Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lois R - Gattaca

Feminine Organizational Communication

Gattaca had a very authoritarian style of management, which was evidenced when Irene was asked to leave her regular job duties and become the liaison for the police detectives who were carrying out their investigation. She resisted, wanting to remain a more integral part of the space program, but her supervisor became abrupt and stern in his demand. This shows the stereotypical male style of communication as discussed in Chapter 7, where men “treat conversation as a hierarchically-ordered space in which they can demonstrate and vie for status” (204). This is called ‘report talk’.

Where men are vying for status in an organization, women see the organizational structure as a less hierarchical network where they focus on connections, in what is called ‘rapport talk’.

There is expanding agreement among researchers that the traditional style of management which values command and control just doesn’t work as well in the complex and dynamic organizational systems of today.

Early research seemed to indicate that the feminine style of communication was not suitable for organizational life, especially management roles; but some scholars have shown how ‘women’s ways’ can be useful, for instance by maintaining networked relationships in a supportive style the whole organization can achieve a greater sense of flow through congeniality.

An organization like this would value messages of support (“That must be difficult for you”), reciprocity (“I felt frustrated when that happened to me too”), and connection (“Would you like to talk some more about it?”). This is contrasted with the stereotypical male style which is primarily solution-oriented advice that discourages emotional connection.

Our text references the research of Reuther and Fairhurst which speaks of the possibility of defining power “in a way that enhances, rather than diminishes, the power of everyone” (206). Many women have learned how to balance career with family life and they could perhaps share some valuable insights with men on that topic as well.

Our authors say that if this more feminine style were more openly valued in an organization the climate would be more supportive and co-workers, including managers, would value the quality of the relationships within the organization as well as the goal of productivity.

Organizations with a large customer-service component have trained their employees in supportive communication skills because it improves the productivity of their business. As a sales professional I have experienced company-sponsored trainings in communication skills which focus on validating the customer's views, speaking support messages such as “I can hear that this has been difficult for you” etc.

Corporations have instilled these ‘feminine’ listening skills because they are actually more productive. It takes less company time to validate and support the customer in one or two sentences since that customer will not lose his or her temper and take up more valuable company time. Furthermore, it usually only takes one or two brief supportive statements for a customer to then be open and ready to hear a suggestion. That customer will also be more likely to refer new business to the company. So when an organization sees that more feminine communication skills will improve the bottom line, employees are trained in these skills.

Work and the Disabled

The movie Gattaca showed the Invalids like Vincent who were genetic time-bombs but didn’t show anyone with obvious physical or psychological disabilities. In the scenes of the cleaning crews that Vincent worked with, everyone looked physically able. Gattaca did not show anyone in a wheelchair who had a job, for example. Jerome was in a wheelchair, but he still could have worked at a job. Gattaca seemed to imply that no one with obvious physical disabilities worked at all.

Even our textbook is visibly vacant of references on integrating the disabled into an organization. In Chapter 9 I found a reference to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines which mentions disability in part of the definition of harassment, “Slurs about sex, race, religion, ethnicity, or disabilities” (298), but that section doesn’t say anything further about disabilities; instead, the authors chose to follow this definition with a four page discussion on sexual harassment.

Chapter 9 also discusses ‘trait theory’ in which “physical attractiveness is a key component -- and an enduring one -- of effective leadership.” According to trait theory, the current physical ideal for a leader is a tall white male. Vincent had two of those characteristics and he underwent surgical extensions of his legs in Gattaca to meet the third component. The authors of our textbook do indicate this theory is underscored by “democratically dubious and clearly flawed social values” (275). What is missing from our text, however, is discussion on integrating those who do not meet the current ideal of physical attractiveness into organizational culture, or ways to go about viewing them as potential leaders.

Ideals of attractiveness for women are focused on sexual attractiveness. Women who are dressed modestly in conservative business attire do not meet this societal conception of ‘attractiveness’ so they are in a no-win scenario. If they try to meet our current societal ideal of female attractiveness, they will only receive sexual propositions, not invitations to participate in the leadership roles of an organization. Hillary Clinton is fighting this societal perception. She consistently dresses in modest business attire, and she has been attacked for not being ‘attractive’ enough.

As long as our society considers tall, white and male as the ideal physical appearance for leaders, then women, minorities, and others who do not meet this ideal may be barred from public leadership roles, or more substantively, may be barred from being taken seriously or even listened to in an organization. Chapter 5 of our text discusses “Socialization: Integrating New Members into Organizational Cultures” and it defines socialization as “learning the rules that guide what members of a culture think, do, and say” (146). This sounds like a one-way process of the newcomers conforming to established rules. Our textbook doesn’t speak at all about a process of accommodations for the special needs newcomers may have.

As I searched our textbook for a discussion of ways to go about challenging the dominant hegemony of tall white male leadership I discovered ‘extraorganizational networks’ in Chapter 8. Here the authors discuss how some marginalized groups such as African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, and religious groups such as Muslims are creating their own networks and providing mentors and support for one another in their quest for recognition in mainstream organizations. Our textbook mentions a gathering of African American members of corporate boards of directors, where the directors were reminded of their obligation to continue to bring up issues of diversity, inclusion, and empowerment at their board meetings (262). No mention was made in this section about disabled employees, but I imagine that this idea of extra organizational networks could be applied to the disabled, creating networks that provide support such as disabled mentors who are successful in mainstream companies.

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