script type="text/javascript" src=""> More blogs about Rachel Bondi.
Earning Power!: The Cultural Environment of American Business

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Cultural Environment of American Business

I was asked recently, what does anthropology have to do with business and women’s empowerment? The answer is that anthropology is the broad study of mankind and can help bring awareness to larger patterns of the human condition. As in medicine there are general doctors, and then there are specialists, so too in social science anthropologists bring together multiple specialties such as politics, sociology, economics, history and more to understand patterns and predict strategy.

OK. So let’s talk anthropology.


So how does this apply to business? Each company is socialized in three ways: through the larger culture, the business culture, and the corporate culture and its subcultures within. Anthropology can extent organizational behavior to connect to the larger community of suppliers and customers in which the company exists. This can help define effective rules of the game, boundaries between competitive versus unethical behavior, code of conduct in negotiation, as well as definitions of success, failure, priorities and even the jargon and communication style.

With the advent of technological advances the diffusionism of United States’ societal concepts has been accelerated worldwide. This means that many ideas that capture world mindshare originate from the societal structures already in place even if they are antiquated as an effective model for the generations to come. Each culture has it’s unique history, and we must consider the cultural particularism on the U.S. as far as gender and the workplace in order to estimate the future based on the context of the past. This will allow us to reconstruct the path in order to best determine where the world is heading.

We want not only to develop a sympathetic understanding of the motivations that guide people through daily choices, but we also want to be able to direct in a prescriptive manner, rather than simply descriptive discussion that is ultimately as directionless, relative and ultimately irrelevant and ineffective because it leads to inaction.

Applied Social Science

Sociobiology dictates that cultures will choose activities that innately increase the probability of reproducing offspring. Despite their being no universal pattern that all cultures subscribe to, some general patters of structural functionalism can be identified based upon the preference to procreate, rather than biological determinism which suggests the purpose of the woman is to gestate and procreate.

Our imperative here is to discover the emic cognitive, or mental thought patterns of gender groups according to how they are encouraged by society. In other words, if we were a complete foreigner, what would we need to know in order to act like a native in the workplace as a male or as a female. This is regardless of the personal psychology the individual expresses despite enculturation. Here we are more interested in reflecting the national character of US corporations and institutions in regard to relationships between men and women.

It is easier to dichotomize the uniformities in human thought according to unconscious biases between the male and female experience. Therefore, it is perhaps an oversimplification to content with the binary opposition of the sexes while experientially we know there more accurately exists a range of gender characteristics that individualize men and women rather than stereotype them. However, since worldwide the same patterns emerge, we can assume their recurrence has some bearing of true supercultural structuralism. Some of these patterns include the worldwide lack of women in leadership, lower pay for women, and dependency upon men to derive personal wealth. Looking closely at the cultural material evidence reveals a near universal experience of women identifying with a lack of power and innate authority when it comes to the major positions of influence in public society from business, to politics to media impact.

Social Justice

Ethical reasoning would lead us to be concerned from a social justice perspective. Is litigation the only way to accomplish ultimate gender parity because women have a biological function that men do not, and therefore a sexual element to everything from clothing to speech when it comes to workplace expectations? If we do not pursue justice then are we not fulfilling human potential? Dignity is an intrinsic value, and it is unacceptable to not nurture the hope that the genders restore repect for each other by pursuing a solution. It is important not only to consider doing what is right, but also what will be good, when addressing a change to the former structures that no longer meet the needs of a modern society in the information age. We must consider that the outcome is not predetermined, but does rely upon psychological egoism, or tying the actions to self-interest, in order to succeed. And here has been a critical failure of the women’s movement—to make women’s issues men’s issues by defining the clear benefits to men for being part of the solution.

What we wish do accomplish here is simply the dropping of a though stone which allows the ripple effect to begin, eventually toward claiming the mindshare of the community of men and women worldwide.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead


What will be the course of the War of the Sexes? As with any war, in order to make peace we must either have one gender win uncontested (meaning one loses), settle with a treaty, avoid the opposite side entirely (which some have chosen but most would not), or create alliances.

Other anthropologists and social scientists like Margaret Mead, Joan Williams, and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, have been wildly successful putting forth ideas for cultural change, pointing out patterns and coining terms like Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “second shift” and Felice Schwartz’ “mommy track”. Anthropology itself has changed the course of biology pointing out race equality of humanity, challenging psychology by pointing out Freudian concepts do not exist cross-culturally, and challenging economics and geological theory by pointing out variety within even small areas.

In the case of women, basic physical needs for food, clothing and shelter (and those of their children) often supercede social needs to the exclusion of being empowered enough solve wider social issues (peace, justice, equality, wealth to sustain, etc.). This is why it requires emotional archaeology to uncover the ideal for women and if it can really be accomplished without change in he male and the historical social structures we must work within to solve issues dealing with gender parity.

When it comes down to it, corporate culture is held up to the light of the nation’s cultural values such as rationality, integrity, cooperativeness, diligence, delivery on promise and efficiency. When these values are mirrored trust is established and brand loyalty increases.

Mankind is the creator of human history, and therefore we do have the ability fashion the future with what we have learned from the past. But our future comes out of our web of personal choices that lead to interpersonal consequences. And yet there is also a super-culture that is formed by limited resources that we struggle with, that system of acquiring and maintaining property or using limited resources we’ve been given and all of the involvements and values associated with it. We cannot become enlightened and then remain self-interested anyway.

Neutral Defining of the Issues

Power and prestige are different things. Prestige is a distinction or reputation that empowers a person, whether it is real or imagined. Power is the real ability to affect or control behavior of another based upon legal or social clout. For example, society may say that mother hood is admirable or prestigious, yet mothers themselves may not have the power to restructure the workplace to accommodate temporary leaves of absence over a career lifetime. Here we see illustrated also the difference between a cultural norm, what is ideal, and a social norm, what is the actual behavior when observing what happens when moms attempt to return to the workplace with the same respect. The laws require equal treatment, the mores require we treat our society’s moms well, but the folkways reflect that we really don’t welcome them back or pay them as much as before they had kids.

Status or role can either be achieved through earning it or voluntarily seeking and collecting various merits and accomplishments, but there are also social roles and status that are inherited involuntarily which are conferred socially as a label. With gender comes status. Status means position and title, role signifies the behavior and the power to do something. Basically empowering women is just an attempt to correct status inconsistency, that is where income is less than occupational prestige or job effectiveness performance such as the wage gap, or where a double standard appears to exist favoring one gender’s career pattern over the other in a way that makes the norm favorable to one gender rather than the other, such as the absence of women in leadership. This causes a role strain for working mothers, for example, that does not exist for working fathers, and creates role conflict for full-time fathers.

Males do not experience the same sort of victim socialization, that process by which society describes a disadvantageous role or status to women, even if unintentional. I point this out because racism, bigotry, exploitation and discrimination that arise out of an intense intentional disliking is different from the more subtle societal patterns, expectations or self-segregation that work against one group or another can arise from personal choice or positive incentives that drive behavior. Racism has the hope of elimination over time simply because of the amalgamation or mixing of cultures that naturally occurs and has been accelerated worldwide through shared media. Misogyny or sexism’s only hope for elimination is assimilation wherein both genders raise awareness in order to create a common culture created from the best traits of both male and female, disadvantaging neither.


The three universal behavior patterns that emerge when talking about behavior in groups are competition, cooperation and accommodation, where in there is a temporary cessation or permanent termination of competitive interaction until there is an adjustment, such as a truce, a compromise, or toleration. What is missing in our culture, and certainly reflected in the business and corporate environment, is an acceptance of a scenario that that pleases both genders or at least penalizes them equally in compromise, continuing to make women a social minority in leadership despite their statistical majority in the general population. Tokenism on boards or in officer positions does not mean parity has been achieved, as Carly Fiorina suggested when saying womankind had won the battle of the sexes simply because she was appointed CEO of HP.

What’s interesting is if there ever were socio-biological reasons that drove the structures to favor men at work they no longer hold no longer hold. In other words the re is no sociological relationship to biological evolution when it comes to physical requirements in most jobs of the information age. So if it paid to be the biggest and the strongest physically when it came to hunting down live animals for food, this physical prowess is no longer required when hunting down and closing million dollar deals.

Change in this area will come as it always has in human history by two means, reinforcement and resocialization. We must continue to raise awareness. First, comes ourselves, then our significant others, and finally generalized others that may also benefit from change. In other words we must frame who men and women were, who we are now, who we ought to be instead, and who we can and will be.

Once we were hunter gatherers, then we became domesticators, and finally urban. The hunters were mobile in small groups, their technology was stone tools and weapons, matriliniage and patriliniage were of equal value and man flourished through reciprocity when a surplus was shared. Agriculturalism lead to greater trade and a stratified society, the technology was irrigation, plows and domesticated animals, and lineage became important to track and the entire family worked together, while.reciprocity grew into redistribution through trade centers. In the industrial age formal states ruled, with technology to convert energy and machinery to create goods. Factory work and child protection laws required a bi-lateral division of gender roles into who would do childcare at home and who would work at another location on the production line or in the office. The market became mechanized and sophisticated.

But now we must adapt and take advantage of the information age, defined by technology that allows people to connect anytime and anywhere, with a global economy that changes the dynamics of the domestic economy. Both men and women can work flexibly and untied to location, while the superstructure of worldwide business moves to project-and-skill matched contracting and services. The domestic life and the roles of parents have yet to change and settle into something more appropriate to the times. Directionality and development dictates topological requirements evolve toward a post industrial pattern.

Perhaps with heightened awareness we can move this more consciously toward a blend that improves flexibility in meeting the needs of working fathers and mothers and their children to the betterment of society long term.


Post a Comment

<< Home