Monthly Archives

February 2020

Research Findings

Retail worker surveillance goes beyond Amazon warehouses

February 28, 2020

At least one good thing has come out of Amazon warehouses. The horror stories about the company’s working conditions—including sonic wristbands that follow employees’ every move—have increased public concern about the potential dangers of workplace surveillance. Beyond Amazon, workers across a range of industries are already being tracked and monitored.

In a recent article, I focus on the digital surveillance of fast fashion retail workers. Fast fashion chains such as Zara and H&M are known for selling a tremendous amount of trendy, cheap clothing. Less well known about these companies is the extent to which they too rely on a vast amount of data—tracking customers and workers alike—to keep their stores running.

Between 2015 and 2018, I immersed myself in this industry. I worked as a sales associate at two major fast fashion retailers in New York City, interviewed twenty other retail workers, volunteered with a retail workers’ center, and attended corporate retail conferences where the latest technologies were on display.

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Research Findings

For Gender Pay Gaps, Organizations Matter

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February 25, 2020

One of the most vexing political and social science problems is the persistence of the gender wage gap. In a recently published article in the American Journal of Sociology, we argue that looking at an organization’s choices is crucial to understanding the gender pay gap. Studies that focus on pay as a result of individual worker choices (such as assuming women choose lower paying jobs to accommodate family) are missing that organizations also make choices about pay. 

Our article offers a new approach to analyzing the gender pay gap, examining how different organizations pay women less than men using multiple mechanisms at the organization level. These organizational-level processes are often hidden, and harder to see than individual choices, but may be more powerful. 

Because we were looking at workers in the federal government in the US, initially we assumed that the federal general schedule (GS)—the system of pay grades tied to job requirements, responsibilities, education, and tenure—would effectively reduce most pay inequality between similarly qualified workers. 

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Research Findings

Strangers, trust, and class cleavages in Mexico City

February 20, 2020

Who would you entrust your car to? Many of us who drive entrust our cars to parking valets, exchanging the keys for a small ticket handed to us by a company employee, often stationed behind a kiosk where prices are shown. We find comfort in knowing that if the car were to be stolen, we could always call the police to handle the matter. We might also entrust our cars to friends or family members. Since they are close to us, we expect them to take good care of the vehicle. 

These two scenarios roughly correspond to the two predominant explanations that the social science literature offers about what makes trust possible. In the first case, reliable institutions make trust possible; in the second, group dynamics—and particularly, the recognition of others as members of our same group (homophily)—do. 

Yet, in a recently published article, I explore the case of informal car-parkers in Mexico City—often dubbed “viene-vienes”—and their interactions with clients, which defies both of these explanations. Amid the busy streets of Mexico City, with its terrible traffic and limited parking, middle- and high-class Mexicans often entrust their cars—keys and all—to informal car parkers with no institutional affiliations. 

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Research Findings

The market-money-infrastructures problem nexus in Europe

February 18, 2020

What is the relationship between markets, money and their infrastructures? Economists tell us that the relationship is straightforward: money makes markets “fluid” and adequate infrastructures make them efficient. But ongoing attempts at integrating financial markets in Europe teach us a different story.

In a series of three recently published research articles, I analyze the interlacing problems in present-day Europe of (a) creating an integrated infrastructure for financial markets, (b) rendering financial markets liquid and efficient without producing systemic risks, and (c) drawing a line between money as a tradeable commodity in the market and as a fluidifying medium for markets (an infrastructure).

This nexus of problems reveals fundamental contradictions inscribed in the legal and political foundations for still ongoing European financial market integration processes. Mapping these contradictions can recast our understanding of controversies and debates related to integration processes ranging from bureaucratic disagreements over technical issues to open political conflict in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis of 2009.

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New book

Inequality only worsens a decade after the financial crisis

February 11, 2020

The financial crisis of 2008, along with the Great Recession it triggered, has defined the course of the 21st century. Yet, despite the political agitation and economic hardship that ensued, everything appears to be back to the right track. The major stock market indices have reached new highs: In November, the Dow Jones surpassed 28,000 for the first time in history. US household debt just broke the $14 trillion mark. In the era of Dodd-Frank, the financial sector seems more regulated and stable. Compared to the turmoil in the political sphere, the US economy appears to be smooth sailing.

But what does this “right track” mean?

Our new book, Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance, shows that the most damaging consequence of the contemporary financial system is not simply recurrent financial crises but the social divide it has generated between the haves and have-nots over the past 40 years. 

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Research Findings

Are unemployed men more likely to enter female-dominated occupations?

February 7, 2020

The US labor market has undergone major changes in the types of occupations that are in demand over the last fifty years. Since the 1970s, many jobs and sectors traditionally dominated by men have contracted or disappeared. For example, the manufacturing and construction sectors – both heavily male-dominated sectors – were among the hardest hit industries during the Great Recession in terms of job losses, and jobs in the manufacturing sector have had an overall decline of over 50% since the 1970s

On the other hand, the demand for jobs traditionally held by women has increased significantly, and these patterns are expected to continue in the future. In fact, women dominate the majority of industries projected to have the highest job growth over the next decade. If the jobs that women currently dominate represent the future occupational landscape, will men enter these jobs? 

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Research Findings

How managers shape racialized employee networks in the workplace

February 4, 2020

Diversity is increasingly recognized as important in the workplace, be it for performance, legitimacy, or social justice reasons, and schools as workplaces are no exception. Three recent trends in education point to the importance of a racially diverse teacher workforce for better student outcomes, especially for racial minority students. 

First, studies in education continually show gains in gifted placement, attendance, and achievement for racial minority students assigned to a racial minority teacher. Second, such “racial matching” is not available to many racial minority students because of racial segregation in schools. While more than 50% of US public school children are nonwhite, only 20% of public school teachers in the US are nonwhite. Third, nonwhite teachers have higher levels of turnover than white teachers.

We need a deeper understanding of not only how schools recruit teachers of color, but also how organizational conditions in schools can better retain teachers of color. These insights can be applied to similar organizational settings where diversity management is consequential for client/customer experiences and outcomes (e.g., hospitals, retail), or to any workplace concerned with racial equity in employees’ access to workplace resources post-hire.

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