What is it about?

This study explores the underlying mechanisms that drive low-intensity workplace mistreatment within stigmatized groups by investigating the crabs in the barrel syndrome (CBS)—a metaphor used to describe the mentality and behaviors of socially identical individuals who become barriers to career success for fellow ingroup members.

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Why is it important?

This study challenges traditional theoretical assumptions regarding perceived similarity among organizational members, which suggests individuals with stigmatized identities would support one another’s attempts at achievement and advancement. This study makes novel contributions by exploring multiple facets of social identity, societal factors, and organizational context in examining why members of stigmatized groups sometimes experience incivility, conflict, or competition from similar others. This study advances diversity and inclusion research by exploring an integrative framework that investigates the associated behaviors, structural influences and outcomes of CBS in hopes of providing deeper meaning to the experiences of members of underrepresented groups in organizational research. This research encourages scholars and organizational leaders to continue to focus on advancing diversity and inclusion efforts aimed at removing the structural barriers that continue to exist for women and minorities.


Writing this article was a labor of love and pain. The most challenging aspects of conducting this research was carefully crafting a story and narrative that didn’t mischaracterize the participants’ stories and experiences. I aimed to provide balance so that the reader could understand the behaviors and observations of the participants’ experience with the crabs in a barrel syndrome, understand the implications, and more importantly understand the context (i.e. the barrel) driving some competitive and conflictual interactions in the workplace. While the paper essentially explores "bad behavior" it also highlights the positive outcomes when employees feel represented, supported, and mentored by similar others and valued by their organizations.

Carliss Miller
Sam Houston State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Exploring the Crabs in the Barrel Syndrome in Organizations, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, May 2019, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/1548051819849009.
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