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Stigma in the workplace: Testing a framework for the effects of demographic and perceived differences in organizations

Gregory T Gifford, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The manifestation of stigma in the workplace hinders the ability of organizations to adapt given an increasingly diverse workforce. Stigma refers to the process of assigning negative attributions to another person based upon explicit or implied personal characteristics (Goffman, 1963). Stigma occurs between individuals, groups, cultures and societies where individuals and groups seek to manipulate power structure and resources. ^ This study drew upon the extant literature to develop a typology of stigma experienced in the workplace. Based upon Herek’s (2009a) typology of sexual stigma, three types of workplace stigma were proposed. Enacted stigma refers to stigma expressed through overt behaviors towards a target, through policies that promote stigma and/or lack of policies to protect targets. Felt stigma refers to situations where an individual is aware that others hold negative feelings towards an attribute of the target, but those negative feelings do not necessarily affect the target negatively. Internalized stigma refers to situations where an individual is not only aware of stigma, but also accepts the legitimacy of negative attributions of himself or herself because of the stigma. ^ The Workplace Stigma Questionnaire was developed to measure and confirm the typology of workplace stigma. The initial 60 items were analyzed through a six step development process resulting in the final instrument which includes 18 items across 5 subscales and which produced reliabilities between α=.53 and α=.94. Factor analysis indicated that stigma existed on five distinct factors—functional, acknowledged, interpersonal enacted, organizational enacted, and internalized. ^ Individual outcomes of state self-esteem, state hope, leader-member exchange and organizational commitment were tested with stigma as moderated by a series of demographic variables. Results indicated that organizations whose employees experience increased levels of enacted stigma, organizational enacted stigma and internalized stigma resulted in employees with decreased levels of commitment, decreased confidence to pursue professional goals, lower levels of feelings of worth and lower quality relationships with supervisors. Practical implications and future directions for research are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Business Administration, Management|Sociology, Organizational

Recommended Citation

Gifford, Gregory T, "Stigma in the workplace: Testing a framework for the effects of demographic and perceived differences in organizations" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3355220.