The social psychology of tokenism: Status and homophily processes on wall street

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79 Scopus citations


While conscious action may produce some inequality, most discrimination occurs through cognitive processes that are automatic and unconscious. I examine the role of two cognitive mechanisms that affect gender inequality in the securities industry: homophily preferences and status expectations. I argue that homophily preferences and status expectations are the general cognitive processes that produce the effects of "tokenism," which were originally identified by Kanter for female tokens. These processes also lead to differences in the experiences of male and female tokens. I use qualitative data on 76 Wall Street professionals to illustrate how homophily and status processes maintain and reproduce stratification in securities firms. Moreover, the compensation system in this industry, which rewards employees based on performance evaluations, aggravates the effects of these cognitive processes. Strong mentors, the possession of specialized skills, and objective performance indicators seem to mitigate these effects for a minority of women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-214
Number of pages26
JournalSociological Perspectives
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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