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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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

Notes

Acknowledgments

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

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 154 kb)
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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

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