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Communications & Organizational leadership (gender and organizational communication)

The purpose of this section is to review the studies that have previously been done on communication and gender within an organization. The main focus is on small organizations with 20 employees or less where one gender is predominant(and especially women) and its impact to communication in the firm. Studies which reveal the effects of gender equity in organizations will also be reviewed. Though few studies have been conducted in this area-most have been done on large organizations with male predominance-a few studies have been found to be relevant.
In most of these few studies, gender diversity is been found be beneficial to organizations .These benefits has been linked with functional communication, increased sales revenue, more customers and greater relative profits (Herring, 2009). Furthermore, additional research on workplace diversity has referenced not only gender, but also race, age, disabilities, religion, job title, physical appearance, sexual orientation, nationality, multiculturalism competency, training, experience and personal habits (Herring, 2009). However, for this thesis the goal of the literature review is to focus on gender inequities and diversity.
To start with, the review examines Deetz communication theory that explores the ways of ensuring organizational health while increasing the representation of diverse human interests. An analysis of how theorists have come up with the to definition gender and gender communications (this is key to analyzing and understanding the research data of studies in this area) will also be done. Finally the review will examine diversity studies applicable to gender diversity.
Theoretical Foundation
The theoretical foundation for the study is rooted in Deetz’s (1982) Critical Theory of Communication Approach to Organizations. In his theory, Deetz examines the nature of the organization. He then shows the significance of communication practices in an organization and finally the effect of communication distortion within an organization.
Deetz shows a changing nature of organizations from being just businesses to economic and political institutions. His study that focused on large organization enabled him to come up such a conclusion. Deetz focuses on large, , “multinational corporations such as GM, AT&T, IBM, AOL, Time-Warner, Disney, and Microsoft” (Griffin, 2006, p. 301) based on the notion that they are dominant forces in society, which enable companies to have great power over society as well as the lives of individuals (a power that superseded the importance of employees’ families).
In examining the significance of communication practices in an organization, Griffin (2006) notes that Deetz sought to “examine communication practices in organizations that undermine full representation in decision making, thus reducing the quality, innovation, and fairness of company policy” (p. 302). He employs advances in communication theory to point out how communication practices within a firm can distort decision making.
Deetz’s analysis begins by questioning Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s “view that communication is the transmission of information” (Griffin, 2006, p. 302). Deetz’s work steps away from the information model of messages, and moves towards the communication model that considers language as the medium through which organizational social reality is created and recreated (pp. 302 – 303). He conveys that “language does not represent things that already exist […] language is part of the production of the thing that we treat as being self-evident and natural within the society” (p. 303). Furthermore, “humanists like I.A. Richards have long pointed out that meanings are in people and not in words” (p. 303). However, Griffin (2006) notes that herein Deetz raises the question “Whose meanings are in people?” as he challenges the point that organizations create more than just products and services, but they also create “meaning” (p.303).Deetz’s approach to communication is that it is an ongoing social construct of meanings and he believes the “issue of power runs through all language and communication” (pp. 303 -304).
Griffin (2006) writes that “Managerialism promotes worker consent through a process Deetz calls systematically distorted communication” which is a type of control that operates without employee awareness (p. 307). When systematically distorted communication is present in the organizational environment, expectations and norms within a group are restricted to a point where openness of thoughts and expressions is hampered. Deetz signifies that employees “deceive themselves because they believe they are interacting freely, while in reality only certain options are available” (p. 307). Moreover, systematically distorted communication requires a process Deetz calls discursive closure, which is a suppression of potential conflict (Griffin, 2006).
Gender: Theorists’ Insight into Meaning
Much of the research and written material for this study brings to light that in the area of interpretive communication studies, gender is not the same as sex (i.e. the biological aspect). According to Mumby (1996) the definition of gender involves social or organizational and cultural perspectives. It is a major aspect of definition in an organization process. It is a crucial part in communication and not an addition. Gender or communications theorists like Wood, would say “each of us is a gendered being”. In order to understand assumptions and engage in communication studies that employ Deetz’s question “whose meanings are in people” (Griffin, 2006, 9.303), we must understand the meaning of gender, as well as our own experiences about gendered lives. ). Wood(2007) writes that gender is learned by individuals, but constructed by culture, thus the whole system of social meanings that create gender are developed and imposed by society, which varies over time and locale.In addition, culture “refers to structures and practices, particularly communicative ones, through which a society announces and sustains its values (p. 41). Finally she notes that communication as a “dynamic, systemic process in which meanings are created and reflected in human interaction with symbols” (p. 41). Most importantly for this study is the note Wood (2007) makes about understanding “what gender means and how meanings of gender change, we must explore cultural values and the institutions and activities through which those are expressed and promoted” (p. 41).
Gender matters because “gender is the primary aspect of most individual’s identity that matters throughout our lives” (Allen, 2001, p.43). People are not born with gender, but they learn and develop their gender within their environment and throughout their lives according to Allen (2011),; Ashcraft & Mumby (2004).
Allen (2001) notes that Wood points out contemporary U.S. society’s theme of feminine concepts to be; the physical appearance that still counts. A female can be differentiated from a male depending on how they dress and their natural physique. Females are characterized as being gentle, sensitive and caring. They should accept negative treatment from without having to pay back and be a superwoman in that they are able to live independently or their of dependence on others should be limited.
On other side the masculine qualities are; to avoid being feminine, be successful in line with the accepted standards and definitions of success by being aggressive in approaching matters. Males are also classified as being sexual and self reliant. However Ellen(2001) notes that these that views of femininity and masculinity are slowly changing by moving away from functional and physical perspectives and basing them on way of thinking and emphasizing on approach to issues. These changes have been stirred up by the gradual turn of events and growth of the homo sexual community whose practice is slowly being accepted in to the society. These changes have also in a part been influenced by the communication system that exists in a society.
In addition, Ellen in her study focuses on Woods perspective to communication during childhood between boys and girls and their parents and peers and how the verbal and nonverbal communication processes at that stage affect their (the young boys and girls) communication styles as adults in organizational environments and in life in general. Communication theorist, Dr. Debra Tannen, researched and published books, papers and studies on communication studies between men and women, referred to as Genderlect Styles: gender and communication (Griffin, 2006). Tannen’s research reveals distinct identifiers of “speech communities typical of men and women” and also discovered that the origins of adult communication, as found by other theorists, are rooted in adolescent communication with parents and peers (Wood, 2007, p. 70; Griffin 2006).
Tannen’s discovered identifiers of speech in women as being a primary way to establish and maintain relationships-talk is the essence of relationships. It also shows equality in using verbal and non-verbal means. It supports others by expressing understanding and sympathy. It tends to be conversational by maintaining a conversation with verbal and/or nonverbal cues prompting others to speak or elaborate. Women’s conversation is also responsive since they naturally respond to what others say to reflect a caring attitude towards others. Their style is personal and concrete. They are usually detailed, gives personal disclosures, anecdotes and concrete reasoning. A woman’s conversation shows tentativeness, it is considered powerless or weak allowing others to challenge with their own opinions(Ellen, 2001)
Men’s speech has a way of controlling by establishing their status, demonstrating knowledge, skill or ability. It is instrumental in that it aims at solving a problem or getting information or suggesting solutions. Men’s conversations shows some degree of dominance, is absolute and assertive as compared to women’s conversation. They are abstract e.g. their conclusions tend to be general while the underlying experience is concrete. It is not usually highly responsive
From Tannen’s and Wood’s research, some light is shed on the fact that women can communicate well together than men. It therefore implies that a small company with a customer service oriented environment (also with the majority of customers being female), relationships with co-workers and customers can be more easily maintained, perhaps lending to the thought that a single gendered environment within a small organization may be more successful than a mixed gendered environment.
However, in order to challenge organizational communication and grow diversity in the work environment (applying/testing Deetz’s critical theory) we must challenge notions of normative behavior, communication and thought on and about gender in that particular environment.
Research reveals that some public relations companies come closest to fitting the profile that matches the organization that this study is researching, (i.e. a number of women working at various levels of the company with less than 20 employees).Two studies by Froelish and Peters(2007) and Peters and Froelish (2006) focus on women in public relations. They researched and analyzed PR agencies and public relations firms in Germany and their reports were as follows;
The highest female majority in public relations can be found in public relations agencies     (69%), followed closely by independent public relations consultants (63%), associations       (49%), corporations (41%) and government (38%). (Froehlich and Peters, 2007, p. 230)
From the above figures a conclusion can be drawn that there is a growing trend towards women in public relations as a “feminization trend” in this communication field that also correlates closely with findings found in firms in the United States (Froehlich & Peters, 2007; Peters & Froelich, 2006). In addition, Froehlich and Peters (2007) discovered that in PR agencies, females hold 59 percent of top positions. Although they do note that across the public relations world overall, women are still under-represented.
Further, the study in its basic conception followed earlier “qualitative US studies (e.g. Hon, 1995; Wrigley, 2002) on the factors of influencing the careers of female PR practitioners” (Peters & Froelich, 2006, p. 10). Their report offers new evidence, building on previous research of gender studies, of the significance of gender stereotypes which comes from the social conception of women and of “different organizational contexts in understanding of the complex and most subtle discriminations against women in PR” (Peters & Froelich, 2006, p. 3), both of which have not yet been subjects of adequate empirical research. This social stereotyping dictates the extent to which women can go in terms of leadership and achievements. The perception is therefore taken to then organizational context thus affecting women’s performance at workplace.
The methodology was chosen based on the explorative character of the study. Qualitative methods were used in the form of interviews with thirteen female PR experts to explain their own point of view on “women’s situation in PR in general” and to discuss their own careers and experiences (Peters & Froelich, 2006, p. 10). It is important to note that they only interviewed female PR practitioners in PR agencies based on three points:

the organizational context’s crucial importance in general, (2) the extraordinarily high female majority in PR agencies (69% women in Germany) and (3) the previous lack of research on women in PR agencies (Peters & Froelich, 2006, p. 10).

The analysis of the study incorporated empirical and theoretical tools to aid in revealing similarities and differences among themes reflected across the interviews. Marshall’s (1993) working theoretical model about male and female forms in organizational communication as well as Mumby’s (1998) discussion of the construction of masculinity(s)” (p. 278) are some of the tools to be used.
An important discovery in Peters and Froelich’s (2006) study makes note of the “size of organization” and “organizational culture” as having an impact on the communication dynamic. For example, it is possible that very small organizations, like agencies particularly, create a better bond and co-operation between employees and leaders. In addition, in organizational culture they found that smaller agencies maintained a more “family-like” environment that enabled the organization and its people to push beyond the “official norms” and roles of gender and such that are found in larger companies and environments (Froehlich & Peters, 2007; Peters & Froelich, 2006).
All 13 women interviewed described “women’s exceptional communication skills” as the key factor in justifying the female majority in PR. In addition, it is noted that women have the ideal/specific skills that are considered qualities for public relations. Further findings conveyed that “men lack crucial sensitivity and empathy towards maintaining relationships with client, journalists, target groups; women, in contrast, are ‘naturally suited’ […] for service-oriented professions” (p.11). For example, an interviewee is quoted:
Women are chattier, women are more communicative, and women can talk better. […] Women are more communicative; they often talk before they think (laughs) – or faster. And this really is a good thing in this job (Peters & Froelich, 2006, p. 12).
However, interviewees revealed that women who display chattiness and/or sensitivity are considered trivial or even unprofessional at times (Froehlich & Peters, 2007; Peters & Froelich, 2006). This implies that the same positively valued “female characteristics” are recognized as negative when it comes to women’s competence in management in the same PR environment. Findings revealed that as women moved up the hierarchical ladder within the organization, they displayed more technically masculine behavior such as the aforementioned male traits (Froehlich & Peters, 2007; Peters & Froelich, 2006).
Findings in Peters and Froelich, (2006) contribute new data “to the roles of ‘new’ gender stereotypes and characteristics of the organizational context as factors influencing women’s careers […] and perpetuating the problem of discrimination against them”. (p. 11). The key findings in the study reveal that women “actively participate in the reproduction of masculinity(s) through a set of practices” that are learned over time in male-dominated organizational environments (Forbes, 2002, 286 – 287). For example, one of the women interviewed described her socialization experiences in organizational culture as growing up with male managers. She explains that she has “grown up in a man’s world” and regards herself as “one of the guys” because they showed her the ropes of the business through their process (p. 279).
Another study takes a closer look at the abovementioned: Forbes (2002) explores the area of organizational communication that investigates “the explicit examination and scrutiny of the pervasiveness of masculinity as behavioral form and a communicative choice in women’s lives in organizations” (p. 269). Forbes (2002) argues that masculinity needs to be included in gender studies that highlight women’s experiences in organizational settings, which is the significance of her analysis. The method for the study was qualitative, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with five women residing in Jamaica who were of African descent. The study also included a table that outlines the interviewees’ background information (p. 276).
It is important to note that Forbes (2002) writes that the sample for the study with five women is small, but her research was initiated to provoke other studies in this area.
Diversity: Gender Research
With the latter literature in mind, additional findings on diversity research and theories reflect a common perspective: A diverse workforce, in comparison to a homogeneous one, is typically beneficial for business, including but not limited to organizational communication and financial success. Page (2007) suggests that groups comprising of a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity constructs better outcomes over homogeneity, because progress and innovation depend less on solitary thinkers with high intelligence than on diverse groups working together and capitalizing on their individuality.
Additional research shows that the best group decisions and predictions are those that draw on group members’ differing qualities. For example, Bunderson and Sutcliffe (2002) show that teams comprised of individuals with a breadth of experiences are capable of overcoming communication barriers. Furthermore, group members can relate to one another’s functions while still realizing the performance benefits of diverse functional experiences. Williams and O’Reilly (1998) and DiTomaso and colleagues (2007) coincide, arguing that diversity increases the opportunity for creativity and the quality of the product of team work.
Utilizing data from the 1996 to 1997 National Organizations Survey, a national sample of for-profit business organizations, Herring tested several hypotheses derived from the value-in-diversity thesis (2009). He derived that gender diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers and greater relative profits.
In order to develop hypotheses, Herring assumes that businesses presume that if they employ diversity, then they anticipate a return on investment (Hubbard, 2004). This assists him in deriving some straightforward expectations and developed hypotheses to test. Some of these and which of relevance to the study are:
Hypothesis: As gender workforce diversity increases, a business organization’s sales revenues will increase.
Hypothesis: As gender workforce diversity increases, a business organization’s number of customers will increase.
Hypothesis: As gender workforce diversity increases, a business organization’s market share will increase.
Hypothesis: As gender workforce diversity increases, a business organization’s profits relative to its competitors will increase. (Herring, 2009, pp. 212-213).
            Herring (2009) with the value-in-diversity perspective argues that a workforce with mixed genders, relative to a homogeneous one, produces better business results. This confirms the outcome of his findings, that diversity is good for business because it offers a return on investment: profits and earnings.
Contrasting Research
In contrast, in research conducted by Staples and Zhao (2006) diversity was found to be counter productive. This view and other studies like it, emphasize that diversity introduces conflict and other problems that detract from an organization’s efficacy and profitability. In short, this analysis suggests that diversity encumbers group functioning and affects communication and company profits.
In a recent review of virtual team research, Powell et al. (2004) suggested that diversity may be less apparent in virtual teams, potentially reducing the process losses caused by cultural diversity. Furthermore, Carte and Chidambaram (2004) researched how different types of diversity affect team functioning, proposed how different types of electronic communication can affect the impact of diversity and proposed how time changes the effects. Therefore, Staples and Zhao’s (2006) findings support Carte and Chidambaram’s (2004) theory that “reductive capabilities in collaborative technologies” can decrease the salience of surface-level diversity. Early implementation of this into a diverse team is beneficial, as it allows a team identity to form and diminishes the tendency of diverse teams (Staples & Zhao, 2006) to break into unproductive subgroups.
In addition, a paradoxical view suggests that higher diversity is associated with increased group conflict, but better business performance. This is possible because diverse groups are more prone to conflict. However, conflict forces teams to go beyond the easy solutions common in like-minded groups (Kochan, Bezrukova, Ely, Jackson, Joshi, Jehn, Leonard, Levine, & Thomas, 2003). Diversity leads others to challenge different ideas, to more creativity and to enhanced solutions to problems. In contrast, lack of diversity could lead to greater team cohesion but less adaptability and innovation.
Conclusion of Literature Review
In conclusion to the review of the literature, it is important to again note that most research studies were conducted on companies experiencing gender inequities where men were the majority and women were the minority. However, qualitative studies on public relations firms within the last decade have revealed some insights that can assist with the research for this study that will focus on an organizational environment dominantly comprised of women. Further, research on the PR companies will offer methodology to follow and apply to the research process for this thesis paper. In addition, some samples and studies were gathered from larger organizations with larger number of employees. This paper will focus on a smaller organization with a small number of employees.
Research Questions
The research will take a closer look at gender communication in a small organization (Powder Blue Productions). By doing so the study employs Deetz’s critical theory and other organizational studies that have utilized his theory in their research, as noted in the literature review.
The two angles this study will explore are those that present-day theory and/or research have not (or they are extremely limited). First, this study looks at small organization with 20 or less employees and second, the organization where research is being conducted is staffed with mostly females (and only two males). Furthermore, in a qualitative study, will examine interpersonal communication amongst the staff and the effects on the work culture and conduct semi-structured, one-on-one interviews in an attempt to add to and/or develop new findings in gender communication in the organizational environment.
The research questions to be examined include:
RQ1: What are the views of employees in Power Blue Productions about the organizational health in small organizations as far as gender equity concerned?
RQ2: In the small organization, with a lack of a male presence, do selected managers demonstrate masculine or typical male gendered communication traits?
RQ3: Does discursive closure and systematically distorted communication develop or exist in a small company (Powder Blue Productions) comprised of mostly women?

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