Nonsymmetrical Effects of Racial Diversity on Organizational Minority Members: Evidence from the Teaching Profession


In my dissertation, I examine the formation and consequences of coworker support in cross-race and same-race interactions. I conducted a year-long, multi-site workplace ethnography across five schools with varying demographic compositions. This involved shadowing and interviewing more than 100 teachers, attending work events such as meetings and formal and informal teacher gatherings, and interviewing 18 school personnel.  I compare how the demographic composition of faculty – primarily by teachers’ race, but also by their certification, age, and experience backgrounds –impacts processes of coworker support, and in turn, has consequences on teachers’ on-the-job attainment of human capital, resources for doing the work, and outcomes of job satisfaction and retention. Below are abstracts of two papers coming out of the dissertation project.

How Tokens Form and Use Social Ties: Evidence from Teachers in Majority-White and Majority-Black Schools

This paper draws on 11 months of multi-site ethnographic fieldwork, coupled with 98 interviews, to investigate the way that teachers in school faculty of varying racial compositions form and enact their social ties in order to secure professional, political, and emotional resources at work. I found that while white teachers felt free to form social ties in same-race groups and that their ties formed quickly regardless of whether they were in the majority or minority in their schools, black teachers did not feel free to form their social ties in groups when they were minorities in their faculty context, and they proceeded to acquire their same-race ties slowly. I also found that teaming ties were more characteristic of whites’ social ties across contexts, while cross-occupational, same-race ties were more characteristic of blacks’ social ties in majority-white contexts. For both groups, the ties were also shaped by organizational practices such as classroom assignment, managerial practices such as distributing resources, and organizational conditions such as level of turnover. In general, white token teachers secured all resource types through same-race ties, while black token teachers secured primarily emotional resources from theirs. Given these observed differences, I show how both white and black teachers accomplish resource acquisition within the organization by the strategic formation of social ties that fit the constraints and affordances of their racial environment. Not only having social capital in the form of ties, but the form the ties took were each important to acquiring advantages or managing disadvantages particular to their social position in the workplace.

Racial Status Distance, Coworker Support, and Job Satisfaction in Workplace Subgroups

Studies of workplace relations routinely find that workers who are demographically “mismatched” to the majority of colleagues in their workplaces are less satisfied and more likely to leave; this is especially the case for Whites. However, none of these studies examine the sub-organizational context of workplaces and many use an arbitrary cut-point rather than a continuous measure of demographic matching. This study improves on these measurement issues by applying a sub-group level of racial composition within the organization, using spline regression analysis, and triangulating findings with interview data from the same sample. Unique survey data of 333 high school teachers across two school districts at the beginning and end of one school year, coupled with 95 interviews, are analyzed to investigate the effects of collegial composition on relational outcomes of trust, collective responsibility, frequency of dialogue, interpersonal justice, and overall job satisfaction. Findings show different patterns for Whites and Blacks. Whites appear to benefit from diversity when diversity is at medium levels (satisfaction outcomes) or high levels (relational outcomes), although almost all composition effects were not statistically significant. Blacks’ outcomes mostly followed a traditional Schelling model, where the effect of diverse composition was positive until a tipping point. Interview findings corroborate and help explain the observed patterns by showing emergent racial understandings within each subgroup. These findings contribute to bodies of literature in organizational demography and intergroup relations by demonstrating the importance of subgroups within the organization.

Other working papers from the dissertation:

“Corridors of Frustration: The Socialization and Boundary-Drawing Functions of Venting in Public Workspaces” 

“Popping in: The Importance of Classroom Consultations to Teacher Status.”