Cracking the glass cages? Restructuring and ascriptive inequality at work

Alexandra Kalev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study shows that the organization of work, particularly the structure of jobs, can sustain or erode gender and racial disadvantage. Restructuring work around team work and weaker job boundaries can improve women's and minorities' visibility and reduce stereotyping and thus should reduce their career disadvantage. Proponents of bureaucratic formalization argue, in contrast, that relaxing formal job definitions and emphasizing social relations at work will deepen ascriptive disadvantage. The reorganization of work in corporate America over the last two decades provides a test case. Using unique data on the life histories of more than 800 organizations, the author examines whether alleviating job segregation leads to better career outcomes for women and minorities. This study finds that when employers adopt popular team and training programs that increase cross-functional collaboration, ascriptive inequality declines. Similar programs that do not transcend job boundaries do not lead to such increases. The results point to different effects at the intersection of gender and race.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1591-1643
Number of pages53
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


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