Research Findings

Between a promise and a salary: unpaid labor among student-migrant-workers


July 7, 2020

It has been argued that ‘capital’s lifeblood is unpaid work’. Scholars have examined unpaid work in sectors such as care work, creative industries, and voluntary work.

In a recent article, I demonstrate that many non-EU student-migrants perform unpaid work in an effort to build a successful future while inhabiting a legally insecure migration status. The students perform unpaid work in temporary and platform jobs to secure a renewed temporary student residence permit, as well as in unpaid internships with the hope of getting access to future highly skilled employment.

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Commentary

When they were kicked to the curb, jobless workers mostly blamed themselves: Enter career coaches


June 30, 2020

Roberta is collecting her cards when I approach her cloth covered table. She is in her sixties and wears a light purple shawl over a flowing black dress. A matching purple gem – sapphire, she tells me – hangs from a thin chain on her neck and the silver bangles on her wrists are also dotted with purple-shaded stones. The bracelets jangle as her thin hands move over cards labeled “independence,” “knowledge,” “stability,” and “excitement.” Roberta pushes them across the table and invites me to sort the cards as I see fit: it will help me “learn something new” about myself.

Roberta is not a Tarot card reader. She is a professional “career coach” who specializes in guiding the white-collar unemployed through hard times. Roberta is manning a vendor booth at the 2019 National Career Development Association (NCDA) and she is taking me through the first step she takes with clients who have been laid off: self-discovery. I sit and sort the cards into ascending rows of importance as Roberta hums sagely.

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Research Findings

How Managers Understand and Apply Merit in the Workplace


June 23, 2020

Most executives today understand that if their companies are to thrive in an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace, they must hire and retain the most talented employees. This has created imperatives to recruit job candidates solely on the basis of merit, and reward and promote employees based on their work performance.

Adding to these increasingly competitive pressures, companies are now at the center of intensely charged debates about racial and gender inequality. Facing a greater need than ever to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and racial justice, corporate executives, even those with openly progressive ethos, have struggled to rectify demographic imbalances in their organizations. For example, Google’s US workforce is just 32.0 percent female and only 3.7 percent Black, per the Google Diversity Annual Report 2020. To improve the recruitment and retention of underrepresented employees — and, importantly, to show that their decisions about whom to hire, reward, and promote are based on objective, fair, unbiased criteria — some companies have become eager to dismantle any role that bias might play in employment decisions and outcomes.

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Research Findings

How do wars affect workers in the United States?


June 19, 2020

During the height of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, workers producing military supplies were at the heart of a strike wave in the United States, calling for a more equitable distribution of war-profits in the form of higher wages and better benefits. Although little attention has been paid to them, such strikes by manufacturing workers in war-industries have caused nearly 2.2 million working days lost in recent decades.

This is not a new phenomenon: During the large wars of the twentieth century, industrial workers in the United States regularly engaged in strikes that raised their wages and ushered in new institutions designed to protect workers’ rights.

These recent strikes—alongside this historical relationship—raise an important question: How have U.S. wars affected workers in the twenty-first century? In a recent article, I explore this question by reviewing strikes by manufacturing workers in war-industries.

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Research Findings

Earnings inequality matters for understanding how family policies affect mothers’ employment

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June 11, 2020

Many rich countries provide paid parental leave and childcare to help mothers reconcile work and parenting. But, where are these policies most effective at keeping moms employed, and which moms respond most strongly to them? Not surprisingly, the answers to these questions are complex and contentious. 

In a recent study, we propose that a missing piece of the puzzle is a country’s level of earnings inequality, the size of the gap between those who earn a little and a lot. Earnings inequality helps explain who is most affected by family policies and why these same policies “work” in some countries, but not others. 

We found that when countries spend more on early childhood education and care (ECEC), mothers of young children are more likely to be employed. The effect is stronger for mothers without a college degree than for mothers who have completed college.

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Research Findings

Riders on the storm: Workplace solidarity among gig economy couriers in Italy and the UK

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June 4, 2020

Food delivery couriers have become an increasingly common sight across cities all over Europe and North America, as myriad food delivery platforms have proliferated in recent years as part of the growth of the global gig economy. Even during the global lockdown which followed the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, food delivery was among those essential activities which continued uninterrupted. Yet workers in this sector are mostly underpaid, with a precarious contractual situation, and subject to stringent forms of algorithmic control on their work activities.

These adverse circumstances are often seen as obstacles to workers’ mobilisation. Yet, food delivery has been one of the segments of the ‘gig economy’ where workers have started to organise to protest exploitative working conditions. How so? In a recent article, we investigate what explains the emergence of workers’ solidarity even in this hostile context through analysis of the mobilisation of food delivery couriers in the UK and Italy.

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New book

Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment


May 28, 2020

Scholars of work and labor do not often analyze labor coercion these days. It is considered a bit passé, and is simply taken as a given that economic coercion undergirds labor relations in capitalist economies. With this implicit foundation in place, the primary story of work and labor in contemporary scholarship is one of precarity: the instability, insecurity, and low wages of gig work, temp work, freelancing, day labor, adjunct work, just-in-time work, and more.

But precarity does not characterize the work lives of all workers, and economic coercion is not the only power dynamic that shapes labor relations. In my new book Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment, I identify a different form of labor coercion, one in which employers’ power does not stem from their control over workers’ wages (e.g., through their ability to hire, fire, promote, and demote workers). Rather, it stems from their control over workers’ “status” and all of the rights, privileges, and opportunities—economic and otherwise—that such status confers.

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Research Findings

Women’s Stalled Advancement: A Work-Family or a Work-Hours Problem?

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May 21, 2020

Women remain remarkably underrepresented in the partner ranks in professional service firms—as lawyers, accountants, and consultants—despite having gained parity with men at the associate level long ago.

This stalled advancement is surprising in light of companies’ efforts to improve the situation, often by means of well-intentioned work-life accommodation policies.  Time and again, however, researchers document how taking accommodations has the unintended effect of derailing women’s careers. Yet these remain the go-to solutions, and women’s careers continue to languish. 

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Research Findings

When gender diversity makes firms more productive


May 14, 2020

Does gender diversity make an organization more productive?

Some say yes, suggesting that gender diversity could lead to more innovative thinking and signal to stakeholders that an organization is well run. Others say no, pointing to group research showing that demographic diversity could lead to conflict and reduce team solidarity.

But while past research has been conflicting, most have looked at this question only within a single country or industry. This oversight got me thinking: could social context play a role? Social norms and regulatory context could affect people’s approaches to and attitudes toward diversity, which might, in turn, influence diversity’s organizational impact overall. 

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Research Findings

How organizational spaces contribute to disabling employees with impairments

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May 7, 2020
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Disabled people continue to be underrepresented in employment and to experience unequal career opportunities when they are employed. (While in the U.S., it is more common to use the term ‘people with disabilities’, we follow the U.K. tradition of using the term ‘disabled people’, which is used to particularly highlight the social origin of disability and the role of societal barriers in causing people with impairments to become disabled.) 

This problem has many different causes, including employers’ and co-workers’ stereotypes, different forms of discrimination, the way jobs are designed, and the lack of access to reasonable accommodations. In an article recently published in Organization, we focus on another element that can contribute to the disadvantaged labour market position of disabled employees: the disabling role of organizational spaces.

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