize "finding the real you," "realizing your potential" (or your karma, should you prefer), "controlling your own life." The media and dozens of eager sales people bombard us all with promises of careers and professionalism. Career counselors abound. What used to be a job can now be discovered to lead to a career through special training programs in schools and colleges of sundry sorts. There has been some concern, voiced in the popular press, that the current mania for development of professionalism and careers borders on hucksterism, particularly (though by no means exclusively) for women. Betty Harragan (1980), counsels one reader of Savvy: " You made a bad mistake by falling for the advertising come-on of a commercial "career counselor". . . These self-styled 'job counselors' have nothing to do with placement. They are in the business of selling their services regardless of how inane, shoddy - or worthwhile - to gullible souls."

The language of "career," "advancement," "management position," permeates the ambience, creating a unique kind of "relative deprivation of the 90's". It would seem that everyone below the level of "middle management on the way up" has somehow failed to catch the brass ring on the merry-go-round of careers. There simply aren't enough managerial positions to go around for half the populace to engage in management. There does have to be someone left to manage. So some of us will have to settle for plain, old-fashioned ordinary jobs. A similar phenomenon can be found in the blue-collar world, with the exception that there is a little less pressure now to compete just because competition is open to them for the first time. Some men take blue-collar jobs out of preference, choosing to escape the rat race. Since women have had that choice all along, and no other, their sisters spur them on to prove that given the choice, we'll all choose the rat race.

Beauty and the Boundary Position -- The language of stratification crops up again in the world of work as we consider boundary positions, that is, jobs which interface with the public and/or with other organizations. Here we find far more complex stratification than the dichotomy of male or non-male. It wasn't all that long ago when "10" entered the popular parlance. The rating was given to Bo Derek, star of the film by that name. Young women dangled 14k gold 10's about their slim necks, symbols presumably bestowed by male friends (or surreptitiously self-awarded). For beauty, whatever the current popular conception, is one of the standards of stratification for boundary positions.

Beauty sells. Cars, perfumes, clothes, all are marketed by "beautiful people." Since boundary positions interface with clients, with the public, with other firms, they bear a strong relationship to marketing. Occupants of boundary positions represent the firm's image to outsiders. They must therefore be attractive, and convey an impression in keeping with the firm's image.

We consider here an example in which attractiveness must be balanced by the firm's image. IBM has developed an image as a very large, conservative, responsible firm with a good service reputation. Its sales force is therefore expected to be, in addition to attractive, conservative, competent, and decorously solicitous of the client. One year, a small competitor firm (distributor of office machines) set out to build a sales force that could effectively divert some of IBM's market share. The sales manager chose to hire women, primarily on the grounds that they could use their femininity to gain entree. The small firm was quite successful with sales to small offices. However, several large and attractive accounts were lost to IBM, even when the operators who would have used the equipment preferred the small firm's machines. The large accounts were controlled by executives whose image more nearly matched the highly conservative image of the IBM sales force -- blue pin-striped suit and tie for the male; traditional grey skirted suit for the female, and, especially, the conservative and highly polished sales pitch.

The small firm owed its success to the exuberance and enthusiasm of its overworked sales force. Though the women dressed in conservative suits, there were small personal touches (open shoes, bright lipstick, nail polish, etc.) which, though minor, could weigh against them in a highly conservative male-dominated firm. But even more to the point, the very exuberance that worked forthem in the small, informal firm, worked against them in the large, formal firm. Phrases such as "Aren't you excited about the new equipment?" were likely to prejudice a serious and very busy executive, more used to the dry, unemotional reports of an IBM sales team -- all decorum. Moreover, the small sales force was pitching the sale to the office manager, while the prestige of IBM's reputation gained its access to the executives, who had actual decision-making power.

Thus the criteria on which access to boundary position jobs is based are drawn from a combination of contemporary standards for attractiveness and the requirements of the organization's image. Language -- verbal and non-verbal -- is a major component in stratification on these criteria. Moreover, the criteria themselves, "attractive" and "organizational image" are so vague as to admit many interpretations, so that stratification of candidates for boundary position jobs remains highly subjective. In any event, the social ambience carries numerous and sometimes conflicting messages about what is attractive, and about what most successfully will convey the image sought.


Knowles and Prewitt (1969) trace the term, "institutional racism" to Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton from the days of the Black Power movement. In Racial Oppression in America, Blauner (1972) states: "Race and racism are not figments of demented imaginations but are central to the economics, politics and culture of this nation." Sounds like strong words to digest, aren't they? We're not talking about one individual simply disliking another. Institutional racism focuses on the large-scale institutional patterns which block access and opportunities for certain groups of people. In other words, institutional racism relates to the ways in which inequality is perpetuated in the day-to-day operations of social institutions like schools, hospitals, the workplace, and so on. In recent years, some believe that racism has lessened because we don't have the separate drinking fountains and segregated play areas any more. Others believe that racism has not disappeared at all -- things have gotten a lot more subtle and more sophisticated, (Winkler, 1991).

All the traditional ethnic stereotypes come into play in the social context. They contribute to the milieu of social expectations which color the background against which messages are sent and received. They contribute also to the very language we use to describe concepts about work. Perhaps, a few brief examples will suffice to clarify the point.

The stereotypical expectations that Asians are good at mathematics has often led to counseling Asians in mathematically oriented careers. This can prove devastating for the young Asian who loathes math. As a matter of fact, his unwillingness to accept the proffered opportunities may be interpreted as perversity. The problem, of course, lies in our acceptance of ecological correlations as providing a valid inference for individuals. It is quite true that Asians, as a group, obtain higher scores than average in math items in standard testing. But that cannot be interpreted to mean that this is true for every individual Asian. There is a grain of truth at the core of the counselor's perceptions. But as that grain of truth escapes into the confused arena of popular ideas floating about, it is distorted by its detachment from the scientific restraint that kept it in proper perspective.

Language, too, is enriched by the ethnic phenomenon in the job market. Of late, it is quite common to hear of the "token" minority. And the term, "oreo" has appeared, as a modern replacement for "Uncle Tom." "Oreo" has the advantage of not indicating either sex. (The term is apparently derived from the brand name of a popular cookie made of two chocolate wafers, with a white cream filling.) One interpretation is that the individual in question shares the majority ("white") value system, or is "white inside" although he is a minority member ("black on the outside"). Other groups have similar labels, "apple," "coconut," and "banana."

The terms, "affirmative action" and "equal opportunity employer" owe their existence to this same ambience. The concepts and problems we encounter in understanding and living with ethnic diversity color our work lives quite as much as the rest of our melting pot culture. Also one must consider the effect of social context on a minority member's willingness to accept promotion. It is entirely conceivable that a member of a minority ethnic group would refuse a promotion, not because of the responsibilities of the actual job, but because of the much more stressful responsibilities of the much more stressful responsibilities of being the "first" to achieve this rank, or of dealing with the resentment of those who believe the promotion was won because of the "favored" minority position, and so on. Messages fly about the career environment conveying such fears, and misgivings. Their effect on career decisions is profound.

Ethnic Succession -- Traditionally immigrant groups to the United States took over jobs at the lowest end of the status hierarchy. These were jobs that required minimal skills, so that workers were readily interchangeable, and language requirements were minimal, so that inability to read and write English did not interfere with job performance. Whenever there was a large influx of immigrants, the jobs in question were sometimes occupied almost exclusively by the immigrant group. Thus during the heavy Russian-Jewish migration of the late 1890's, low status, manual jobs in the garment industry, such as cutting, pressing, sewing, were given over largely to recently arrived Russian-Jewish immigrants. In later waves of immigration, the sewing rooms saw the influx of similar ethnic groups, such as the Italians.

One occupation that has shown patterns of ethnic succession in recent years is household services. Originally, servants, like the rest of the U.S. population were primarily of West European stock and white, at least in the North, where the practice of using slaves in the home was unusual. After the Civil War, many blacks remained in household service, receiving wages for their work. In regions where black had previously been settled or into which they migrated, blacks slowly replaced whites in household service jobs as white servants were able to move into jobs afforded by industrialization. In recent decades, as blacks have progressed into higher status occupations, they have been replaced in household service jobs by other minorities in the region. For example, where there is large population of Chicanos or others of Spanish-speaking background, they have almost completely supplanted blacks in these jobs. (Refer to Mary Romero's work (1992) on Chicana domestic workers, and similarly,Evelyn Nakano Glenn's (1986) research on Japanese-American housekeepers).

One can find traces in the language in many instances. Bookstores feature small paperbacks boasting quick and easy Spanish to facilitate communication with household workers. And cohorts who have failed to grasp this occupational phenomenon display confusion over the changes they notice. One elderly woman in Los Angeles commented to her friend: "I don't understand what's happening. You can't find any help to speak English." Similarly, there was a time when you called city hall in San Francisco, no one spoke English. It was the days of the CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) program when many non-English speaking minority group members were hired.

But returning to ethnic succession, it is interesting to note that Zoe Baird withdrew her nomination for Attorney General under the Clinton administration as a response to the public reaction to her hiring of illegal immigrants (from Peru) to care for her children - just another example of ethnic succession in household services.

Race/Ethnicity and Work -- We've all heard of those Horatio Alger stories telling us how hard work is the formula "from rags to riches." But, that's not the case for some groups. How about the black slave? Could she become rich if she worked diligently to pick more cotton than the other slaves? Hardly. Or the Chicano migrant farmworker? If he got up at dawn to pick sugar beets and he continued until after sunset, could he become rich? The color of your skin can block access to certain occupations. It wasn't too long ago when Jackie Robinson broke "the color barrier" in major league baseball, (we refer you to Tygiel, 1983). Why is it that we see disproportion of African-Americans in sports like baseball, football and basketball? Is it because this group has special genetic "gift" that make them superathletes like Michael Jordan, Antonio Freeman, and so on? Or is it because institutionalized racism funnels more blacks into sports than any other group? Why don't we see more Asian-Americans in professional football? Perhaps, because we find Asian-Americans disproportionately steered into biology, computer science, etc. Of course, these sound like occupational stereotypes but something must be happening. Maybe, the social institutions are creating these kinds of "tracks" for each particular racial and ethnic groups.

If we analyze carefully what is going on, perhaps individuals select these occupational fields because of parental approval, career counseling in high school, the media's portrayal and creation of role models, and so forth. Nothing succeeds like success! Why beat your head against the wall in a field that is unaccepting and less welcoming than a field where there is a successful track record? (Makes sense, doesn't it?) Maybe individuals are "buying into" these stereotypes and/or the power elite is sending messages like "that's what you would do well in;" "that's where you belong," etc. Interesting, isn't it?

But if we look at some statistics, they reflect the lack of opportunity and blocked access from the very beginning. If you don't have adequate health care -- pre-natal care from the start -- your life chances are lessened. If you're hungry, how much learning will go on in school? And if you don't do well in school, what kind of job will you get, especially if you drop out? What marketable skills does one have if one can't read or write? How far can you get these days without a high school diploma, let alone a college degree? All this finally leads us to work - who gets to do what. According to the Department of Labor (1992), "Black and Hispanic workers were less likely to have been employed during 1991 and more likely to have been unemployed than white workers." The pattern for male minorities is better than that for female minorities, but still lagging. National figures show Hispanic males at 72% of the $15,070 earned by white males, and black males at 70%. The picture shifts slightly in the West. There Hispanic males earned 73% of what white males earned, and black males earned 86% of the $15,797 earned by white males.

Thus wage differentials between Hispanics, blacks and whites still exists, though the greatest disparity is between women and men. There seems to have been little progress for women in the battle of the wage differentials. Naisbitt (1982) observes: "carpenters make more than nurses because women have always been nurses and men always have been carpenters - and men decide." It is important to note at this point that these demographics reflect ecological correlations. An ecological correlation is one that applies to whole groups, not to individuals. Thus, these data should not be interpreted to mean that any individual white male earns more than any individual female or any individual minority. The data give us no information about individuals. In fact, the extensive reporting of this data has become the bane of the white male who is on the lower end of the salary scale. He finds himself in a predicament much like that of the female and the minority individual, and yet suffers from the righteous social anger expressed daily in the media about his "privileged" status.

Other workplace related differences are noted by Doob (1993:94): "On the job African-Americans and members of other racial minorities tends to face a 'triple jeopardy' - racial stereotyping, the role of being the solo member of a racial minority on the job, and the token role, where whites consider them inferior if they obtained their positions through affirmative action." In other words, if you're an "outsider" from the start, what are the chances of success if you're constantly fighting the battles Doob mentions?

Legitimizing Discrimination at the Institutional Level -- Today we read articles by black male intellectuals telling our black students that they should not avail themselves of affirmative action programs. There is no longer a problem of overt racism. They must make it on their own initiative. They must win on merit. Balderdash!

Discrimination had real and pervasive effects. It is no longer socially acceptable to "discriminate." But, to believe that a single generation of progress has wiped out differential expectations is to display analytical naivete with a little bit of wishful thinking. It is no longer socially acceptable to say things which sound discriminatory. But behaviors which discriminate are out-of-awareness (Hall,1959). We have long recognized that prejudice hangs on tenaciously despite evidence that exposes the prejudice as false. Gender and race are by no means the only categories in which we see such stereotypical responses. They are simply the status characteristics best documented. Other groups are equally vulnerable.

A dean at an urban ghetto college in the early 1980s wrote to a faculty member: "If your students are so good, why aren't they at University X (the elite institution housed in the city)?" Non-traditional students who speak non-traditional and occasionally ungrammatical English, and whose attendance records are spotty when their kids are sick or their jobs change are clearly less desirable than those at the "big" university who have the luxury of full-time study with financial support. Unless, of course, you are one who can focus on strengths in the midst of chaos.

Instead of suggesting that we no longer need affirmative action, we need to recognize that what is needed is a finer tuning of the mechanisms of affirmative action. Marginal man remains forever marginal. Her experience is qualitatively different from that of one who was born to the position. Only after many generations does the "nouveau riche" become "old money." We know those old terms of social stratification have lost some of their import. Society is changing. But not that fast. And there are still lessons to be drawn from the ways in which we used to understand stratification. Until there is equal access to all strata within the social system "old money" and the "old boy network" are still forces with which sociologists must reckon. Where the children of the newly successful no longer suffer disenfranchisement, they still suffer the additional stress of being the first or even the second generation of progeny to have enjoyed this new status. Having all these new advantages only increases the pressure to prove themselves worthy. If affirmative action serves only to open extra doors and to reduce that additional stress it has served a worthy purpose, for that is stress to which others are not subjected (Wiltz, 1990). Our purpose is to balance opportunities at all levels of the system, not merely to increase entry level opportunities and exacerbate the old stratifications. (Note: This section was taken from Curran, Takata, Fellows and Lee, 1991).

Equal Opportunity as Law -- We can legislate the letter of the law. It is very difficult to legislate the spirit. And the spirit often lags behind the rest. Many companies have met the challenge of affirmative action with a sincere desire to honor the spirit of the law. This seems to occur most often when high ranking personnel within the system have shown personal interest in affirmative action goals. In other instances, where such programs are not seen as concomitant with broader corporate goals, compliance and willingness to comply vary widely. In large corporations de facto noncompliance may result from either executive disinterest or a lack of technical expertise at operative levels. In our research with small organizations, we have occasionally found minor violations, not consciously discriminatory, but reflective of the employer's past experience. In large organizations, personnel staff have the latitude to specialize, and often to allow someone to devote a large portion of their time to studying compliance requirements. In small organizations, the personnel hiring function may be one small task in an employer or employee's workload.

We have encountered no employers who have stated preferences for either male or female employees for any given position. However, we do occasionally encounter small employers who prefer married women to single women, or vice versa, and women with children to women without, or vice versa. We mean that literally. There seems to be no coherent preference for any one type of employee. Where one employer prefers unmarried females with no children, another in a similar work environment will prefer divorced women with children. Ironically, both give almost identical reasons for their preference: they're more dependable. Thus, employers seem to fall prey to a wide variety of stereotypes, with little opportunity to validate their own conclusions. Interestingly, some of these are female employers. Their hiring practices in general reflect the fact that the total number of employees hired is small.

One ideal solution to unequal opportunity for jobs which offers strong romotional and career opportunities would be employer-initiated affirmative action programs designed to fit the specific organization. The fact that this is a difficult goal to attain is attested to by the backlog of discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). The backlog is so great that it takes two to four years for a case to work its way through to resolution in the courts; and there are several employment discrimination suits pending against the EEOC itself.

Women and minorities, the differently abled and the aged, have gained clearer understanding of their rights. Double digit inflation, and the changing composition of the family, have made fair pay all the more crucial. Some employers have reacted with paranoia. They fear being sued, and yet lack the resources to plan and staff good career development programs. In some cases, outside consultants can help, meeting both employer and employee needs. But in general, we lack the knowledge base from which to offer employers the research support which might speed this process. This is yet another area of rapidly expanding social research.

In some cases employers wait until they are confronted by the unpleasant consequences of discrimination in employment. If you find yourself in the employ of an organization that lags behind in compliance, choose your battles carefully. Discrimination must be controlled; and you should take action if you believe the law has been violated. We suggest that you plan your responses carefully and avoid unnecessary confrontation. Negotiation is still an important part of winning the battle. One consulting firm tells employers: "Profits aren't required by law; equal opportunity is". That's true. And it is just as true that profits are required for the survival of the firm. Business needs both; and effective cost-benefit analysis will demonstrate that. Equal opportunity need not destroy profits.

Finally, as a by-product of affirmative action efforts, one of the most unenviable positions in society today is that of white male. Today's white male is taking the brunt of a rebellion against centuries of societal inequities. Recent changes, and recent social movements have lead everyone to expect more, and as these rising expectations confront the social limitations that still exist, women and minorities, the differently abled and the aged, lash out at the white male who they perceive as standing in their way. And this often occurs just as he is opening the door for them or helping them along the way. This response is predicted by social theory. We even have a special name for this one. It is called the "revolution of rising expectations." It predicts that the oppressed do not rebel until their oppression begins to ease and they begin to expect more from life.


The relative age of actors sending and receiving messages must be considered. Most societies are characterized by some degree of age status grading, i.e., the ascription of status on the basis of age. For example, some Eastern cultures ascribe particularly high status to the elders of the society. In such cultures to be old is to be revered. Other cultures place a high premium on youth. American culture has traditionally been youth oriented. However, in contemplating the age of actors as part of the social context for careers, it is important to note that the worship of youth has rarely carried over into the career world. Though our public figures and executives seem to enjoy the preservation of the semblance and appurtenances of youth, they have traditionally been well into middle age. Elected officials, presidents, and c.e.o.'s are commonly in their 60's. (Kennedy, at 42, was the youngest President ever elected.) And it is a frequent complaint of youth that the elite power structure precludes the movement of youthful aspirants into strategically powerful positions.

Some corporations require that top executives retire at 65, not because their capacity to perform has diminished, but as an expedient to provide the opportunity of succession to younger men and women. Recent trends in the corporate world show men and women attaining positions of power at even younger ages. We tend to recall the play of our youth and the toil of middle age. Thus the entire cultural baggage surrounding age produces interference where career messages include information on age. Since the promotion of the young into positions of prominence is still rare, it is newsworthy.

In the career world, entire role sets may be subtly affected by the relative ages of the actors. Since most such norms are transmitted at an informal level (Hall, 1959), the actors tend to recognize the norms only by the emotional responses evoked when they are violated. Thus, a relatively young supervisor may find himself the subject of severe criticism if he has harshly rebuked a subordinate many years his senior. Likewise, an administrator may find himself under attack for promoting someone markedly younger (and with less job longevity) over older and more experienced subordinates. Most role sets are highly complex, particularly in the world of work. But age is one of the factors that determines our expectations of the social context, and must be taken into account for its effect on the messages sent and received.

Related to age, affecting the language of careers has been that of cohorts. Thus pride in occupation, style of management, etc. changes to match the cohort succession. As we have mentioned throughout this book, the Baby Boomers cannot help but make a big impact in everything they do at each lifestage. Epitomizing the Baby Boom cohort is President Bill Clinton with his saxophone playing, morning runs, and hobnobbing with such superstars as Michael Jackson and Barbara Streisand. Have presidents before him done such things?

Once a man felt great pride in craftsmanship. Then came a cohort that had known assembly lines and prized leisure over job performance. Once management was admired for its firmness in keeping noses to the grindstone. Then came a cohort nurtured on humanism, and "job satisfaction" entered the language of the work world. Aburdene and Naisbitt (1992) refer to this style of leadership as empowering rather than controlling. No more pyramids. They look to networks and networking. The language of the '90's is motivate, facilitate, teach, nourish, reach out, and so on. This cohort brings to management a sense of egalitarianism and informality. Each cohort changes patterns of deference in language and behavior, patterns of communication within the occupation and with other occupations. Each cohort forces us to re-examine the language appropriate for the world of our work.

The Graying of America -- According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (1992), "the population aged 85 and over will grow more than three times as fast as the total population between 1990 and 2005." Recent examples of the graying of America can be found in the media with such movies as "Cocoon," and television shows as "Golden Girls." But, age is another significant barrier in the world of work that we have not yet successfully overcome. Employers have traditionally been reluctant to hire anyone past the age of 40. There are many valid, though socially detrimental, reasons for the existence of the age barrier. The employer who is constrained by cost-benefit analysis for the very survival of his enterprise may be faced to make what is for him an economically feasible decision. Thus, when an employee over 40 is likely to cost more, disrupt organizational structure, and/or likely to remain but a short time, the age factor may well be a cause of discrimination.

However, in the societal context, the cost of this discrimination must be reckoned in terms of the costs of the personnel effects on the mental health of such older workers, the costs of treating depression, the costs of family disruption, the cost of governmental assistance to the unemployed.

Sociologists have recently begun to explore the complexities of this dilemma in research in such cases as gerontology, the sociology of work, the sociology of organizations, and social demography. There is an urgent need to address this social problem since new normative career patterns are merging in which up to five career changes may be expected in an individual's work life. This mean that with rare exception career changes after 40 may be expected as a norm in the future. Society and employers alike must prepare for this phenomenon.

The Mid-Career Phenomenon -- A number of critical social events -- the current rate of divorce, the consciousness-raising brought about by the feminist movement, and the realities of a sometimes still-young widowhood, and the vagaries of a job market with occasional high rates of long-term unemployment, etc. -- have interacted to create a fascinating new phenomenon in the job market. Large numbers of women in their 30's and 40's are returning to (or entering for the first time) the job market. Often they pause before re-entry to complete a college degree, hoping to increase their value on the job market.

The Project on the Status and Education of Women (1981) states: "Returning or 're-entry' women students are appearing more frequently on campuses these days. Re-entry women, many of whom had earlier deferred college and career preparation to fulfill roles as wives and mothers, now outnumber college men, for their age groups, in both absolute numbers and in proportionate rate." They (1981) add that "more than one-third of all college students are at least 25 years old," and "the number of women 35 and older enrolled in college has actually doubled since 1972." Males, too, are joining this growing mass of troops into the workplace. Some seek new life paths after a traumatic event; others seek new directions after retirement from the middle echelons of the armed forces or other similar organizations. Still others reevaluate their careers at midlife and choose a new direction, sometimes also returning to college for a degree. As a result of these increased numbers, we are experiencing far greater labor supply, at a higher educational level, than ever before. One of the effects is depressed wages and increased competition for entry-level positions (even with college degrees). There's not a lot that any of us can do about the labor supply. Too many of us want to fill too few job slots. We can hope that social policy and economic trends will soon lessen the severity of competition; but, in the interim, we'd better prepare to face keen competition for good jobs.

Industry's Dilemma Over the Re-Entry Worker -- The mature adult facing job entry offers a dilemma to the employer. Increased maturity and life and work experience are strong advantages. However, the mature worker, even more than the youthful college graduate, wants and needs higher level entry and rapid advancement. And this new kind of worker does not fit neatly into existing corporate patterns of career development.

As one women, re- entering the labor force said, "I haven't got twenty years." She doesn't have the time left to follow normal career development paths. She and her employer will need to create new opportunities for her to accelerate the "specialization" process. That is, she will have to intensify her learning about the corporation she enters, in order to condense the time span of her career, and allow her to most effectively use her general or technical skills to maximal advantage for both herself and her employer. This can be done effectively. But it takes motivation and effort from the corporation as well as from the employee.

Men, changing careers at mid-life, face additional problems. When their first career closes down (as with aerospace in the 70's and automobile manufacturers in the 80's) they often must take a demotion in order to get another job. Engineering experience, even twenty years of engineering experience, does not apply to managing people -- but the man with that experience is overqualified for the entry-level job he needs in order to get some experience that does apply. The corporation feels that if they pay him what his experience says he's worth, the disparity between his pay and his lack of skills in people-management will be seen as inequitable by his co-workers. On the other hand, if they hire him for the entry-level job, they feel he will be unhappy with the salary and his younger co-workers will be uncomfortable deferring to his technical experience.

Either way, the obvious inequities can generate feelings of relative deprivation for the re-entry worker and for her co-workers as existing reference group patterns shift and readjust. The smooth operation of the existing corporate structure can be strongly disrupted if consideration of these issues is not made a part of the career development plan. Working out an accelerated training program to ease the transition and integrate the re-entry person into the existing structure will require considerable thought, motivation and effort from both employer and employee.

The payoff for the employer is more effective use of the entire labor pool of available talent and skills. Many employers would like to maximize the efficient use of talent in their corporations; and many more would like to enjoy the humanitarian satisfaction of being able to help mature adults realize their potential.

If you are a re-entry adult, your best bet will be to develop your own plan, using ingenuity, contacts, and everyday perseverance. Chances are that good new programs will emerge in the future. Unfortunately, most of us can't, or would prefer not to wait. One very brief word of caution: We know you're wonderful. We know you've had lots of valuable experience. But employers have rarely been faced before with people entring at your skill level and wanting to rise to levels of responsibility as quickly as you do. Be aware of this, and help your employer along. If you come on too strong, asking for too much too fast, you're likely to run the same risk as the younger student who comes off as "arrogant."

As you actually prepare to confront the world of work, consider honestly the disadvantages in your position, and invent ways to help your employer (or potential employer) get around them. For example, consider the problem of company loyalty. Most employers choose to consider themselves benevolent. They want their employees to be loyal to the corporation (the "our team" concept).

You, as a new employee, are less likely to display company loyalty than someone who has worked there for ten years. And you are coming in at an age later than one expects company loyalty to develop. Remember all that old social psychology research on the importance of nurturing in the infant state: Those who didn't receive such nurturance were shown by research to have failed to develop the capacity to love in later years. It's our personal opinion that employers fear that em ployees who do not join a corporation and receive its nurturance early in life lose the capacity to develop company loyalty later in life. No research has ever shown this to be true.

Let's consider some ways in which you might try to overcome this very real obstacle. You could just declare your undying loyalty to this company; but that could be pretty unbelievable. Anyway, actions usually speak louder than words. People do not always say what they believe: and they do not always act as we believe they would. The problem here is to convince your potential employer of your loyalty, given a job in the company.

Try collecting information about the company. What are their products? Are they expanding? What is their management philosophy? Where could you fit into their operations? What specifically could you contribute? If you display genuine interest in company policies and operations, have acquired considerable knowledge about the company and see ways you could fit in, you've got a good chance of convincing me, at least, that you really care about working for that company. You ought to be able to convince the company, too.

If you're sure that you have talent, and know that you could do a great job if just given a chance, but just don't know enough about the industry and company operations to know where you fit in, don't blame the company when they don't know where you'd fit in. There are a couple of ways around this dilemma for the mature worker. 1) Spend a little research time looking up operations information on that company and others in its field. Talk to people who work there. Can you wrangle a free lance job on a local rag sheet, and go interview various employees, even on their lunch hour? Read the company newsletter. Ask questions. 2) Consider taking a lower level entry job that will give you a chance to learn about the company from the inside. If the company of your choice tends not to promote that path, look for a similar job in another company in the same industry. Lots of what you learn will transfer to the company of your choice.

Some employers will prefer younger candidates no matter how wonderful your talents. Other employers will see your value and hire you gratefully. That's what makes life interesting -- most of us are unpredictable. Research unfortunately suggests that there are more employers who prefer young workers than those who prefer mature workers. That's not necessarily prejudice. Young workers are generally cheaper. And mature workers are closer in time to drawing retirement benefits, which is a major expense for some employers. But your potential contribution may be greater, and the employer may find that your training will require less investment of time and capital.

Don't be discouraged by published reports. Remember that this is a relatively new social problem and that personnel practices are adapting continuously. With lots of effort and a little luck, mature workers will find a place in the structure of the labor market.

Affirmative Action in the 1990's and Beyond

Each of us has come into daily contact with discrimination and its effects. Our experiences have prompted us to strong reactions to much of what has been written in the popular press recently on minority access and affirmative action. Much of this section comes from an earlier article published in theWisconsin Sociologist(Curran, Takata, Fellows, and Lee, 1991).

In The Trenches

The temptation nearly a quarter of a century ago, was to take the cream of the crop, with the most potential and move them quickly into the newly opened academic, professional and technical slots. Concern is with the next generations. They are still burdened by shared expectations of their roles that reflect those old patterns of discrimination. We need more sophisticated affirmative action responses for this generation. If we are to cope effectively with discrimination in the 90s, we must take the disparate lessons learned by all of us in all the trenches across the country.

We are teachers, educators, social workers, and criminal justice professionals. We come into daily contact with the "truly disadvantaged," those with the motivation to succeed but with little nderstanding of how to break into the system of means to success. Because we heard the pain and outrage, we could not bear not to change the system in which we held power and access to the means. Lois Lee, in "Children of the Night," moved into the streets of Hollywood and took young child prostitutes off those streets. In an urban university at the edge of a Los Angeles ghetto, students from that ghetto argue law before judges of the California Supreme and Appellate Courts. The law program evolved from a long running experiment with a student research center at the same university, a center now focused on providing evaluation of community learning. In Wisconsin, undergraduate students undertook professional research to aid in the understanding of youth gangs. These are but a handful of the trenches in the war against discrimination and the lack of access.

Empowerment. That favored term of the late 80s. We were all working with groups that had been left out of the equal opportunity banquet. Kids on the streets. Working class or lower class adults, trying to get an education, trying to understand and function within the system and live the impossible dream, with no mentors, no family to pave the way. Poor people who did not have access to the system, who said or did the wrong thing, who antagonized the system because they were angry at not being part of it, at not having a chance. To illustrate, in the 1990 Stanley Mosk Moot Court Competition, a 42-year-old white male was competing in the semi-finals before a panel of judges. One of the judges was a well-known, well-respected senior judge. The 42-year-old white male walked up to him, shook his hand with creditable confidence and announced for all to hear: "Do you remember me, Judge Aranda? The last time I appeared in front of you it was in your courtroom. I was there for public drunkenness." Whether Judge Aranda remembered him or not, he made it to the 1990 finals and is preparing to go on to law school.

We were dealing with disadvantaged populations. One of the characteristics of such populations is that they come from segments of the community where one or more members of their family of orientation were mildly dysfunctional in traditional family processes. One or more of the adults responsible for our students and clients in their youth may have been unemployable, mentally unstable, dependent on drugs or alcohol, emotionally unstable.

Each of us in our programs fight for every advantage we can get our students. We teach them that it is foolish to pass up any advantage to which they are legitimately entitled. And it is. Wall Street lawyers are not telling their sons and daughters to take the Law School Admission Test with minimal preparation. They are sending their children to schools where the skills measured by that test are honed in classrooms with less diversity than those of the urban ghetto. They are educating their children in the skills of challenging and working with impressive authority at the dinner table most evenings. They are sending their children to the top preparatory programs, early. And they are backing their children with the extra leisure that wealth can buy.

Up from nothing is much easier than further up from well along. It is easier to climb from the base of the mountain than to make great strides in the tundra where the air is thin. And the competition is ever more intense as we near the top. When Robert K. Merton (1957) said, "On the shoulders of giants," we understood that to mean that we succeed on building on the success of the past. We must and cannot start over with each new generation. Perhaps we need to reconsider that lesson in the 90s. Not only can we not start over, but the easiest questions have been answered, the simplest solutions have been found. It gets harder, the higher up the ladder of giants you climb. That is true for all of us.

Our quarrel is not with the very real perceptions of the problems wrought by affirmative action. No remedy is perfect. Affirmative action has cost us much in the way of pride and self esteem. But the solution lies not with the abandonment of affirmative action. Help in any form, to undo the damage done, is essential to continued progress. The solution lies in altering our perspectives on help.

This is not the Old West. We are not all made equal by the niversal six shooter. There is no more rugged frontier. We are a closed universe on an increasingly limited planet. We have become interdependent, like it or not. Our children cannot escape to new horizons to start over up from zero. They are stuck with our world, with its limited resources, limited space, limited options. In the 90s, no one is making it "on their own." Trump used borrowed billions. Yet we hear in special university committees on student loan defaults that to borrow is morally bankrupt. Student nurses, who must give up overtime to attend nursing classes, and who are single mothers, are borrowing money to make up for that overtime, instead of "biting the bullet." The committee fears that this is unwise. That some of those loans will not be repaid. Too bad they cannot restructure their debt like Trump. When will we ever learn? When will we understand moral alchemy?

Trump finances. We borrow. Single mothers take irresponsibly.

Discrimination and Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is no longer the simple matter of culling the best and moving them forward. It is no longer the simple matter of aiding those who cannot achieve system entry without our support. Both our definitions of need and our responses must match the diversity of this new generation of students and clients. Affirmative action and discrimination as well as the programmatic problems such as lack of funding shed light on why professionals involved in these programs in the trenches are a mass of contradictions -- tired and exhilarated.

We are fighters and survivors. Having come from the trenches -- poor, disadvantaged, minority, working and lower class backgrounds -- we have fought to gain system means in our respective professions. We understand the trenches from our own biographically unique situations. We have been there. Work in the trenches affords the best laboratory we could find for pure research, for questioning, trying intervention, operating outside the parameters of rigidly defined objectives and predetermined measures of success. We came into the trenches as scientists, with a need to explore and interact, in search of measurement that might lead to better understanding of access.

By extrapolation, we cannot impose the goals. If we are to improve access, it has to be access to what the client wants. We went to the target population and asked them what they wanted and needed. We let them tell us. We did not have expectations. What worked was a success and what did not, we developed alternatives. Each of our programs are experimental in the sense that we keep trying new and different things until something works. We fail and try again and again. We keep trying. That is what we have done right. The greater our effort to form connected, shared, empowering relationships with our students and clients, the more our voice and style changed to fit this new amorphous role. The more we, like they, perceived the injustice of the structure and began to decry its pompous posturing and rigid adherence to rules that barred access, the more we became marginal in our own world. We need to identify those who are working successfully with the target populations, in education, in community development, in criminal justice, in law, in social work, across the board. It is time to document their collective experience, to look for patterns in innovative approaches, to assess the costs, both monetary and personal, and to draw inferences from that data to guide us in policy analysis. Part of our isolation stems from the fact that we cross disciplines, professions and social settings. Once we recognized the common thread that united across disciplines and professions, we found a certain solace in that approach. It helped dispel the "tiredness" to recognize that we had encountered similar obstacles, and taken similar routes. There is something about shared experience that lends strength in the down times. We need that strength if we are to effectively increase minority access.


In this chapter, we began with a discussion of difference as it relates to relative deprivation and marginal man. Next, we discussed person perception and our tendency to stereotype. The main focus of this chapter has been on the social inequalities or the institutional discrimination that goes on in our society. We examined the gatekeeping isms -- sexism, racism, and ageism. And finally, we looked at affirmative action in the 1990's and beyond.

Appendix A - Analysis and Interpretation of Exercise 7-1

Person Perception

When the exercise is done in workshops we ask participants to read aloud their impressions; and we do an oral content analysis of the material on the sport. Alternatively, workshop participants can perform their own content analyses as a group, and people working alone can analyze their own material.

Review what you have written and see what kinds of categories emerge from the data. First, simple demographic descriptions are recorded, partially from observation and partially from questioning, and partially from volunteer information. such items as sex, race, approximate age, and marital status help us place the other person in relation to ourselves. Next, and most important, the recorded information focuses strongly upon the person's major relevant social roles -- relevant to the setting, that is. Here you will have recorded the person's major in school, perhaps some courses you might have both taken, whether or not they have children -- how many and how old, their job title and occasionally their major leisure time activities like skiing, watching TV, or drinking beer.

This is where stereotyping comes from -- our minds' automatically classify people into a limited number of categories -- student, worker, husband, wife, parent, man, woman, child, etc. and then assign to that individual our expectations about behavior for that kind of person. Analyze your data to see how you classify people. Note how relevant those categories are to the social situation in which you are currently participating. Consider alternative and additional sets of categories you might use to widen your knowledge of people. It takes a long time and a lot of energy to get to know people beyond the categories. Don't expect to right away. Just be aware!

Appendix B - Sociological Terms in This Chapter

Affirmative Action -- Employment practices that attempt to correct previous discrimination against women and minorities (Frank, 1986:4).

Ageism -- The social inequality and stereotyping of a particular age group. For example, negative characteristics of the elderly as a group, (i.e., old people are forgetful and fall asleep wherever they are).

Difference -- The opposite of the same, which tells us what is "strange," "unusual," and not like us.

Institutional racism -- The large-scale social patterns which keep certain racial and ethnic groups in or out of a social institution.

Marginal man -- An individual who is not part of the "in-group," (not in the center). He is an "outsider" or a member of the "out-group."

Person perception -- Our tendency to stereotype and/or label groups of people based on over-simplified characteristics. The act of processing information on people -- their characteristics, their dress, their manner, the motives and values we impute to them, etc.

Relative deprivation -- Comparisons between you and someone else or some other group of people. A fancy term for "compared to what?"

Sexism -- A social inequality and stereotyping based on sex/gender.

Appendix C - Self-Diagnostic

Yes, another one of those self-diagnostics. You must be getting very good at them by now. See if you can pass our test of "roadblocks" to access and equal opportunities. You know how it goes -- T for True and F for False.

-----1. "Difference" is all about comparisons.-----
-----2. Demographically, America is "graying."-----
-----3. According to Robert Blauner, racism has decreased since the 1960's.-----
-----4. Gatekeeping isms prevent equal access and opportunities for certain groups of people.-----
-----5. Affirmative action translates to do something positive today.-----
-----6. EEOC stands for Eager Eagles of Commercialism.-----
-----7. Marginal man refers only to men.-----
-----8. Relative deprivation deals with situations when we compare ourselves only to our other family members.-----
-----9. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been so effective that hardly any complaints are being filed now.-----
-----10. The only reason industry does not hire re-entry women is that they prefer young women as "window dressing."-----
-----11. Research has shown that one of the main reasons women have difficulty in assuming positions of leadership is their tendency toward a submissive personality trait.-----
-----12. The best chance that women have to break into major positions of power and leadership is to use their entrepreneurial skills to start their own business.-----

Go to the next section, to find out how well (we're taking a positive stance) you did!

Scoring and career forecast for self-diagnostic

1. True

2. True

3. False

4. True

5. False

6. False

7. False

8. False

9. False

10. False

11. False

12. We opt for false. This is one of the cutting edges of current research.

Your career forecast for the chapter:

10-12: You have learned to navigate well through the obstacle course of social inequalities and institutional discriminations. Bumps in the road don't take you unaware.

7-9: With a few bumps and bruises, your system maneuvering is okay. But you can ill afford many more of those "black and blue" marks. Your employer and friends will begin to wonder who is "beating" you.

4-6: Major setbacks like this will "wake" your Gulliver Travel-like slumber. Wake up!! And watch where you're headed!

0-3: Not even in the margins, let alone in the center. You're not even on the continuum. Get with it!


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