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 Organizational Minorities Form and Use Social Ties: Evidence from Teachers in Majority-White and Majority-Black Schools

Abstract: This paper draws on 11 months of multi-site ethnographic fieldwork and 103 interviews to investigate how teachers in school faculty of varying racial compositions form and use their social ties to secure professional, political, and emotional resources at work. Findings show that in general, white teachers in the numerical minority in their schools secured all resource types through their same-race ties, while black teachers in the numerical minority secured primarily emotional resources from theirs. Given these observed differences, I show how the form and use of the two minority groups’ social ties stem from distinctive organizational practices. In turn, the tie differences can account for differences in social integration and resource-access in the organization. The data allow for comparisons to patterns among majority groups.

Culture Shock at Work: Explaining Nonsymmetrical Effects of Racial Diversity (With Tiffany D. Johnson)

 Abstract: Who benefits from diversity in the workplace? Prior studies suggest that the benefits and challenges associated with being demographically different from others in the workplace vary across demographic groups. This paper extends research on such “nonsymmetry.” In Study 1, we use unique interview data from 90 high school teachers to highlight that racial difference is the most salient dimension mentioned by teachers. In particular, teachers in the racial numerical minority describe their interracial experiences at work with surprise, confusion, and frustration, that is, as characteristic of experiencing culture shock. We deepen our analysis of reported culture shock by examining the ways different demographic groups, with varying degrees of success, coped with and adjusted to their social environment. In Study 2, we triangulate and complement interview findings with 323 surveys from the same sample, and show that race distance does in fact loom larger than other dimensions of demographic difference, and has consequences for teachers’ work outcomes of job satisfaction, intent to stay, and psychological commitment. A spline regression analysis reveals no significant effects of faculty racial composition for white teachers’ outcomes net of controls, while effects for black teachers are significant and follow a nonlinear pattern. These findings contribute to research in nonsymmetry theory, and develop culture shock theory to apply to management settings by illustrating why and how tipping points of minority/majority status in an organization may affect one demographic group, but not another. We discuss implications for organizations and future research.

Other working paper from the dissertation:

“Corridors of Frustration: Comparing the Socialization and Boundary-Drawing Functions of Venting, Evaluation, and Consultation in Public versus Private Workspaces.”