ArticlePDF Available
ISSN 1536-9323
Journal of the Association for Information Systems (2019) 20(11), 247-265
doi: 10.17705/1jais.00491
EDITORIAL
1
The Personal in the Policy Cascade
Susan J. Winter1, Carol Saunders2
1University of Maryland, College Park, USA, sjwinter@umd.edu
2University of South Florida, USA, csaunder@ucf.edu
Abstract
Policy change can cascade down from law and regulation, but Giddens’ structuration theory argues
that it can also flow upward from everyday action. We all have the power to take immediate action
in our professional lives to create the policies we want. We use the example of gender equality to
show the daily choices that you as an IS academic can make that strengthen or change existing
policies. You can enhance the voices of members of other undervalued groups, reduce inequities in
access to resources and positions of power, and create and enforce rules, regulations, and codes that
encourage more equitable outcomes. Policy influences action, but action equally influences policy.
Your everyday actions either reinforce existing policies and structures or undermine and change
them. We should make these choices mindfully, with an understanding of the power we are wielding,
the values we are enacting, and the society we are creating.
Keywords: Structuration Theory, Policy, Gender, Equity
John L King was the accepting senior editor. This research article was submitted on March 23, 2019 and underwent
two revisions.
1 The Policy Cascade
We work in organizations and live in a society in which
individuals do not think everything is as it should be.
Policy to change things can cascade down from law
and regulation but these are just one kind of influence.
A policy cascade for a given topic is not inevitable, and
there is no need to wait for the cascade to begin. Policy
is an organizational issue, part of planning, strategic or
otherwise. Policy can be seen as values put into action.
IT policy, informed by information systems (IS)
research, can be designed to improve organizational
efficiency and effectiveness in topics as diverse as
outsourcing, “bring your own device” strategies, and
collaboration tool selection. Policy relevant to IS is not
confined to the CIO or corporate boardrooms. The
pursuit of short-term profit is not the only IS value. IS
academics face policy choices every day, and choices
express values and strengthen and change existing
policies, or sometimes create new ones. IS academics
should make these policy choices mindfully, with an
understanding of the values that are being enacted.
The personal is important. It can help organizations
(and even society) “get ready” for what will come—
for what is “right. This paper uses the example of
gender equality to explain this. This cascade begins
with social movements, some of which have
influenced law and regulation, and some of which have
not. By using the personal to help get the organization
ready for the coming cascade, the information systems
academic puts expertise to use. Social change can
include policy change but may take longer than many
imagine. An early start would be wise.
2 The Personal
Although there are antidiscrimination laws, women are
consistently undervalued and marginalized in society
The Personal in the Policy Cascade
2
and in the ivied walls of academiabastions of
embedded gender structuring since their early roots in
European monasteries. Faculty positions typically
reflect men’s life circumstances, not women’s (Bird,
2011). The tenure clock often ticks when women are in
their childbearing years and decisions about women’s
task assignments, promotion, and tenure are often
made by men who may not necessarily be aware of
women’s life circumstances and the ways that these
challenge their advancement. The impacts on women’s
careers are significant. Compared to men, women are
less likely to have their work cited (Maliniak, Powers
& Walter, 2013; Peñas & Willett, 2006); they are less
likely to be invited to give talks or to be included in
panels (e.g. Flaherty, 2014; Jaschik, 2016); their
student ratings are lower (e.g., Boring, Ottoboni, &
Stark, 2017; MacNell, Driscoll, & Hunt, 2015;
Mengel, Sauermann & Zölitz, 2017; Wagner, Rieger &
Voorvelt, 2016); they are less likely to be assigned to
work that contributes to their promotability (Bagues et
al., 2017; Misra et al., 2011); they are less likely to
attain tenure or promotion (Bagues, Sylos-Labini &
Zinovyeva, 2017; Guarino & Borden, 2016; Misra,
Lundquist & Templer, 2012; Misra, Lundquist,
Holmes, & Agiovritis, 2011); for the relatively small
percentage of women who are promoted to full
professor, it takes them longer (Misra et al., 2011;
O’Meara et al., 2018); and, in the case of IS professors,
they are less likely to be named AIS Fellows.
This pattern is not unique to academic organizations.
Kanter (1977) recognizes the presence of gender
identity in models of organizations when she describes
a “masculine ethic” that underpins the image of
managers. This “masculine ethic” is one of rationality
and reason devoid of personal, emotional
considerations when involved in problem solving and
decision-making. Kanter states, “While organizations
were being defined as sex-neutral machines, masculine
principles were dominating their authority structures”
(1977, pg. 46). Kanter views gender as external to the
structure (Acker, 1990), but Acker (1990, pg. 146)
argues that gender is embedded in organizations such
that “advantage and disadvantage, exploitation and
control, action and emotion, meaning and identity, are
patterned through and in terms of a distinction
between. . .masculine and feminine.” Gender, for
Acker, is deeply embedded in organizational processes
and, consequently, organizations are not gender
neutral.
Organizations are situated within their societies.
Risman (2004) views gender as a structure deeply
embedded in society and notes that Giddens’s (1984)
structuration theory contributes to analyzing gender as
a social structure in which there is a recursive
1
It is worth noting that many of the choices discussed here
could also be used to combat other forms of inequity such as
relationship between social structure and individuals.
Gender identity is formed and shaped by very early
social interactions (Acker, 2012). For example, parents
use more emotion words and discuss emotions (other
than anger) more often with their daughters than with
their sons; mothers discuss feelings more with their
daughters, whereas they go into more detail about the
causes and consequences of emotions with their sons;
girls develop language facility earlier than boys and
they are more adept at expressing their feelings;
further, girls tend to play in small intimate groups in
which hostility is minimized and collaboration is
maximized whereas boys tend to play more
competitive games in larger groups (Goleman, 1995).
Gender identity is also formed and shaped by
interactions among men and women in work practices
(Acker, 2012). Society tends to view employees as
accepting of hierarchy, the ideal worker as masculine,
and organizations as gender neutral. Some of the
earliest large organizations were armies and
monasteries, organizations populated almost
exclusively by men and reliant on well-defined
hierarchies. Men held all the decision-making
positions in these organizations. Today’s
organizations’ views of the ideal worker are rooted in
the gendered views deriving from early male-
dominated organizations. The ideal worker is
unencumbered and has no obligations outside of work
(Acker, 2012). The ideal worker reflects a masculine
gender identity that is competitive and emotionally
detached (Bird, 1996).
There is gender inequality. The research convinces us
of this. We emphasize the importance of being
grounded in the facts at the beginning of any policy
consideration. As IS academics who have accepted that
there is gender inequality, we face three questions:
Why? Does the current state reflect my values? If not,
what policy effect can you and I have on the issue at
hand through our recurring practices? Our answers
take direction from Giddens’ structuration theory as
we focus on salient features of gender equality
1
that IS
academics can influence in the organizations they
work in, do research in, or consult for.
3 An Intellectual Model
Policy can cascade down from governmental laws and
regulations to organizational policies, and from there
down to individual compliance or resistance, but this
is just one direction of influence. Giddens’
structuration theory presents a more complete view of
the social cycle connecting agents and structures
within social systems (Possebon & Pinsonneault,
2005).
discrimination on the basis of race, age, country of origin, or
religion.
Journal of the Association for Information Systems
3
Structuration theory attempts to reconcile the tension
between individual agents who can take action (like IS
academics) and structural constraints that are hard to
change (like academia as instantiated by universities,
professional organizations like AIS, conferences, and
journals). It posits that shared knowledge creates
expectations that influence actors’ behaviors and
suggests that these behaviors then reinforce existing
expectations, if they are consistent with them, or
weaken them, if they are inconsistent. Expectations
arise from behavior patterns and then influence future
behavior patternsa feature termed the duality of
structure (Giddens, 1984).
But what can you, as a mindful IS academic who
values equal treatment and inclusivity, do about any of
this? A lot!—and you don’t even need to change
federal laws to have an influence. Structuration theory
points out that structure rests on shared knowledge,
expectations, and assumptions. You can consciously
choose to weaken the existing structure and strengthen
an alternative structure by changing your actions.
Giddens describes three self-reinforcing pillars:
signification (meaning), domination (power), and
legitimation (norms). Individual actions can influence
each of them.
4 Signification and Communication
Signification denotes the encoding of meaning by
existing interpretive schemes during communication.
Being undervalued and marginalized, women’s
communications are often interpreted as unimportant,
but there are a number of policy activities that you can
perform that will enhance the voices of women in
academia, normalize their place in academia, and show
that they are valued. Some are activities that you, along
with others, can perform repeatedly to slowly help
modify structure, such as:
Using amplification to change the way that
women’s voices are heard and the meaning
attached to their communications. This is a
strategy employed by Obama’s women staffers
to overcome manteruptions and
bropropriations
2
(Hatch, 2016). You can
mindfully repeat the comments of other women
and give credit to them.
Publicly and repeatedly attributing the
success of women to their capabilities.
Women differentially suffer from doubts and
low self-esteem and often do not attribute
success to their own skills or competence. When
complimented on doing something well, they
tend to say that their success is due to external
2
Time magazine defines manterrupting as the “unnecessary
interruption of a woman by a man” and bropropriating as
factors, such as luck or help from others
(Sandberg, 2015). Further, when performing
tasks typically performed by men, if there is any
ambiguity about a woman’s contribution to the
joint task, the woman’s contribution is generally
downplayed (Ceci & Williams, 2011). You can
consciously acknowledge the contribution of
women to team efforts.
Mindfully citing research by women. It has
been shown that the research of women is cited
less than that of men (Maliniak et al., 2013;
Peñas & Willett, 2006). Although women do
publish less than men (especially earlier in their
careers), women also do not cite their own work
as much as men do and are less likely to be in
citation groups that systematically cite one
another’s work (Maliniak et al., 2013). When
there are multiple references that could be used
to support a point, you could choose to include
those that were written by women.
Implementing Owen Barder’s pledge
3
: “At a
public conference I won’t serve on a panel of
two people or more unless there is at least one
woman on the panel, not including the Chair.”
You can urge your organizations to ensure that
there is at least one woman (other than the chair
or moderator) on panels at their conferences.
AIS’s special interest group on the Adoption
and Diffusion of Information Technology has
adopted this pledge for their workshops.
Recently the NIH director did the same by
vowing not to serve on what have been termed
“manels” (Bernstein, 2019).
Additional actions that you can take involve urging
collectives to promote changes in institutions (i.e.,
universities and academic associations) and more
radically altering structures with embedded gender.
For example, you can urge your department to do
identity-blind doctoral program admissions (like we do
double-blind reviewing), making knowledge of the
applicant’s gender less influential.
5 Domination and Power
Domination is where power is applied, particularly in
the form of the control of persons (authoritative power)
or resources (allocative power). Gender has been
embedded in organizations both through differential
access to resources and, structurally, through the
underrepresentation of women in positions of power.
Sharing information to help overcome
inequitable allocative power. Often allocative
power is preserved through secrecy, but you can
“taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it (Bennet,
2015).
3
http://www.owen.org/pledge
The Personal in the Policy Cascade
4
enhance equality by sharing information about
performance ratings, workloads, and resources
allocated such as salaries, graduate students
assigned, and travel money provided. Several
major Canadian universities recently examined
their employee data and, upon discovering that
their female faculty had been consistently
undercompensated, allocated equity increases
(Loriggio, 2016). One of the authors of this
paper won a gender discrimination case against
a major oil company after two of her many
colleagues shared salary information with her;
this resulted in a salary adjustment for all
women in the unit. Those of her colleagues who
were unwilling to share their salary information
might have felt that they would be seen as losers
or whiners (Acker, 2000)
Authoritative power can be used to enhance equity by
addressing workload inequities that result in women
having less time to do their research (Misra et al.,
2012) and, consequently, contribute to lower
promotion and tenure rates for women (Guarino &
Borden, 2016) as well as slower promotion to full
professor (O’Meara et al., 2018). The inequity in
workloads is the result of many decisions over time.
Assigning high visibility jobs to address
workload equities. You can choose women to
serve in jobs with high visibility and high
impact. Women are more likely to be asked to
do tasks associated with low promotability (i.e.,
those that are time-consuming, detailed, and
that do not improve their visibility or lead to
better jobs) and are more likely to accept these
requests (Babcock, Recalde, & Vesterlund,
2017). Studies repeatedly find that women are
given more of these institutional
housekeeping tasks (e.g., Misra et al., 2011)
and fewer high-visibility tasks that provide
critical career experiences (Pace, 2018). A
simple intervention would be to implement in
your organization a shared rotation of time-
intensive, less promotable, but necessary tasks,
as well as a rotation of the more preferred ones.
More systematic change can be accomplished when
departments implement a coherent program of
interventions that might include a workshop on
implicit bias in faculty workload assignments,
collecting and sharing transparent annual faculty
workload data (a “dashboard”), using the dashboard to
identify equity issues, developing a Department Equity
Action Plan, etc. These interventions have been used
successfully to increase the perceived transparency and
equity of workload assignment activities and
assignments and to change the choice architecture for
faculty workload allocation assignments (O’Meara et
al., 2018).
Other policies could be especially helpful in enabling
women faculty to devote more time to research within
the context of their life experiences. Just as
workplaces make accommodations for members of the
military reserve in the US who are called up for duty,
they could provide paid parental leave for childbirth,
reduced teaching/service requirements for faculty
during intensive child or elder care-giving periods,
affordable university-based childcare or elder care,
retooling support after parental leaves, and the ability
to move between full-time and part-time status at
various stages during the tenure-line career (Bird,
2011; Ceci & Williams, 2011; Misra et al., 2012;). To
be successful, it is argued that such policies must move
beyond mere training and lip service to recognize that
systemic barriers need to be destroyed and that these
new policies can only be maintained with the
continued support and active participation of key
administrators (Bird, 2011).
In addition to addressing the workload issue, we can
work individually or collectively to encourage our
universities and associations to reduce their reliance on
biased performance indicators that negatively affect
women’s career progression. Collectively, we can
attack the gendered structure of academia in several
ways:
With big data, we can now analyze student
ratings and correct for the bias against women.
We can stop using the h-index as a measure of
influence or insist that it can only be used once
it is corrected for demographic biases.
We can reduce the risk of sexual harassment,
which was recently estimated at 58% in the
academic workplace, by reducing isolation and
power imbalances (National Academies of
Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018).
Assigning more than one mentor to each
graduate student and to each junior faculty
member would provide options and support for
those with little power and may help curtail
abusive behaviors due to fear of exposure.
6 Legitimation
Legitimation consists of the normative perspectives
embedded as societal norms and values and enforced
through rules, regulations, and codes that sanction and
reward. Many of the actions previously discussed can
assist in changing these norms. In addition:
Promulgating codes of conduct. Increasingly,
conferences are requiring a code of conduct to
which all attendees must agree. These codes
promulgate a specific set of behavioral norms
intended to reduce harassment and encourage
respect (Baker, 2015). You can also discuss
these norms with your colleagues and students,
Journal of the Association for Information Systems
5
thereby setting expectations for a workplace
free from harassment.
Establishing norms about child care. Fathers
can perform their parental duties publicly so that
care of children is seen as something that both
men and women do. This means men taking
parental leave and discussing their childcare
responsibilities and constraints, something that
is now predominantly done by women. It also
means not punishing academics who take
parental leave. You can also recognize that
caregivers may not be able to join and
participate in social networks outside of work
that would provide them with valuable
information or attend late afternoon meetings
and research seminars (Bird, 2011).
Addressing the thorny norms of authorship.
Each of us can look at our research teams and
co-authorship networks, assess their degree of
diversity, and identify methods to increase it.
Working to make AIS Fellows more closely
reflect our membership. A lower number of
AIS Fellows are typically awarded to women
than men each year. While, commendably, the
AIS by-laws state that there must be a minimum
of one man and one woman on each AIS
committee, they also state that only current AIS
Fellows can serve on the nomination committee,
which reinforces the lopsided
underrepresentation of women (women make
up one third of the membership but receive one
quarter of the awards). Most AIS Fellow
Nominating Committee members are male.
They may be subject to homophily and,
consequently, may tend to select people like
themselves (e.g., Bagues et al., 2017). Further,
women do not tend to self-nominate or
nominate other women, thus women receive
fewer Fellow nominations. The AIS Women’s
Network (AISWN) has started to encourage its
members to nominate women for AIS honors.
You can join this effort.
In addition, our top journals could increase their
acceptance of papers and special issues on topics of
particular concern to women, a group that is known to
be more socially motivated and more oriented toward
helping others.
4
As a field, IS is not known for
research that focuses on improving the lives of people
who are marginalized, poor, or working class; on
strengthening government services and social
programs; or on increasing the effectiveness of
nonprofits. Engaging societal challenges such as social
and economic inequality, mass incarceration, climate
change, childhood poverty, sustainability, the opioid
epidemic, and mass migration could help ensure that
women’s concerns are reflected in IS research.
Emphasizing cooperation and stewardship over
competition and profits would realign the field away
from the traditional hierarchical masculine view of
organizations. Although some steps have been taken in
this direction, much more could be done. Indeed, in
writing this piece we received recommendations to
shift our focus from gender equity to more general
power differentials and to add research ethics as
another example, which would have thus diluted our
message.
7 The Personal as Actionable
As an IS academic, you can perform many of these
everyday actions immediately, although some can only
be done when you have seniority or are in a position of
power. You can enhance the voices of women and
members of other undervalued groups in academia.
You can reduce inequities in access to resources and in
positions of power. You can create and enforce rules,
regulations, and codes that encourage more equitable
outcomes and discourage inequities experienced by
undervalued groups. Mindfully taking these actions
will change expectations and stocks of knowledge,
which will change the structures of signification,
domination, and legitimation, resulting in a more
equitable system. These societal-level changes will
then shape new practice, new laws, and new
regulations that affect organizational policy and
influence future practice. In short, policy influences
action, but action equally influences policy. Your
everyday actions either reinforce existing policies and
structures or undermine and change them. We all have
the power to take immediate action in our professional
lives to create the policies and the society in which we
want to live and thrive.
4
A recent poll of likely voters found that women see gender
equality, income inequality, race relations, healthcare, and education as more important than do men
(http://www.genderwatch2018.org/what-women-want/).
The Personal in the Policy Cascade
6
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The Personal in the Policy Cascade
8
About the Authors
Carol Saunders is a professor emerita at the University of Central Florida. Carol has received the LEO award in the
information systems (IS) discipline and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the OCIS Division of the Academy of
Management. She also is an Association for Information Systems (AIS) Fellow and a Schoeller Senior Fellow. She
served on a number of editorial boards, including a three-year term as editor in chief of MIS Quarterly. She was the
general conference chair of ICIS 1999, program co-chair of AMCIS 2015, and AIS vice president of publications from
2016-2019. She helped found the Organization Communication and Information Systems (OCIS) division of the
Academy of Management and served as its program chair and division chair. She was the Distinguished Fulbright
Scholar at the Wirtschafts Universitaet Wien (WU) in Vienna, Austria and earlier held a Professional Fulbright with
the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute. She has held research chairs in Germany, New
Zealand, Singapore, and the Netherlands. Her research is published in top-ranked management, IS, computer science
and communication journals. She now serves on several editorial boards including Organization Science and Journal
of Strategic Information Systems.
Susan Winter is associate dean for Research and co-director of the Center for Advanced Study of Communities and
Information. Her research focuses on technology and the organization of work, especially the social and organizational
challenges of data reuse and collaboration among information workers and scientists acting within highly
institutionalized sociotechnical systems. Her work has been supported by the US National Science Foundation and by
the Institute of Museum and Library Services. She was previously a science advisor in the Directorate for Social
Behavioral and Economic Sciences, a program director, and acting deputy director of the Office of Cyberinfrastructure
at the National Science Foundation supporting distributed, interdisciplinary scientific collaboration for complex data-
driven and computational science. She received her PhD from the University of Arizona, her MA from the Claremont
Graduate University, and her BA from the University of California, Berkeley.
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