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Perceptual Bases of Inequality in Organizations
Despite growing workforce diversity, organizational attention, and social pressure (e.g, #MeToo), inequalities along axes of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and ability remain a persistent challenge for most modern workplaces. Recent research has suggested that one key way these inequalities are perpetuated is through misperception, in which individuals fail to see, choose to ignore, misconstrue, or build narratives around them. However, though this work documents the importance of individuals' subjective understandings of inequality, how those understandings are formed--and thus how they might be altered--remains largely unclear. In the proposed symposium, we address this open question: We present a collection of novel empirical papers examining how the way people perceive aspects of organizational life (specifically, opportunity for upward mobility, meritocratic processes, relationships with other groups, and conflict) directly shapes their tolerance for and perpetuation of various types of inequality. Drawing from both experimental and field data and focusing on a range of different types of inequality (e.g., socioeconomic, racial) at work, these studies highlight that individuals’ perceptions about inequality are (1) potentially malleable, (2) critical vehicles through which today’s nuanced, relationally-enforced inequality is sustained, and (3) must be taken as seriously as the outcomes they foster.