Human Resource Professionals As Legal Intermediaries: Family Responsabilities Discrimination and the Transformation of Meaning Across Overlapping Organizational Field

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
88 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Robin Stryker, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Krista Frederico, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Researchers agree that human resource (HR) professionals constructed compliance with US law prohibiting race and gender discrimination in employment by formulating a “business case” motivation rooted in efficiency, productivity and profit.  They disagree on the implications of this finding for the impact of anti-discrimination law. This paper asks whether previously unexamined HR discourse of family responsibilities discrimination (FRD) constructs a similar business case for compliance, and with what implications for gender equality.  We find that in the two journals most widely read by HR professionals, business case rhetoric dominated discussion of FRD. When diversity, accommodation, or law compliance discursive frames motivated concern about employees with caregiving responsibilities, these motivations often were subordinated to the language of productivity and return on investment.  Most HR trade journal discussion is completely decoupled from gender discrimination law and all motivating frames save for diversity are discussed in strictly gender-neutral terms about half the time.  These patterns downplay the fact that women carry a heavier share of caregiving responsibilities and are disproportionately subject to caregiver stereotyping that contributes to adverse employment outcomes, including the gender wage gap and the wage gap between mothers and others.  However, both business case and gender-neutral language may promote business attitudes and policies encouraging more caregiving by men. To the extent that this is so, these discourses paradoxically could help reduce gender inequalities in the workplace, in spite of their decoupling from focus on remedying sex discrimination.