Resisting the Iron Cage: The Effects of Bureaucratic Reforms to Promote Equity

52 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2014

See all articles by Frank Dobbin

Frank Dobbin

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Daniel Schrage

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Alexandra Kalev

Tel Aviv University

Date Written: September 30, 2014

Abstract

Organization scholars since Max Weber have argued that formal personnel systems can prevent discrimination. Studies show both positive and negative effects. We draw on sociological and psychological literatures to develop a nuanced theory of the effects of bureaucracy. Drawing on self-perception and contact theories, we contend that initiatives that engage managers in promoting diversity, such as special recruitment and training programs, will increase diversity. Drawing on job-autonomy and self-determination theories, we contend that initiatives designed to limit managerial discretion in hiring and promotion — job tests, performance evaluations, and grievance procedures — will elicit resistance and have adverse effects on workforce diversity. By contrast, we expect that bureaucratic reforms designed to increase transparency without limiting managerial discretion will not have adverse effects. Finally, drawing on accountability and responsibility theories, we expect that monitoring by diversity managers or federal regulators will improve the effects of bureaucratic reforms. We examine the effects of personnel innovations on managerial diversity in 816 American workplaces over thirty years. Our findings help to explain the slow progress America has made in reducing job segregation and inequality over the last quarter century. Corporate practices designed to quell discrimination have frequently activated it.

Keywords: Diversity Management; Inequality; Gender; Race

JEL Classification: D21, D63

Suggested Citation

Dobbin, Frank and Schrage, Daniel and Kalev, Alexandra, Resisting the Iron Cage: The Effects of Bureaucratic Reforms to Promote Equity (September 30, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2513869 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2513869

Frank Dobbin (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Daniel Schrage

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
William James Hall, Sixth Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Alexandra Kalev

Tel Aviv University ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv 69978, 6997801
Israel

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