American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 125–160 | Cite as

Recognizing chilliness: How schemas of inequality shape views of culture and climate in work environments

  • Erin A. CechEmail author
  • Mary Blair-Loy
  • Laura E. Rogers
Original Article


Why are some people more likely than others to recognize hostile or unfair interactions in local environments such as their workplaces? We argue that awareness of chilly climates is not simply a tally of instances of discrimination but an interpretive process framed by cultural schemas of inequality, deeply held cultural accounts of broad ascriptive group differences. We contend that schemas of inequality frame the way individuals interpret their day-to-day work environments, sharpening or distorting their ability to recognize unfair circumstances therein. To investigate the relationship between these cultural schemas and recognition of chilliness, we analyze survey data from a theoretically useful case of academic science and engineering (STEM) faculty. When accounting for patterns of under-representation in STEM generally, roughly half of respondents rely on meritocratic schemas, while half use schemas emphasizing structural barriers. Yet even net of demographics and personal experiences of marginalization at work, those using meritocratic schemas are less likely than those using structural schemas to recognize chilly departmental climates and chilly professional cultures. Our focus pivots analytical attention beyond individuals’ experiences of disadvantage toward the cultural schemas that shape whether co-workers, both dominant and non-dominant, recognize chilly interactions in their work environments that disadvantage women and minorities.


cultural schemas of inequality chilly climate STEM gender race/ethnicity professional culture 



We are grateful to Jeanne Ferrante for her assistance and advice throughout the project and Erica Bender for her expert research assistance on the survey. We thank Marbella Allen, Maria Charles, Sergio Chavez, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Elizabeth Long, Leslie McCall, Robin Paige, William Rothwell, Andrew Perrin, and Heidi Sherick for valuable advice on earlier versions of this manuscript. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their detailed and thoughtful feedback. This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Grant 1107074; PI: Mary Blair-Loy; Co-PIs: Jeanne Ferrante and Erin Cech). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Supplementary material

41290_2016_19_MOESM1_ESM.docx (154 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 154 kb)
41290_2016_19_MOESM2_ESM.docx (119 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 119 kb)
41290_2016_19_MOESM3_ESM.docx (60 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 60 kb)
41290_2016_19_MOESM4_ESM.docx (91 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 91 kb)
41290_2016_19_MOESM5_ESM.docx (109 kb)
Supplementary material 5 (DOCX 109 kb)


  1. Abbott, A. (1988) The Systems of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, J.C. (2010) The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allison, P.D. (2002) Missing Data: Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barreto, M. and Ellemers, N. (2005) The perils of political correctness: men’s and women’s respondes to old-fashioned and modern sexist Views. Social Psychology Quarterly 68(1): 75–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bilimoria, D. and Stewart, A.J. (2009) ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: The Academic Climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Faculty in Science and Engineering. NWSA Journal 21(2): 85–103.Google Scholar
  6. Blair-Loy, M. (2003) Competing Devotions: Career and Family among Women Executives. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Blair-Loy, M. (2010) Moral Dimensions of the Work-Family Nexus. In: S. Hitlin and S. Vaisey (eds.) Handbook of the Sociology of Morality: New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003) Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanham: Lanham Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. Bonilla-Silva, E. and Dietrich, D. (2011) The sweet enchantment of color-blind racism in obamerica. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 634(1): 190–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brickman, P., Folger, R., Goode, E. and Schul, Y. (1981) Microjustice and macrojustice. In: M.J. Lerner and S.C. Lerner (eds.) The Justice Motive in Social Behavior:Adapting to Times of Scarcity and Change. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  11. Campbell, K.E. and Marsden, P.V. (2012) Gender role attitudes since 1972: Are southerners distinctive? In: P.V. Marsden (ed.) Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey Since 1972. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Carr, J.Z., Schmidt, A.M., Ford, J.K. and DeShon, R.P. (2003) Climate perceptions matter: A meta-analytic path analysis relating molar climate, cognitive and affective states, and individual level work outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology 88(4): 605–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Castilla, E. (2008) Gender, race, and meritocracy in organizational careers. American Journal of Sociology 113(6): 1479–1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cech, E.A. (2013a) Ideological wage inequalities? The technical/social dualism and the gender wage gap in engineering. Social Forces 91(4): 1147–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cech, E.A. (2013b) The (mis)framing of social justice: why meritocracy and depoliticization hinder engineers’ ability to think about social injustices. In: J.C. Lucena (ed.) Engineering Education for Social Justice: Critical Explorations and Opportunities: New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Cech, E.A. and Blair-Loy, M. (2010) Perceiving glass ceilings? Meritocratic versus structural explanations of gender inequality among women in science and technology. Social Problems 57(3): 371–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cech, E.A. and Blair-Loy, M. (2014) Consequences of flexibility stigma among academic scientists and engineers. Work and Occupations 41(1): 86–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cech, E.A. and Waidzunas, T. J. (2011) Navigating the heteronormativity of engineering: the experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students. Engineering Studies 3(1): 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Charles, M. (2009) The role of ‘culure’ in social inequality research. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Research, 619.Google Scholar
  20. Charles, M. and Bradley, K. (2009) Indulging our gendered selves? Sex segregation by field of study in 44 countries. American Journal of Sociology 114(4): 924–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Clogg, C.C., Petkova, E. and Haritou, A. (1995) Statistical methods for comparing regression coefficients between models. American Journal of Sociology 100: 1261–1293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cornell (2006) Faculty Work Life Survey Results: Cornell Provost’s Advisory Committee on Faculty Work Life, Cornell University.Google Scholar
  23. Correll, S.J. (2001) Gender and the Career Choice Process: The Role of Biased Self-Assessment. American Journal of Sociology 106(6): 1691–1730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Correll, S.J. and Benard, S. (2006) Biased estimators? Comparing status and statistical theories of gender discrimination. In: S.R. Thye and E.J. Lawler (eds.) Social Psychology of the Workplace: Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  25. Davis, N.J. and Robinson, R.V. (1991) Men’s and Women’s Consciousness of gender inequality: Austria, West Germany, Great Britain, and the US. American Sociological Review 56(1): 72–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. DiTomoso, N. (2013) The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality without Racism. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  27. Ecklund, E.H., Lincoln, A.E. and Tansey, C. (2012) Gender Segregation in Elite Academic Science. Gender & Society 26(5): 693–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Emilio J. Castilla (2008) Gender, Race, and Meritocracy in Organizational Careers. American Journal of Sociology 113(6): 1479–1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Enriquez, L.E. and Saguy, A.C. (2015) Coming out of the shadows: Harnessing a cultural schema to advance the undocumented immigrant youth movement. American Journal of Cultural Sociology 4: 107–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fox, M.F. (1991) Gender, environmental milieu, and productivity in science. In: H. Zukerman, S. Cole, and J. Bruer (eds.) The Outer Circle: Women in the Scientific Community: New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 188–204.Google Scholar
  31. Ginther, D. and Kahn, S. (2012) Does science promote women? Evidence from academia 1973–2001. In: R.B. Freeman and D. Goroff (eds.) Science and Engineering Careers in the United States: An Analysis of Markets and Employment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 163–194.Google Scholar
  32. Gorman, E.H. (2005) Gender Stereotypes, Same-Gender Preferences, and Organizational Variation in the Hiring of Women: Evidence from Law Firms. American Sociological Review 70: 702–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hochschild, J. (1995) Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Hunt, M.O. (2007) African American, Hispanic, and White Beliefs about Black/White Inequality, 1977–2004. American Sociological Review 72(3): 390–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jost, J.T., Banaji, M.R. and Nosek, B.A. (2004) A decade of system justification theory: accumulated evidence of consious and unconsious bolstering of the status quo. Political Psychology 25(6): 881–919.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kane, E.W. (1998) Men’s and women’s beliefs about gender inequality: family ties, dependence, and agreement. Sociological Forum 13(4): 611–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kane, E.W. (2000) Racial and ethnic variations in gender-related attitudes. Annual Review of Sociology 26: 419–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kluegel, J.R. and Smith, E.R. (1986) Beliefs About Inequality: Americans’ Views of What Is and What Ought to Be New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  39. Koehler, J.J. (1993) The influence of prior beliefs on scientific judgments of evidence quality. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 56(1): 28–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lamont, M., Beljean, S. and Clair, M. (2014) What is missing? Cultural processes and causal pathways to inequality. Socio-Economic Review 1–36.Google Scholar
  41. Leslie, L., McClure, G. and Oaxaca, R. (1998) Women and minorities in science and engineering: A life-sequence analysis. Journal of Higher Education 69(3): 239–276.Google Scholar
  42. Light, R., Roscigno, V.J. and Kalev, A. (2011) Racial discrimination, interpretation, and legitimation at work. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634(1): 39-59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Long, J.S. and Fox, M.F. (1995) Scientific careers: universalism and particularism. Annual Review of Sociology 21: 45–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lopez, G.E., Gurin, P. and Nagda, B.A. (1998) Education and understanding structural causes for group inequalities. Political Psychology 19(2): 305–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McCall, L. (2013) The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs about Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Messner, M. (2009) It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  47. MIT (1999) A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT. The MIT Faculty Newsletter, MITGoogle Scholar
  48. Morimoto, S.A. and Zajicek, A. (2014) Dismantling the ‘Master’s House’: Feminist reflections on institutional transformation. Critical Sociology 40: 135–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. NAS (2007) Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. In: National Academy of Sciences. Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine (ed.). National Academies PressGoogle Scholar
  50. National Academy of Sciences (2011) Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  51. National Academy of Sciences. (2012) Education and Academic Career Outcomes for Women of Color in Science and Engineering. In: Proceedings of the Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine; October 8, 2012, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  52. NSF (2008) Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. In: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (ed.).
  53. NSF (2013) Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation.Google Scholar
  54. Ostroff, C., Kinicki, A.J. and Tamkins, M.M. (2003) Organizational Climate and Culture. In: W.C. Borman, D.R. Ilgen, and R.J. Klimoski (eds.) Comprehensive Handbook of Psychology, Volume 12: Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  55. Prasad, M., Perrin, A.J., Bezila, K., Hoffman, S.G., Kindleberger, K., Manturuk, K. and Powers, A.S. et al (2009) The undeserving rich: “Moral Values” and the white working class1. Sociological Forum 24(2): 225–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rhoton, L.A. (2011) Distancing as a gendered barrier: Understanding women scientists’ gender practices. Gender & Society 25: 696–718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ridgeway, C.L. (2009) Framed before we know it: How gender shapes social relations. Gender & Society 23(2): 145–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ridgeway, C.L. (2011) Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rosser, S.V. (2012) Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science. New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schuman, H., Steech, C., Bobo, L. and Krysan, M. (1997) Racial Attitudes in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Sewell, W.E.J. (1992) A theory of structure: Duality, agency, and transformation. American Journal of Sociology 98: 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Smith-Doerr, L. (2004) Women’s Work: Gender Equality vs. Hierarchy in the Life Sciences. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  63. Snyder, M. and Swann, W.B.J. (2003) Hypothesis testing in social interaction. In: A.W. Kruglanski and E.T. Higgins (eds.) Social Psychology: A General Reader. London: Taylor and Francis Books, pp. 61–72.Google Scholar
  64. Stephan, P. (2012) How Economics Shapes Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Taylor, M.C. and Merino, S.M. (2011) Race, Religion, and Beliefs about Racial Inequality. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634(1): 60-77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tuch, S.A. and Hughes, M. (2011) Whites’ racial policy attitudes in the twenty-first century: The continuing significance of racial resentment. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 634(1): 134–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. UCLA (2003) UCLA Gender Equity Committee, Final Report: UCLA Gender Equity Data Committee. UCLA.Google Scholar
  68. Valian, V. (1998) Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  69. Westen, D., Blagov, P.S., Harenski, K., Kilts, C. and Hamann, S. (2003) Neural bases of motivated reasoning: An fMRI of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18(11): 1947–1958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Williams, J.C., Blair-Loy, M. and Berdahl, J.L. (2013) Cultural Schemas, Social Class, adn the Flexibility Stigma. Journal of Social Issues 69(2): 209–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Winslow, S. (2010) Gender inequality and time allocations among academic faculty. Gender & Society 24(6): 769–793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Xie, Y. and Shauman, K.A. (2003) Women in Science: Career Processes adn Outcome. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Young, M. (1994) The Rise of Meritocracy. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin A. Cech
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mary Blair-Loy
    • 2
  • Laura E. Rogers
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

Personalised recommendations