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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Research Findings

Why British disabled workers fail at employment tribunals and what can be done

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April 30, 2020

It is common knowledge that disabled people have a tough time at work throughout the developed world. In Britain, in theory, the law (Equality Act 2010) protects disabled people against discrimination in employment, but in practice it is a different story. Yes, a British disabled person can take a case to an Employment Tribunal and sue the employer for discrimination, but if they do they are likely to lose. Looking at over 750 judgments in England and Wales between 2015 and 2017, we found that less than a fifth of all cases that went to the first stage (a preliminary hearing) were successful. At the final stage (a full hearing) a claimant is almost three times more likely to fail than to succeed.

Our research explores why this occurs and we found several reasons.  First, many judges make restrictive judicial decisions, for instance on the time period necessary to bring a claim (3 months). Woe betide the person who waits more than three months from when he/she experienced discrimination! Judges can extend the time limit where it is ‘just and equitable to do so’, but in practice they rarely do, choosing not to exercise their discretion. 

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Research Findings

Women in tech work: Navigating the ‘gender structure’

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April 23, 2020

In the UK, only one in six tech professionals are women. In the US, women’s representation is higher at one in four. How do technically-skilled women working in tech think women in their industry are regarded, and how does it affect how they as women behave at work? Qualitative interviews with 57 UK-based female tech professionals from range of organizations suggest that the “gender structure” in tech influences how female tech professionals experience their careers.

A gender structure is an enduring pattern of how men and women relate to each other within a social system. As with any social structure, a gender structure consists of norms that guide behaviour. These norms can be detrimental to how women experience their jobs, and so some push back against them. The gender structure in tech includes a pervasive belief that women are less suited to tech work. Male colleagues communicate this belief in subtle ways, which influence how women behave and think of themselves as women within the industry.

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Research Findings

Do gender pay gaps in workplaces narrow the longer employees stay? (They don’t)


April 16, 2020

Even though pay differences between men and women have declined in past decades, evidence suggests men continue to receive greater pay raises than women for the same performance.

In a recent study, I investigate whether these biases in annual merit raises disappear when supervisors get to know new employees over time.

I found that no matter how long employees work with their company, gender pay gaps widen with each additional year employees stay.

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Research Findings

How family-friendly work arrangements relate to jobs’ gender composition

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April 9, 2020

Balancing work and life outside of work can be difficult in modern societies. Work-family imbalance especially pertains to women in the labor market, because they are often responsible for childcare and housework besides working their jobs.

In a recent study, we examine how different work arrangements that play a role in reconciling work and family life relate to jobs’ gender composition. We scrutinize whether women specifically choose jobs with work arrangements that correspond with women’s preference for reconciling work and family life, or whether more and more women entering jobs shifts the work arrangements in these jobs towards women’s preferences.

Our results show that women increasingly enter jobs that offer more part-time work and work from home, and avoid jobs with more weekend work. We do not find that working women can shift the work arrangements in their jobs toward a better balance of work and family life.

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Research Findings

Public preschool helps some families more than others


April 2, 2020

Just a few decades ago, it was rare for young children to attend a preschool of any kind. The majority of children of this age were cared for in their homes by their parents, usually their mothers. Fast forward to today, and a majority of young children attend some kind of preschool.

Certainly, many preschools in the contemporary United States are private, but cities like New York and states like Oklahoma have made tuition-free public preschool universally available to all families. The United States still invests less in preschools than most other advanced democracies. However, as public preschool programs have been rolled out in state after state, US investment in preschool is now more similar to what we see in other countries than is investment in childcare for younger children. 

The important role of these investments in public preschool for inequalities in children’s learning and development is well-documented. In a recent study, I set out to better understand the implications of the rise in children’s preschool attendance for the work lives of their parents, focusing on the very simple outcome of whether parents with children of this age participate in the labor market.

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Research Findings

What studying twins tells us about inequality of educational opportunity

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March 26, 2020

Why do the children of highly educated parents so often turn out highly educated themselves? Is this inheritance largely a social affair, that the welfare state can compensate for by levelling the playing field? Or is educational attainment “mostly in the genes” and thereby beyond the influence of policy levers?

Historically, sociologists have tended to favor social explanations. At the same time we have often shied away from competing perspectives (with important exceptions). Recently, that has begun to change. Understanding the links between genetics and the social environment in generating social inequalities is increasingly a concern for social scientists.

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