March 5, 1999
Contact: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
(513) 556-1826 (O)


Cincinnati -- Members of minority groups tend to be on the margins of the informal, friendship network at work. But, relative to majority group members, they also tend to have more extensive network links among themselves, according to research by a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of management.

The study led by Ajay Mehra, assistant professor of management at the University of Cincinnati who is finishing up his doctorate at Penn State, attempted to explain why this is the case. "Although minorities are entering organizations in unprecedented numbers, they remain underrepresented in the upper echelons of management," said Mehra. "An often-cited explanation for this is that minority group members tend to be relegated to the margins of informal networks in organizations, such as the friendship network."

Informal networks are important for success in organizations because they provide access to a host of valuable resources, such as career-related advice and social support, he added.

Mehra is lead author of the paper, "At the Margins: A Distinctiveness Approach to the Social Identity and Social Networks of Underrepresented Groups," published in the Academy Of Management Journal. His co-authors are Martin Kilduff, associate professor of management, and Daniel J. Brass, professor of organizational behavior, both at Penn State's Smeal College of Business Administration.

The study sample consisted of 159 second-year MBA candidates, 139 of whom were white and the rest, members of racial minorities. These managers-in-training made network choices in a campus setting that imposed relatively few constraints on interaction characteristic of formal organizations.

"Our research indicates that the marginalization of racial minorities in the friendship network results from both exclusionary pressures and from minority individuals' own preferences for same-race friends," said Kilduff. "Interestingly, although minority group members were marginal in terms of the whole friendship network, they had extensive links among themselves."

"By forming cohesive groups on the margins of social networks, minority group members may enjoy a sense of solidarity while preserving autonomy of action," Mehra said. "Thus, on issues of concern to racial minorities, the members of this group may have been free to act as a cohesive unit, relatively unconstrained by ties to those in the majority."

Overall, the tendency of minority group members to form tightly-knit clusters at the margins of informal social networks may provide insight into the unique challenges and opportunities they face in contemporary organizations, according to Kilduff.


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