Gender, Race, and Experiences of Workplace Incivility in Public Organizations

AuthorDeneen M. Hatmaker,Amy E. Smith,Shahidul Hassan,Leisha DeHart-Davis,Nicole Humphrey
Date01 December 2021
Published date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(4) 674 –699
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20927760
Gender, Race, and
Experiences of Workplace
Incivility in Public
Amy E. Smith1, Shahidul Hassan2,
Deneen M. Hatmaker3, Leisha DeHart-Davis4,
and Nicole Humphrey5
Workplace incivility can have deleterious effects on individuals and organizations
such as decreased job satisfaction and commitment, employee turnover, and
reductions in morale and performance. Moreover, these effects can be exacerbated
for women and employees of color. However, few studies have examined
predictors of incivility in public sector organizations. This study explores how
public employees’ incivility experiences vary across social categories, specifically
by gender and race. Data were collected with a survey from all employees of four
local governments in North Carolina. The results of hierarchical linear modeling
show that women experience more incivility than men, and that men and women
of color experience fewer incidences of incivility than White men and women.
We also find that race moderates the relationship between gender and workplace
incivility. Specifically, women of color experience more incivility than men of color,
but less incivility than White women. Finally, women are more likely than men to
experience incivility in departments where women constitute the majority of the
workforce. Implications of these results for human resource management in public
organizations are discussed.
1University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
2The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA
3University of Connecticut, Hartford, USA
4The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
5The University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA
Corresponding Author:
Amy E. Smith, McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey
Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125, USA.
927760ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20927760Review of Public Personnel AdministrationSmith et al.
Smith et al. 675
workplace incivility, gender, race, hierarchical linear modeling
Anti-discrimination laws in the United States have reduced incidences of overt harass-
ment and discrimination in the workplace, but prejudices persist often in subtle ways.
One type of misbehavior not governed by law but common nonetheless is workplace
incivility. It is defined as “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to
harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors
are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others”
(Andersson & Pearson, 1999, p. 457).
Workplace incivility is more subtle than other forms of misbehavior, such as bul-
lying or harassment, because its intent is ambiguous (Hershcovis, 2011; Neall &
Tuckey, 2014; Pearson et al., 2005). Vickers (2006) compares workplace incivility to
a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” (p. 69). As incivility is more subtle, mundane, and “under
the radar,” it offers individuals a way to mistreat others that can be dismissed as stem-
ming from ignorance (Cortina et al., 2017; Cunningham et al., 2014). Moreover,
when women and people of color disproportionately experience workplace incivility,
it can be considered a subtle form of “modern discrimination,” in contrast to the more
overt forms of harassment and discrimination prohibited by law, social norms, and
workplace policies (Cortina, 2008; Cortina et al., 2013; Gabriel et al., 2018;
Marchiondo et al., 2018).
Workplace incivility can have serious negative consequences for individual
employees and the organization. At the individual level, employees may experience
reduced job performance, satisfaction and commitment, engage in work withdrawal
behaviors, and be more likely to leave the organization entirely (Cortina et al., 2013;
Estes & Wang, 2008; Hershcovis & Barling, 2010; Pearson et al., 2000). Incivility can
also result in adverse psychological effects such as stress, anxiety, depression, burn-
out, or loss in self-esteem (Cortina, 2008; Estes & Wang, 2008). At the organizational
level, it can negatively affect organizational performance because employees may
reduce work efforts, be less likely to work collaboratively, avoid extra-role behaviors,
or simply exit the organization (Cortina, 2008; Estes & Wang, 2008). When it affects
women and employees of color specifically, workplace incivility can place them on
the margins of everyday work life, further disadvantaging historically marginalized
groups (Cortina et al., 2013). For public organizations in particular, any workplace
behavior that marginalizes women and employees of color makes it difficult to pursue
values of social equity and fairness that are cornerstones for public service (Gooden,
2014). As such experiences have adverse effects on employee morale, the effects of
incivility between public sector employees may spill over and negatively influence
their interactions with the public and the quality of services rendered (Vickers, 2006).
Incivility has received very limited attention in public administration (PA) research,
despite the significance of the topic and Vickers’ (2006) call for PA scholars to con-
sider it. Although other disciplines, such as management (e.g., Porath & Pearson,

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