Research Findings

The unequal reach of social networks at work


September 15, 2022

Social networks can be crucial for getting a job. Cue Mark Granovetter’s enduring sociological insight on the strength of weak ties, the crucial role connections beyond our close networks can play in connecting us to opportunity. Platforms and structures that facilitate professional networking—such as LinkedIn—are based on this insight that extended networks can link people to opportunities beyond their immediate circles.

Researchers have extensively conceptualized and described the ties people use to find work and move up in their field, uncovering a number of ties that transcend the strong-weak dichotomy. Other scholars have shown how those facing adversity—poverty, racism, social marginalization–often draw on strong, reciprocal ties to survive. This work, taken together, reveals how people form and draw on social ties in a range of different ways, and how the form those ties take and their capacity to help people get by—and get ahead–is deeply informed by structural constraints.

However, sociologists have paid less attention to how the spatial and temporal dynamics of work processes and industry structures affect how people form and use social networks over space and time. In a recent article, I draw on interviews with Texas-Mexico borderlands-based agricultural workers and Texas-based oil and gas field workers. Both groups describe forming strong ties with peers while working far from home and living in close quarters for weeks at a time.

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Research Findings

Clocking out: Nurses refusing to work during a pandemic

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September 8, 2022

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippine government instituted what may be considered one of their most controversial emigration policies. For an indefinite period, state agencies decided to ban Filipino healthcare workers from leaving the country for jobs overseas.

This “deployment ban” was unprecedented, not only in scope but because the Philippines is also the primary source of migrant nurses worldwide. While the state curtailed the departure of 13 health professions, nurses comprised the largest group, with hundreds unable to leave for jobs waiting in the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore.

Philippine government officials argued that the ban would redirect human resources toward national health needs. Yet, instead of consolidating the country’s pool of nurse labor, the ban divided nurses into two distinct groups.

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New book

Shaping the Futures of Work: Proactive Governance and Millennials


September 1, 2022

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has significantly changed the world through big data, artificial intelligence, and other forms of automation. Hence, the workplace is increasingly fraught by technological disruptions and consequent loss of long-term employment security for all generations. Even educated Millennials who are popularly considered as digital natives are not spared the anxiety of automation and rapidly changing requirements for new skill sets.

How can Millennials best adapt to a transforming world and prepare themselves for a vastly unsettling future of work? My new book Shaping the Futures of Work: Proactive Governance and Millennials aims to provide answers to these questions. Why Millennials? I study their careers because they are currently in large numbers in the workforce.

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Research Findings

Waging war from remote cubicles: how workers cope with technologies that disrupt the meaning and morality of their work

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August 25, 2022

In a recent study, we conducted an inductive study of military personnel operating drones for the U.S. Air Force to understand how workers experience and respond to emerging technologies.

The introduction of drone technology in the U.S Air Force has fundamentally changed traditional warfare. The drone program has removed the need for direct physical deployment of personnel to an active war zone and instead have operators stationed in remote command centers in the US to remotely control drones from afar. In other words, drones have “unmanned” the aircraft.

By drawing on a set of 43 unsolicited personal diaries of those involved, paired with interviews with the diarists to understand their experiences, archival material and ethnographical observations in the field, we address how an emerging technology can prompt changes in the core meaning, and values of work.

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New book

Working Democracies: Reducing inequality with participatory bureaucracy and pluralistic worker identity


August 18, 2022

Is worker ownership the way to eliminate workplace inequalities?

While organizational scholars here and elsewhere have long focused on the range of mechanisms that create and maintain a variety of social inequalities within workplaces, the context of capitalism and investor-owned firms minimizing worker voice and power is generally treated as a given.

However, an alternative form of enterprise exists: worker cooperatives, businesses owned and democratically controlled by their workers. Although worker cooperatives are still a small proportion of U.S. enterprises, an estimated 4,700 workers in as many as 1000 worker cooperatives produced over US$238 million in revenue in 2020. Indeed, as part of the anti-inequality activism that arose from the Great Recession, worker cooperative numbers have essentially doubled in the last decade across multiple industrial sectors, increasingly with the support of unions and local municipalities, and have shown great resilience during the pandemic years. Under conditions of worker ownership and control, we might assume resistance to and disruption of the kinds of class, ethnoracial, and gender inequalities that have been central to these social movements and their organizations.

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New book

How Surveillance Unfolds in Retail Clothing Work

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August 11, 2022

Corporate managers used to track stores through weekly or monthly sales records, phone calls, and in-person visits. Today, software creates near-constant – but not necessarily meaningful – communication between store managers and their senior corporate counterparts.

Metrics like “sales per hour,” which captures a store’s sales revenue per labor-hour, now drive moment-to-moment corporate decisions about staffing. These just-in-time scheduling practices try to match the sales volume to workers on the clock at any moment.

The goal is to minimize labor costs. Yet, the result may not be higher profits.

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Research Findings

Where did all of the coaches come from?


August 4, 2022

There is a “coach” for everything these days. There are dating coaches, health coaches, career coaches, and speaking coaches. There are coaches to help you find wellness, financial freedom, and the serenity of a decluttered closet. And, perhaps most audaciously, there are legions of self-described “life” coaches.

Where did all these new experts come from? And, given their general lack of credentials, why do people hire them?

You may wonder if this a multi-level marketing kind of arrangement – suspecting, correctly, that coaches are much less successful than they let on and are hoping to sell others on an entrepreneurship class (also correct). You may wonder if this is outright fraud, ideological snake-oil, or just the blind leading the blind. And you may also ask yourself, occasionally, does it work?

In a recently published article, I report results from a year I spent studying career coaches, in particular – observing their pitches and conducting in-depth interviews with both coaches and their clients. I find that none of these characterizations quite capture why and how “coaching” has grown to $3 billion industry in recent years.

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Research Findings

Migrant Doctors and Reducing Pay Gaps

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June 30, 2022

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly funded health care provider in the country. It is the largest non-military employer in the world. Similar to US medical services, it is heavily dependent on migrant doctors to deliver essential medical services. Many accounts, though, find evidence for inequality in their careers and pay.

Twenty six percent of UK doctors have obtained their primary medical qualification overseas, migrating from the European Economic Area (EEA) or further afield (international medical graduate or IMG). Research on the experience of women doctors and on migrant doctors can be located, but with a notable exception. It is less common to see gender and place of qualification considered together. So, we wanted to know – do NHS migrant doctors experience pay gaps compared with their UK-trained counterparts? Are they worse for women? And if so, how can they be narrowed?

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Research Findings

Stalled gender revolution in the division of labor at home and at work

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June 23, 2022

How far are we from achieving gender equality in the division of labor at home and at work? Across the world, women spend more time on unpaid domestic work, and men do more labor market work. This gender division of labor is the cause and the consequence of many other forms of gender inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and the tendency for men and women to work in different jobs.

Yet gender relations are changing. Nowadays in most industrialised societies more women than men go to the university. More women have jobs than before, even after they have become mothers. Have we witnessed a gender revolution in the division of labor accordingly? In other words, are men doing more housework, and are women doing more labor market work?

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New book

Silicon Valley’s Caste System: Geek Capital, Glass Walls, and Barriers to Employment


June 16, 2022

In January 21 of 2016, Bloomberg Businessweek published a cover story titled “Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders”. Vauhini Vara followed a cohort of Black computer science students enrolled at Howard University located in Washington, D.C., one of the oldest historically Black universities in the United States. Even after a Google engineer upgrades the curriculum, students in this cohort are denied opportunities to work full time in Silicon Valley. Vara informs the reader that “although 20 percent of all black computer science graduates attend a historically black school … the Valley wasn’t looking for those candidates”.

In this same year, Reveal’s Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed the diversity reports of Silicon Valley technology firms. It found that Black employees made up no more than 2 percent of the 23 companies, who had released their figures. Eight of the twenty-three companies that provided their demographics including Google, Twitter, Square and 23andMe, did not report a single Black woman in an executive role. In a separate study conducted by The Ascend Foundation, a pan-Asian foundation, found that the number of Black and Latinx women had actually declined between 2014 and 2017.

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