DOES THE DEGREE OF UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE AND
SOCIAL MASCULINITY INFLUENCE ORGANIZATIONAL
By Gabriela Paszkowska, Ph.D., MBA
Wrocáaw University of Technology, Poland
The influence of national cultures on management is one of the key issues for organization science
nowadays. In the 1950s and 60s, the dominant belief, at least in Europe and in the U.S., was that
management was universal. There were principles of sound management, which existed despite national
environments. During the 1970s, the belief in the unavoidable convergence of management practices
waned. It slowly became clear that national and even regional cultures do matter for management. In the
management of multinational, multicultural organizations these differences are becoming one of the most
Geert Hofstede (1980) in his research, that has already been considered classical, focused on value
differences as part of national cultures. He found that these could be classified along five dimensions that
are largely independent of each other. The first four were initially detected through a comparison of the
values of similar people (employee and managers) in 64 different national subsidiaries of IBM
Corporation. The underlying premise was that people working for the same multinational, but in different
countries, represent very well matched samples from the populations of their countries, similar in all
respects except nationality. These four dimensions are power distance, individualism, uncertainty
avoidance and masculinity. The fifth dimension called "Confucian Dynamism" was introduced in the
works of Chinese Culture Connection (1987) and then renamed by Hofstede as long-term versus short-
This paper will focus on two of the cultural dimensions: uncertainty avoidance and masculinity and will
try to trace the effect those variables might have on organizations.
Hofstede has defined uncertainty avoidance as the extent to which the members of a culture feel
threatened by uncertain or unknown situations. This feeling is, among other things, expressed through
nervous stress and in a need for predictability, a need for written and unwritten rules. Therefore,
uncertainty avoidance can also be defined as the degree to which people in a country prefer structured
over unstructured situations. The effect of strong uncertainty avoidance can be observed in politics and
social life as well as in organizations. Societies that show a high uncertainty avoidance score in Hofstede’s
research can be characterized by the following:
• The existence of many precise laws and rules
• If the rules cannot be respected, those who are supposed to follow them are to blame, thus citizens (or
those who have to follow rules) are always considered incompetent
• Citizens have negative attitude toward institutions, although they believe in experts and specialization
• Prevalent conservatism, nationalism, religious, political and ideological fundamentalism and
intolerance (what is different is dangerous).
• People who hold different convictions cannot be personal friends
People are less willing to take risk, both professionally and personally
As opposed to those, societies with low risk avoidance score can be characterized by:
• Few rules and laws that are fairly general
• Believe, that if rules cannot be respected they should be changed
• Generally positive view of social institutions
• Regionalism, internationalism, tolerance (what is different, is curious) and moderation
• Close personal friends can hold very different professional opinions
• More risk-taking
A national society with strong uncertainty avoidance can be called rigid, one with weak uncertainty
avoidance - flexible.
Numerous researchers have tested Hofstede’s results on various work populations. The analysis of the
replications (Sondergaard, 1994) showed that the differences predicted by Hofstede’s dimensions were
largely confirmed. Uncertainty avoidance was perhaps the most ambiguous of all dimensions. Some
authors try to explain their results that appeared not to confirm Hofstede’s findings, by the sensitivity of
this dimension to the timing of the survey. Lowe (1994) and Fidalgo (1993) argue that changes in stress
levels, compared to the time of Hofstede’s study, explain the higher uncertainty avoidance scores in Hong
Kong and lower scores in Portugal due, respectively, to political and other environmental instability.
According to Hofstede, Portugal was the second ranking country with a high uncertainty avoidance score
(104), while Hong Kong had the fourth lowest score (29).
Singh (1986) suggests that there is a direct relationship between decision making and attitude toward risk.
Ali (1993) made an attempt to empirically link decision-making style to individualism and attitude
towards risk in Arab countries. He found (among others) that the attitude towards risk correlates
significantly with the delegative, consultative and autocratic decision-making styles.
Risk taking is considered a vital foundation for achievement, entrepreneurship and economic progress. In
advanced industrial countries, managers often rely on hard data and input from experts and consultants in
making decisions. Due to limited access to information or for other reasons, managers in developing
nations, like Arab states, may rely on intuition. Ali (1993) discusses that Arabian executives typically rely
on market instincts mostly because of the instability of the economic environment and because of the
"trading mentality" (Arabs are traders by tradition). The tendency not to be cautious in making decisions
reflects a strong inner security that stems from religious beliefs. Furthermore, Arabs seem to display
contempt and discomfort with rules and procedures. Those characteristics would suggest that Arab
countries have a low uncertainty avoidance score. Nevertheless, Hofstede’s survey placed Arab countries
in the middle of uncertainty avoidance scale, just beside Austria and Germany, countries typically
considered as conservative and quite strongly avoiding risk. This astonishing outcome of Hofstede’s
survey could be explained in several ways. May be the dimension of uncertainty avoidance has been
defined too broadly and the risk aversion versus risk taking feature should be limited to business or
organizational settings, as opposed to personal life. The sample tested in Hofstede research consisted of
IBM employees only. While this was considered as a strength of this study (comparative results) it might
also be viewed as a weakness. The uncertainty avoidance of people who get employed by IBM may be
very different from the willingness to take risks by other social groups within the same national culture.
Ali (1993), in his research in Arab countries, has also found a significant correlation between
individualism and the attitude toward risk. This outcome, if supported by multicultural comparative
research (more countries tested), could abolish the premise of independence of Hofstede’s dimensions (in
this case uncertainty avoidance and individualism) and lead to a redefinition of cultural variables.
This dimension is defined by Hofstede as "a situation in which the dominant values in society are success,
money, and things" (Hofstede, 1980). It is the degree to which values like assertiveness, performance,
success and competition, which in nearly all societies are associated with the role of men, prevail over
values like the quality of life, maintaining warm personal relationships, service, care for the weak, and
solidarity, which in nearly all societies are more associated with the role of women.
Hofstede’s dimension of masculinity comprises two interrelated criteria:
1. dominant values (masculine or feminine)
2. division of roles between sexes in a society
Taking into account the first criterion, masculine societies are characterized by:
Material success and progress as the dominant motives
• Sympathy for the strong
• Stress on equity, competition and achievement
• Those in power are expected to be decisive and assertive
• Resolution of conflicts by fighting them out
• Live in order to work
According to the first criterion, feminine societies have the following features:
Caring for others and preservation as dominant values in society
• Sympathy for the weak
• Stress on equality, solidarity, and quality of work life
• Those in power use intuition and strive for consensus
• Resolution of conflicts by compromise and negotiation
• Work in order to live.
The second criterion implies that masculine societies are characterized by a strong gender role
differentiation, and therefore:
• Men are supposed to be assertive, ambitious and tough
• Women are expected to be tender and to take care of relationships
• In the family, fathers deal with facts and mothers with feelings
• Children are brought up differently depending on gender (girls cry, boys do not; boys should fight back
when attacked, girls shouldn’t fight)
• Boys and girls study different subjects
A feminine society would thus be characterized by a low role differentiation, and therefore:
• Everybody is supposed to be modest
• Both men and women are allowed to be tender and concerned with relationships
• In the family, both fathers and mothers deal with facts and feelings
• Both boys and girls are allowed to cry but neither should fight
There is no differentiation between study subjects appropriate for men or women.
According to Hofstede (1994) large gender role differentiation in a society implies that the dominant
values are masculine, and the society can be called tough to its people: it becomes a performance society.
In a masculine society even the women have fairly tough values, but not as much as the men. If in a
country the differences between women’s roles and men’s roles are relatively small, the dominant values
are more "feminine" and the society is more "tender" to its people: it becomes a welfare society. In a
feminine culture, even the men have fairly tender values. One consequence of the fact that in masculine
countries the values of men and women are more different that in feminine countries, is that women’s
values differ less across countries than men’s values.
Although this argumentation seems to be logically correct, there are examples of countries that would
have to be considered as feminine according to one criterion, while the other criterion would classify them
as masculine. Poland and some other Central European countries would probably have different scores in
each of the stated criteria. If social values are concerned, all countries in this region are feminine. This is a
result of communist governments, which ruled those countries for 50 years. Hofstede measured his
cultural dimensions only in Yugoslavia. The masculinity score was one of the lowest of all countries,
where he undertook his research. The communist governments created societies that were not very much
concerned with material success and personal achievement. Work was not considered as a major goal of
life and people were more concerned with relationships than with performance. Sympathy for the weak
and friendliness, rather then competitiveness dominated peoples’ relationships in workplace, school,
university and other social organizations. This situation has been changed now in the period of
transformation towards market economy. The Central European societies are developing more masculine
characteristics. The dimension of masculinity, as related to social values is thus highly influenced by the
dominant political-economic system. As far as the role differentiation is considered, the major factors
determining the masculinity score are religion, tradition and other social phenomena, however political
and economic factors have also an effect. In Poland, a traditionally catholic society, the role
differentiation between genders is strong, especially in social norms and habits, family life and bringing
up children. However the difficult economic situation of Polish families, as well as political ideas of
communist regime lowered the gender role differentiation in the workplace. Women were encouraged to
take jobs with no differentiation between "more feminine" or "more masculine" ones. The communist
ideology even promoted the image of a strong woman taking traditionally male positions (e.g. machinist ).
Nevertheless, the ideology was not widely adopted in Poland and the society remained masculine, as far
as role differentiation is considered. This argumentation would require experimental verification, but the
described features are so apparent, that it would probably be easy to verify it.
Different authors have studied the problems of role differentiation and masculinity in the social value
system. Agrell and Gustafson (1994) have noticed that Swedish work organizations seem to be moving
away from stressing feminine characteristics to stressing masculine characteristics. The authors discuss
reasons of such a shift in values. One of them might be the introduction of more competition between
people in work settings through the emphasis on individual competence as a means for the
competitiveness of the organization. Hofstede in his study (1980), has found a great resemblance between
Sweden and the UK. The two countries differed significantly by only one dimension, i.e. masculinity.
Sweden is the most feminine country, as ranked by Hofstede, while Great Britain is one of the most
masculine societies. Now, Sweden seems to be moving closer to the UK in terms of Hofstede’s
Satvir Singh (1994) has studied the differences between male and female executives’ personality
characteristics and work values in India. He has found that many significant differences exist. Compared
with the men, the women appeared to be more interested in making money, more involved in their work,
more enthusiastic, more socially bold, more opinionated, and somewhat more tense. Also the women
appeared to obtain more satisfaction from performing well at their jobs then men did. Compared with the
women, the men were more interested in seeking higher level jobs and a better standard of living, more
aware of social status, more emotionally stable, more assertive, more experimental, more socially precise,
and more autonomous. Also in comparison with the women, the men had a stronger preference to keep
active and busy on the job. The author concluded that these gender related differences are very similar to
those that have been identified in Western society. Nevertheless, India’s masculinity index (56) is
significantly lower then that of most western countries (62-79), while gender role differentiation is
traditionally greater than in western societies. The extent of role differentiation in many societies is
changing very rapidly nowadays. Therefore the results of Hofstede’s survey might be very different today,
then they were 15 years ago. The dimension of masculinity seems also to be sensitive to the measurement
DIMENSIONS OF ORGANIZATION STRUCTURE
Most authors in Organizational Theory recognize three major components of organizational structure
(Robbins, 1987) :
Complexity can be defined as the degree of differentiation that exists within an organization (Robbins,
1987). Horizontal differentiation considers the degree of separation between units of the same level.
Vertical differentiation refers to the depth of the organizational hierarchy, and is usually inversely related
to the span of control. Spatial differentiation encompasses the degree to which the location of an
organization’s facilities and personnel are dispersed geographically. Horizontal differentiation is usually
achieved by specialization. There are two ways of specialization. The first is division of labor, also called
functional specialization, in which jobs are broken down into simple and repetitive tasks. If individuals
are specialized, rather then their work, we have social specialization. Social specialization is achieved by
hiring professionals who hold skills that cannot be readily routinized.
Formalization refers to the degree to which jobs within the organization are standardized. If a job is highly
formalized, there are explicit job descriptions, lots of organizational rules, and clearly defined procedures.
Where formalization is low, employees’ behavior would be relatively nonprogrammed.
Centralization is defined by most theorists as the degree to which decision making is concentrated at a
single point in the organization.
According to the contingency theory, organizational structure, thus its three dimensions are determined by
four factors (contingency factors):
• organization size
Culture (national culture as opposed to corporate culture) is an element of the organization’s environment.
Therefore the dimensions of culture (as defined by Hofstede) should show a significant effect on the
variables of organizational structure. We will try to analyze the relationships between uncertainty
avoidance and structure, as well as masculinity and structure.
UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE AND STRUCTURE.
Strong uncertainty avoidance in a nation or society results in many precise rules and regulations that are
supposed to minimize the risk exposure of an individual in decision making. The same idea applies to
organizations. Individuals would demand (expect, be more comfortable with) precise rules and regulations
concerning different decisions to be made at each organization level. They would also expect the
organization to precisely describe procedures and policies concerning every aspect of organization’s life
and performance. The result would be a high degree of formalization.
Basing on the presented argumentation, we can formulate the first hypothesis:
H1: Strong uncertainty avoidance of a national culture results in high formalization of organization
This hypothesis is true almost by definition (definition of formalization). Nevertheless, experimental
support is necessary to verify H1.
As far as complexity is concerned, certain features of strongly risk-avoiding societies will probably result
in increasing organizational complexity. Societies that are risk averse believe in experts and
specialization. An advice given by an expert minimizes the risk of wrong decision. To become experts,
people have to specialize professionally. Thus, strong risk avoidance results in professional specialization.
H2: Strong uncertainty avoidance of a national culture results in high social specialization.
In a society characterized by a high Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) people feel comfortably knowing
exactly where they belong and what are they expected to do. It is not possible to describe precisely all
expectancies if the job definition is broad and covers many different tasks. Strongly risk averse employees
will feel safer and more comfortably with narrowly defined tasks, in other words, with high functional
specialization (division of labor).
H3: Strong uncertainty avoidance leads to high functional specialization.
The last hypothesis might appear to be controversial, if we compare the level of functional specialization
in Japan and USA. Japan has a very high UAI of 92 (7-th rank in Hofstede’s scale). USA scores low (UAI
of 46, which is the tenth lowest index of the 53 countries tested). The typical job description in Japan is
broad and there are no clear borders of each employee’s responsibility. In USA, job definition tends to be
narrower and there are usually clear borders of employee’s responsibility. These two examples seem to
contradict the stated hypothesis (H3). However it has to be noted that Japanese and US cultures differ by
more then one dimension. The important assumption underlying all stated hypotheses is "ceteris paribus" -
i.e. other thing being equal. It is possible to draw conclusions about the influence of one cultural variable
on one structural variable only if other variables are kept constant. Otherwise we are not able to find out
which variable (or interaction of variables) caused the observed outcome. This is probably the case with
Japan and USA. Both cultures differ significantly in terms of uncertainty avoidance, but they have also
different masculinity, different collectivism-individualism index, different power distance and even
different time orientation. In each of these dimensions Japan and USA are situated on opposite ends of
Hofstede’s scale. It might be argued that the difference in collectivism versus individualism could explain
the difference in functional specialization. May be the individualism of American society impacts
organizational structure stronger then weak uncertainty avoidance does. May be it is individualism that
should be kept responsible for precisely defined jobs and responsibilities strictly differentiated from other
employees. Analogically, collectivism might be the strongest cultural variable effecting organizational
structure in Japan. The belief in team spirit might reduce the impact of strong uncertainty avoidance. The
strong feeling of belongingness to a group might lower the fear of unknown and uncertain. Hofstede
considered motivation by belongingness as a typical manifestation of strong uncertainty avoidance. Even
this short analysis leads to the conclusion that the dimensions of individualism and uncertainty avoidance
are mutually interrelated. The same result was revealed by the study of Ali (1993).
Other possible explanation of the contradiction of USA-Japan case and the stated hypothesis could be that
typical organizational structure is a result of many factors, not only Hofstede’s variables. History, politics
and economics have certainly an impact on the structure prevailing in a country. Thus in the case of US
and Japan other factors could have moved both countries towards the structures observed today. The
impact of the uncertainty avoidance dimension becomes visible in the strive towards flexibility of jobs
definition and task interchangibility visible in US companies nowadays. Generalizing, uncertainty
avoidance of a national culture, in the presence of other strong factors shaping organizational structure,
might be expressed by individual preference of organization structure rather than the structure itself. This
hypothesis could be tested in countries that partially underwent the influence of a foreign culture or
different economic system, like Germany, Korea or Poland. The last country was divided among Russia,
Austria and Prussia in the 18-th century and remained under the authority and cultural influence of those
empires for a century. The cultural differences among those regions are still visible today, so it might be
interesting to trace the differences in predominant organizational structures in these regions.
The last organizational variable that needs to be related to the dimension of uncertainty avoidance is
centralization. Although centralization is probably under the strong influence of the culture’s dimension of
power distance, uncertainty avoidance might also impact this feature. Individuals in a society that fears
the unknown will most likely give up the authority, as well as the responsibility to avoid the risks
involved in decision-making. This tendency will be expressed in organization structure by pushing the
decision-making authority up the hierarchy, or at least, by not demanding employee empowerment. In
strong uncertainty avoiding cultures employees will feel comfortable with the power centralized in the
hands of high level management.
Another feature of highly risk avoiding cultures that reinforces centralization is the notion that what is
different is dangerous. Centralized organizations can much easier remain their identity (corporate culture)
and differentiate from the outside world. Decentralized organizations easily become heterogeneous and
cosmopolitan. It is also easier to enforce formalization and standardization of rules, procedures and
policies throughout a centralized structure.
H4: Strong uncertainty avoidance leads to the centralization of organization structures.
MASCULINITY AND STRUCTURE
Masculinity, understood as strong gender role differentiation, does not effect organization structure
directly. It does effect however the diversity of organizations by gender. There are not many countries
nowadays where significantly less women than men are professionally active. The lack of gender diversity
will probably be most visible among managers. As discussed by many authors, male managers have
different personalities, work values and different management styles than female managers (Singh, 1994).
As a result, organizations led by male managers probably have different characteristics then organizations
led by gender-diverse management teams. According to Hofstede (1994), the values of man differ more
across cultures than the values of women. In cultures classified as feminine, male managers have more
characteristics traditionally considered as feminine. In masculine cultures the differences between the
values of man and women are greater, while male managers are more assertive and decisive. Therefore, a
conclusion can be drawn that the proportion of numbers of male and female managers in an organization
has a lesser impact on the leadership style and organization structure, then the type of values shared by
either a male or a diverse management team. Thus it is the value aspect of the masculinity-femininity
dimension that influences organization structure. Gender role differentiation is of a lesser importance in
Masculinity, in terms of values shared by a society, brings about greater aggressiveness, assertiveness and
decisiveness of managers. There is more competition, employees are more ambitious (both men and
women) and they express a stronger power need than employees in a feminine society. This results in
more power struggle, more conflict and more stress in organizations. Those already in power - high level
managers-would tend to centralize the organization structure. Lower level employees would fight for
empowerment and therefore they would oppose centralization. Nevertheless managers in a masculine
society are expected to be decisive, so probably an autocratic management style will be dominant. In this
case subordinates would have very few opportunities to realize their power need in other way then being
promoted to higher levels of the hierarchy. This will obviously increase employee turnover and the level
of stress. The resultant organization structure will probably be centralized, because subordinates not
participating in decision making will not be able to pull the decision-making authority down the
H5: High masculinity of values shared by a society results in the centralization of organization structures.
On the other hand, feminine societies share sympathy for the weak. People are less ambitious, care less for
achievement and work only as much as necessary to live comfortably. Therefore the power need of
employees is rather weak. Managers use intuition and strive for consensus. Retaining warm relationships
in the work place is important. In this case neither subordinates will fight for power, nor superiors would
defend their positions strongly. As the management style is participative, employees have the means to
gain authority, but they might not be ambitious enough to use them. As a result, in feminine societies the
organization structure does not change very often. The dominant organization structure probably depends
on other cultural variables, mainly on the power distance and uncertainty avoidance. The country’s
tradition and history may also effect it. Facing strong international competition, organizations in feminine
societies will be forced to choose the most effective structure for their type of activity (business). In this
case it will be easier to achieve the perfect match between the environment and organization structure, as
there will be not many opposing forces inside organization.
As far as formalization of rules, procedures and policies is concerned, the effect of either masculinity or
femininity of social values is rather ambiguous. In a masculine society, the high power need of
subordinates might result in the introduction of formal rules and procedures in order to preserve their
position and power and easier control subordinates. Such formalization, in the case of ambitious and hard
working employees may lead to inefficiency. Strong competition may force organizations to become more
flexible. In feminine societies, smaller power need on the side of superiors might result in less formalized
structures. However, it might be efficient to formalize rules and procedures within organizations
regarding lower ambitions and motivation of employees. Organizations in feminine cultures might have
very formalized and strict safety procedures, as caring for others is considered to be a major value.
This short analysis leads to a conclusion that masculinity or femininity is not the single most important
factor determining whether most organizations in a culture have formalized structures.
The third structural variable, specialization, has to be divided into two categories: functional and social
(professional) specialization. Functional specialization leads to task segmentation and routinization. This
will be not appropriate for employees in a masculine society, who are ambitious and devoted to work as a
value in itself. Functional specialization will probably be not very popular in feminine societies as well,
but for other reasons. Managers in a carrying feminine society might choose to enrich employees’ jobs to
educate and develop them. Once again, in the case of functional specialization, masculinity index of a
society seems not to be the determinant factor.
Professional specialization seems to be stronger in highly masculine societies. Professionals, like
accountants and lawyers, gain power through specialization. Given the high power need of people in
masculine cultures, professionals will develop narrow specialities in order to gain power.
H6: Strong masculinity leads to a greater social specialization.
The analysis of relations between cultural variables, as defined by Hofstede (1980) and structural
variables discussed by Robbins (1987) allows to state several hypotheses. Those hypotheses require
In this paper, only two cultural variables have been taken into consideration: uncertainty avoidance and
masculinity. The cognitive analysis performed here allows to state, that the strength of uncertainty
avoidance of the national culture has a direct impact on structural variables. Strongly uncertainty-avoiding
cultures will have organizations of more centralized and formalized structures, and will promote high
level of both functional and professional specialization. The opposite can be stated for cultures classified
by Hofstede as less uncertainty avoiding.
The impact of high masculinity of a culture on organization structure is more ambiguous and less
apparent. Masculinity understood as high gender role differentiation does not have a significant impact on
organization structure. Masculinity, in terms of values of a society, influences directly the leadership
styles dominant in the culture. Managers in masculine societies are expected to use more autocratic styles,
different then in feminine societies, where managers try to reach consensus and use more participative
styles. This might have an impact on structure but not a direct one. In masculine societies centralized
structures are probably used more widely. Probably masculine societies have also a higher level of
professional specialization. Other relations are not clear enough to be hypothesized. Apparently, other
variables have greater impact on formalization, centralization and functional specialization then the
masculinity- femininity index.
The whole cognitive analysis reviles the importance of taking national cultures into consideration when
discussing organization structure. The analysis showed however that the impact of cultural variables is
complex and difficult to predict. Even Hofstede’s definition of those variables is still discussed and their
validity argued. Only further experimental, cross-cultural studies can solve the problems and widen the
knowledge on cultural relativity in the organization theory.
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