Politics, Networking, and Mentoring Regarding Race and Gender

Posted on October 20, 2008. Filed under: Academic Publishings, Corporate |

Blass, Fred R., Robyn L. Brouer, Pamela L. Perrewe, Gerald R. Ferris. Politics Understanding and Networking Ability as a Function of Mentoring: The Roles of Gender and Race. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. Vol. 14, No. 2. Nov 2007. Pgs. 93-104.

The authors devised their hypotheses around the premise that employees who have access to networks and mentorship programs will receive higher benefit than those who do not have mentors and networks. Those employees who most strongly benefit from mentorship and networks are white men and those at the greatest disadvantage are women and racial minorities. Those with mentors will report a greater understanding of internal organizational politics, and thus, will have a greater political and organizational success.

This article focuses on Van Maanen and Schein’s (1979) taxonomy of socialization, with particular emphasis on serial tactic, which suggests that experienced workers and managers will act as role models for new members. “The serial approach is commonly referred to as ‘mentoring,’ because experienced members essentially groom newcomers who are destined to assume similar positions in an organization (94).” One example provided is a more senior police officer showing the novice cop ‘the ropes,’ resulting in increased exposure and visibility. As the level and frequency of visibility increases, so to does their work networks and networking abilities increase.

One of the advantages to establishing organizational networks is that you are more visible. As managers and supervisors search to promote internal candidates, those with strong networks are first to be considered. “Individuals who are well socialized into organizational politics may be more promotable than those who are well socialized with people (94).” Strong performance and high evaluation scores are not key factors in advancement under this theory. The networking advantage is a direct result from learning the internal game of politics, demonstrating that mentees develop a set of organizational competencies, including expectations, informal rules, and boundaries that provide them with necessary resources for career advancement.

Learning the ropes also includes learning and adopting the social nuances of a new environment. The development of political skills grants individuals with the ability to understand ‘shared meanings’ among peers and superiors. They define political skill as “the ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and/or organizational objectives (95).” This definition of political skill does not allude to gender or racial differences, however, and implies a degree of cultural assimilation, a concept that is not so easy for women and racial minorities.

The development of political skills also suggests that access is required in order to gain access to various political networks. Organizational politics, as mentioned earlier, requires a degree of assimilation, and as more experienced members ‘groom’ their protégés, it is natural to select those most similar to you. As Elliot and Smith wrote in Race, Gender, and Workplace Power (2004), race and gender are key components to network access and promotion, most prominently through homosocial reproduction (select someone most similar to you). Those dissimilar to superiors are less likely to gain access to information that is critical to career advancement, and thus, will not participate in network development as well as others, resulting in “two groups of people: the aware ‘insiders’ and the unaware ‘outsiders’ (96).” As white men are typically in superior positions, they set the organizational tone and thus, decide who will reside in which groups of people.

Most organizational politics are taught through informal social interactions, and as women and racial minorities remain as dissimilar to their superiors, they will remain as the unaware ‘outsiders.’ Women and racial minorities are at a disadvantage, forced to participate in organizational politics with political deficiencies, resulting in fewer promotions and networking capabilities. The low percentage of their managerial presence (excluding qualifications) suggests that either they are not politically savvy or that they are not adopting strategic tactics that make them attractive to networks, and or, white men.

In conclusion, organizational political deficiencies is a reasonable assumption in defining the low percentages of women and racial minorities in senior positions. However, the women and racial minorities that do succeed are considered as exceptions, most likely due to a select number of similar superiors who fulfilled homosocial reproduction, providing them access to information and opportunities that would enhance their political abilities. “Results indicated that mentoring had significant indirect effects on networking ability through its relationship with politics understanding (100).” This confirms hypothesis 2 and 3, in that strong political understanding would help mediate the relationships between networks (white men) and networking abilities, but would not increase mediation or benefits for dissimilar others (non-whites).

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