Men and Women of the Corporation

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By Rosabeth Moss Kanter

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In this landmark work on corporate power, especially as it relates to women, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the distinguished Harvard management thinker and consultant, shows how the careers and self-images of the managers, professionals, and executives, and also those of the secretaries, wives of managers, and women looking for a way up, are determined by the distribution of power and powerlessness within the corporation. This new edition of her award-winning book has a major new afterward in which the author reviews and analyzes how attitudes and practices within the corporate power structure have changed in the 1990s.


For B.A.S.

I have never been good at revisiting the past. In my house, scrapbooks remain unfilled, and photos lie haphazardly in drawers. Moving on to the next project and the next challenge has always seemed more important to me.
Thus, I have moved on since I wrote Men and Women of the Corporation, leaving it to others to elaborate the propositions and color in the sketches of the corporation that I outlined. My work with "Industrial Supply Corporation," the pseudonymous subject of the book, led to the founding in 1977 of Goodmeasure, Inc., a Cambridge consulting firm, in order to handle projects for IBM, General Motors, the Royal Bank of Canada, Bell South, and Digital Equipment, among many others. What I learned from those activities led me out of the human resource field into more general organizational and strategic analysis, focused on innovation, corporate entrepreneurship, and cultural transformation. These interests led on to projects for a wide range of European and U.S. companies and books such as The Change Masters (1983), When Giants Learn to Dance (1989), and a co-authored collection, The Challenge of Organizational Change (1992). A foray into public sector applications and presidential politics led to Creating the Future with Michael S. Dukakis in 1988; my contribution was analysis of the public policies that helped innovative companies create jobs. In 1986 I moved from Yale to a chaired professorship at the Harvard Business School, where my current research involves international collaboration—cross-border networks, joint ventures, strategic alliances, supplier-customer partnerships—the cutting edge of business development as the scope of business globalizes.
In each of these efforts I learned much from the leaders I had the privilege to assist. In the global economy, we are all both teachers and students.
Meanwhile, books permit ideas to live long after the author has discarded her notes and forgotten her own inspirations. So, for example, the ideas in the chapter on Numbers in Men and Women of the Corporation found their own extension in a cartoon videotape, A Tale of "O": On Being Different, which was produced by Goodmeasure, Inc. "Powerlessness corrupts," the centerpiece of the Power chapter, became a bumper sticker. Other ideas were taught on college campuses and used in corporate seminars.
American intellectuals like to believe we can uncover universal truths, but in reality we are also writing works of history, bound to particular times and places. Men and Women of the Corporation contains many timeless lessons, I like to think. The theory seems to hold up well in numerous research studies that have tested it. The ideas, though based on an American corporation, have traveled well to companies in Europe and Asia. And there is a new generation of men and women for whom the ideas in the book are still fresh.
But the people and the company I wrote about have aged and changed greatly since 1977. Indeed, the degree of change in the business world over the past fifteen years seems to have constituted a "paradigm shift" as dramatic as that which occurred almost a century ago when the modern corporation first began to take shape. Thus, I decided to add to this book a new chapter that would explore the changing context for corporations and careers—the new roles for men and women in the business world and the new ways in which opportunity, power, and numbers manifest themselves for today's work force. Corporations have opened their borders, broadened their horizons, and loosened their structures, often as a result of their inability to remain competitive without fundamental reshaping of their assumptions and their cultures.
The new chapter brings the saga of "Industrial Supply Corporation" up to date. It shows how careers have changed in response to change. It identifies the new workplace issues affecting the fate of men and women today. And it sets forth a human resource agenda for the 1990s, appropriate for government as well as business.
I hope that this new edition will serve readers in many ways. I hope it will give people insight into the forces shaping and constraining their careers. I want it to help people know what to do to help themselves in a more uncertain world. I also intend it as a guide for corporate managers—those responsible directly for people and those who set policy. I want managers to see the role played by structural and cultural factors in the success of individuals. And I hope to give them the tools for useful action.
The number of acknowledgments I owe has grown to encompass many people who have shared their experiences and their wisdom about corporate life and careers, too many to list by name. I have been blessed with many associates who have worked for me in long-term relationships through the years and remained in touch when their career paths led to other places.
Former Yale and Harvard students, as well as Goodmeasure alumni, have been the sources of wonderful project collaborations, especially Joe Zolner, Martha Miller, Bob Gandossy, Meg Wheatley, Katherine Esty, Toby Seggerman, Bill Fonvielle, Paul Myers, and Lisa Richardson. Allan Cohen, now Academic Vice President at Babson College, always contributed to my work and my thinking, as did Richard Hackman, a colleague at both Yale and Harvard. Chuck Khuen and Jeff Hermann have helped Barry Stein and me bring A Tale of "O" to new corporate generations. Wendy D'Ambrose has done a stellar job of managing numerous projects for me for nearly eight years, with the able assistance for the past six years of Marta Grace; Wendy's customer relationship sensibilities are superb. Diane Artick has served, cheerfully and efficiently, for many years, and Tiffan Rosenfeld has performed valuable services. Paul Loranger has been a pleasure to work with for the last twelve years, since we first got to know each other on the roads between Cambridge and New Haven.
Willa Reiser has ably served as my prime "communications manager" at my Harvard Business School office for the last five years; I am so grateful for her warmth and caring. My current Harvard Research associates, Kalman Applbaum and Pamela Yatsko, have produced great international cases and also assisted me with background statistical research for this new edition. Nancy Hexter, Rena Blumberg, Phyllis and Eli Segal, Joyce Cohen, and many other close friends gave their support unfailingly. Thank you, all of you.
Throughout these years, Barry Stein has remained the best of colleagues, the best of spouses, and the best of friends. And in 1979, we had the great good fortune to produce Matthew Moss Kanter Stein. Matt, now fourteen, has been one of my best travel companions and computer tutors—and a source of constant, unflagging joy.
Cambridge, Mass., May 1993

This book has a circuitous history. I had first set out to write a rather theoretical account of how consciousness and behavior are formed by positions in organizations, in order to show how both men and women are the products of their circumstances—if not mechanically "manufactured" by their jobs, then at least limited by them. Having been heavily involved in projects to create dramatically new organizational forms, I wanted to show that structural change is a necessity if the human problems of modern bureaucracies are to be solved. Problems and solutions do not lie in the hands of individuals alone. This perspective, I thought, would also give organizational decision makers and policy planners a handle for understanding the human dilemmas of particular ways of organizing work so that they would have some guidance for making improvements in the quality of work life and organizational effectiveness.
At the same time, I was also motivated by my involvement in the women's movement to seek understanding of the fate of women as well as men in organizations. I was disappointed by a reductionist thrust in one intellectual wing of the movement which often fell back on "women are different" arguments. In one version, it was deemed important that women reach more organizational and political leadership posts because society would thereby be humanized. This concerned me, because my evolving theory held that as long as organizations remained the same, merely replacing men with women would not alone make a difference. I needed to offer alternatives.
Meanwhile, I had begun my acquaintance with the company I have called Industrial Supply Corporation (Indsco) a few years earlier, in the course of several research and action projects for which I was an outside consultant. The projects all involved issues where I felt the data and conclusions would benefit Indsco's workers. But these inside glances at life in the large corporation were also interesting enough to register in me the notion that "someday" I might like to write an ethnography of a corporation. I continued to collect data on Indsco, and to work on projects for other large organizations, without making the connection between my far-off future idea and my current activities, and I built a network of contacts at Indsco and elsewhere without any idea that I would be using the information given me as the subject of a book (even though Indsco staff encouraged me to publish the results of specific pieces of research).
Then the two streams came together. My observations at Indsco made the theory come alive. I saw there people behaving in just the ways the evolving theory would predict. New extensions and concepts were emerging out of the experiences of Indsco's men and women, as they relayed them in formal interviews and informal conversations. That future ethnography of a corporation could be written now It would combine theory with rich descriptive material interesting to anyone who wanted to see life in the large corporate bureaucracy from the inside. It would use my data to build concepts that could guide practical change strategies for the benefit of Indsco and its people. When this decision was made, my use of available opportunities became more systematic Consequently, I want to thank all the men and women of Indsco with whom I had contact through the years for sharing their experiences. I hope the final product justifies the use I made of our meetings.


There are several important thinkers whose writings can be considered the intellectual ancestors of this book. First, C. Wright Mills wrote, just after World War II, what is still the best American account of the history and content of white-collar work, and his investigations and criticisms of managerial elites served as a reminder that politics was being conducted behind the doors of supposedly "rational," impersonal, and universalistic corporations. While other sociologists of his time were constructing ever more abstract conceptions of social systems, he continually returned attention to concrete individuals and the content of particular roles. And, as a radical, he refused to take the current system as a "given" or as the most naturally efficient. Everett C. Hughes considered the relations of "men and their work," especially the informal features connected with pursuit of an occupation, such as the nature of a colleague group or the meaning of being "different" from others in one's line of work, issues I take up in Chapter 8. Robert K. Merton's incisive comments about the effects of social structure (bureaucratic roles, mobility prospects) on "personality" variables (occupational outlook, group identification) showed that functional analyses of social systems could include, and in some cases even subsume, individual psychology as an explanation for behavior. Georg Simmel, though of another continent and generation, represented for me a reminder that forms and numbers give rise to distinctive modes of interaction. Chris Argyris' notions of the interplay between personality and organization structure have been an important source of insights. And two recent books have been especially influential: Michel Crozier's The Bureaucratic Phenomenon and James Thompson's Organizations in Action. Both consider the interlinking between formal, technical aspects of organizations and informal, personal aspects; I note my debts to them often in the text.
Although this book lies within such intellectual traditions in social science, it also owes a debt to debates within feminism. Most discussions of women's work behavior have been either highly macroscopic (considering global variables such as general rates of work force participation by time period and social class) or very microscopic (focusing on issues such as the psychology of women and the dispositions implanted by nature or by socialization). Participation in many feminist conferences helped lead me to a third, intermediate level analysis, one that I think has a great deal more potential for building theory, explaining observed behavior, and making change. Undeniably, macroscopic societal patterns and individual psychologies interact in influencing behavior, but the nature of the institutions that serve as intervening links still needs to be made clear. My examination of how forms of work organization, and the conceptions of roles and distributions of people within them, shape behavioral outcomes leaves very few verifiable "sex differences" in behavior that are not better explained by roles and situations—and thus able to account for men's behavior, too. There is a system of relations in place in modern organizations in which many features are interlocked and mutually reinforcing. The only effective long-term changes will be those that address the nature of such systems, that break into a number of vicious cycles, which I describe in detail particularly in Chapters 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8.


There were a number of agencies and individuals who helped me in the translation from ideas to book. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation provided a fellowship year, spent at Harvard Law School, which enabled me to complete the manuscript; I am especially grateful for the Guggenheim Fellowship. A contract with the Division of Public Administration and Finance of the United Nations (research project on improving personnel systems in the public sector) enabled me to work on the first version of the ideas in Chapter 10. The Center for Research on Women in Higher Education and the Professions at Wellesley College, under the direction of Carolyn Elliott, provided some support for the completion of a paper that became Chapter 8, as well as a seminar of very helpful colleagues.
Many anonymous Indsco people gave generously of their time and insight. Zick Rubin provided detailed comments on some of the chapters and continual good cheer and encouragement, as well as the benefit of his own considerable background and knowledge of the literature. Arlene Daniels rescued me, in her own inimitable way, during a low period between drafts. Allan Cohen offered many incisive observations on an entire early draft. Diane Fassel contributed field work on all-women's organizations, reported in Appendix II. Margaret Torrey kindly supplied data from a survey of headmasters' wives, referred to in the notes for Chapter 5.
I also want to thank the following colleagues and friends for reactions to bits and pieces of the book as it emerged in various forms, and as I presented it at meetings in various stages, although I did not always take their advice: Chris Argyris, Louis B. Barnes, Wendy Barnes, David Bradford, Lee Bolman, Nancy Chodorow, Rose Coser, Margaret Cussler, Susan Eckstein, Roslyn Feldberg, Gordon Fellman, William Form, Linda Frank, William Gamson, Oscar Grusky, Jeanne Guillemin, Robert Guillemin, Marcia Guttentag, Joanna Hiss, Joan Huber, Judith Long Laws, Sara Lightfoot, Judith Lorber, Phyllis Marx, Marcia Millman, Marcy Muminghan, Jerome Neu, Albert J. Reiss, Jr., Kristine Rosenthal, Carol Rubin, Janice Sanfacon, Alice Sargent, Carol Schreiber, Otis Stephens, Carol Tavris, Shelley Taylor, Barrie Thome, and William Torbert.
Portions of this book appeared in embryonic form in a number of my articles: "Women and the Structure of Organizations: Explorations in Theory and Behavior," Sociological Inquiry, 45 (1975): pp. 34—74 and Another Voice, M. Millman and R. M. Kanter, eds. (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1975); "The Impact of Hierarchical Arrangements on the Work Behavior of Women and Men," presented at the 1975 Meetings of the American Sociological Association and published in Social Problems, 23 (1976): pp. 415-30; "Policy Comment VI," presented at the Conference on Occupational Segregation of the American Economic Association, 1975, Signs, 1 (1976): pp. 282—91, and Women in the Workplace, M. Blaxall and B. Reagan, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976); "Women and Organizations: Sex Roles and Group Dynamics," Beyond Sex Roles, A. Sargent, ed. (St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1976); "Interpreting the Results of a Social Experiment," Science, 192 (14 May 1976): pp. 662—63; "Organizational Structure and Occupational Role Definition," presented at a plenary session of the section on organizations and occupations, American Sociological Association, 1976; and "Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life: Skewed Sex Ratios and Responses to Token Women," American Journal of Sociology, 82 (1977).
This book would never have been finished on time if it were not for the typing help of Wanda Koetz, Gwen Whately, Lorraine Gorfinkle, and Carolyn Wadhams' excellent staff at Report Production Associates, especially Susan Memno. I am also extremely grateful to Erwin Glikes of Basic Books and Harper & Row—a "water walker" if I ever saw one—who took time out from his own executive tasks to work with me, very helpfully, on the book. I appreciate Carol Vance's and Julie DeWitt's help too. And my husband, Barry Stein, was, as usual, the best of colleagues along with everything else: a fountain of creative suggestions, new insights, and esoteric references buried in second-hand books.
Cambridge, Mass., June 1976

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.
—Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments.
—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
The shift in the structure and character of work has created a demand that work produce more than purely economic benefits. To make a living is no longer enough. Work also has to make a life.
—Peter Drucker, Management
The most distinguished advocate and the most distinguished critic of modern capitalism were in agreement on one essential point: the job makes the person. Adam Smith and Karl Marx both recognized the extent to which people's attitudes and behaviors take shape out of the experiences they have in their work.
If jobs "create" people, then the corporation is the quintessential contemporary people-producer. It employs a large proportion of the labor force, and its practices often serve as models for the organization of other systems. How people-production happens in all large bureaucracies, but especially in one manufacturing firm, is the subject of this book. The case of the organization I have named Industrial Supply Corporation (Indsco) provides the context for illuminating the ways in which organization structure forms people's sense of themselves and of their possibilities.
Indsco is a good place to visit, not only because it is among the biggest and most powerful of the multinationals that dominate American industry but also because it is socially conscious. In the past decade, Indsco has taken an active look at its employment practices in an attempt to benefit workers and live up to the self-chosen designation of "people-conscious organization." Thus, the human problems that remain in a place like Indsco illustrate irresolvable dilemmas of the large hierarchical organization as a social form—and not the difficulties of a backward corporation. Indsco is anything but backward, and it is anything but unaware that social responsibility may be the business issue of the future.
There is a need for studies that take a close look inside one organization. Large corporations are often formidable and mysterious to people outside them, like giants that populate the earth but can only be seen through their shadows. Yet informed participation in civic culture requires knowing more about how corporations operate or what people in them do than is contained in stereotypes of ambitious organization men or insensitive bureaucrats. Corporations are often equally mysterious to the people inside, whose views can be limited and parochial because they rarely get a sense of the whole. With the interest of villagers who have never seen the rest of the world, insiders often ask an outsider who has just traveled to another part of the organization, "Is it all like it is in my little corner? Is it the same other places?" Insiders, too, need the larger view in order to manage their situations, to understand the forces acting on them, to see options, and to consider alternatives.
My focus is on the people who work in offices, who run the administrative apparatus of the large organization. They consist of two major groups. First are the managers, professionals, and technical personnel who make up what Norman Birnbaum called the "new middle class," those who are "workers in all but name and consciousness" and whose "very careers entail not only acceptance of hierarchy but factual complicity in its maintenance, in the actual exercise of power." 1 At the very top of this group are the corporate executives Birnbaum termed the "new elite," who have effective control of the collective property represented in the corporation, along with privileged access to stock ownership. Far below in status and class position but contiguous in office space are the corps of paper-handlers, record-keepers, and data-manipulators—the clerical and service personnel who make up "an army of those skilled in one or another organizational technique, or in more specific techniques placed at the service of organizations. They are subordinate, even if the possibility of ascent is open." 2 In both of these organizational classes, my concern is with individuals and their work experiences rather than with the conflict between classes or the operation of interest groups. With the possible exception of those at the very top, who receive only passing mention in this study, groups in the white-collar ranks tend not to act as organized, official power blocs.
The stage is set in Chapters 1 and 2. I first consider the development of the white-collar administrative classes with the growth of large corporations and present statistics on the distribution of men and women among managerial and clerical jobs. The ideologies and theories that legitimated the position and defined the characteristics of managers and clericals are described. Chapter 2 is a tour through Indsco: its offices and people, ranks and grades, history and culture, activities and rewards. Here the people of the corporation begin to speak for themselves, as they do through the rest of the book.
The next chapters consider the dilemmas and choices inherent in three roles, and how images develop that further constrain the people in them. Each role shapes the person in it by confronting him or her with characteristic dilemmas and constricting the range of options for response. For managers, the critical issue is why social conformity is such an important part of being a manager, and the forces that lead management to become a closed, exclusionary circle. These forces are located in the uncertainties of legitimacy, evaluation, communication, and loyalty inherent in a manager's place in the organization. For secretaries, the critical problems stem from a patrimonial relationship with bosses that represents one of the final outposts of the personal inside the bureaucratic. The role pressures on secretaries encourage them to become timid, emotional, parochial, praise-addicted, and wedded to a single boss. Around wives the question that must be asked is whether or not they should even be considered part of the system. But then, this very question creates the first dilemma corporate wives-of-managers face in their "careers": inclusion/exclusion. Other dilemmas are created for wives as their husbands' careers unfold.
Managers, secretaries, and wives all must choose a stance that solves the problems created by their position in the network of organizational relationships, but the roles come to serve organizational functions that make change difficult. We also see that "masculine" or "feminine" images embedded in the roles are inherent neither in the nature of the tasks themselves nor in the characteristics of men and women; instead, they are developed in response to the problems incumbents face in trying to live their organizational lives so as to maximize legitimacy or recognition or freedom.
The third part of the book looks at how people respond to their position in a structure of opportunity (Chapter 6), power (Chapter 7), or relative numbers (Chapter 8). In these chapters I develop the elements of an integrated theory of behavior in organizations. Regardless of specific role, people have more or less opportunity for advancement, growth, and challenge, as we see in Chapter 7. Indeed, the hierarchy at a place like Indsco makes most people feel that "success" must be equated with vertical mobility, so people who become stuck or hit early dead ends are especially disadvantaged. Engagement with work (how much ambition, how much commitment), ways of seeking social recognition, and amount of risk-taking are all bound up with opportunity. Those low in opportunity are unlikely to develop the motivation to improve their situation and, therefore, a downward cycle of deprivation is set in motion. Thus, questions about great discrepancies in opportunity must be raised, since there appear to be costs both to the success-striving of those high in opportunity and the disengagement of the disadvantaged.
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On Sale
Aug 4, 2008
Page Count
416 pages
Basic Books

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

About the Author

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is an influential and well-known professor at Harvard Business School (holding the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship), specializing in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. She is also chair and director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, a Harvard-wide innovation she co-founded in 2008, to build a growing international model that helps successful leaders at the top of their fields apply their skills to national and global challenges and build a new leadership force for the world.

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