Commentary

Feminism at Work: A Perspective from Management and Organization Studies

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February 11, 2019

Feminism provides a vital but surprisingly marginalised resource for researchers interested in the sociology of work, organizations, and management. We have come to this conclusion in part through our experiences of conducting feminist research on workplaces, and in part through guest editing a newly published special issue of the journal Human Relations that focuses on feminist analysis of social relations in organizations.

In addition to theoretical insights that enable us to make sense of, and challenge, gendered inequality, discrimination, violence, and oppression, feminism, in all its diverse forms, provokes thought on how to challenge and change all exploitative social formations. As Jacqueline Rose recently suggested in Women in Dark Times, feminism asks unique questions as a way of ‘seeing through what is already crazy about the world, notably the cruelty and injustice’ (Rose, 2014: x) of everyday lives. As Amanda Sinclair has also made clear in her recent embodied feminist memoir of an academic working life which concludes the Special Issue, feminism can also provide unique ways of responding to those questions, both theoretically and methodologically.

We find this marginality in our field of organization studies puzzling.

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Research Findings

How artisans set prices for products that are labors of love


February 8, 2019

“You get that satisfaction when you see your product transform from the raw wood to the final shape, like them taking the first footsteps, then getting shapes, then making their initial forays into the market, and finally, you have to sell them. It’s like holding their hands through this whole process and then giving them away.” – Artisan in Channapatna


In a recent study, I investigated how wood and lacquerware artisans set their prices in an isolated handicraft town in southern India called Channapatna. I conducted eight months of ethnographic fieldwork and an audit study where trained buyers were sent to purchase a standardized product.

I found that artisans offered certain buyers significant discounts (up to 50%) for their products. These discounts were puzzlingly offered to precisely those buyers who were willing to pay more for the products, such as foreigners.

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Research Findings

How to not sell out

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February 3, 2019

How do you leverage new growth opportunities?

All kinds of organisations – universities, NGOs, private companies – look to access new audiences and enter new markets by reaching out to resource holders and diverse constituencies outside their standard remit. And there’s a certain amount of good business sense at play here: addressing new audiences helps increase risk diversification and safeguard longer term prosperity.

But this growth strategy comes with potential pitfalls. New audiences often have demands that can be very different to those of existing markets. Organisations entering new spaces run the risk of neglecting mainstream business. The capabilities needed to address a new market are often not those needed to maintain the flow and quality of products and services to existing customers and stakeholders.

How can organisations manage this kind of audience diversification so that everyone comes out of it better off? How can they balance who they already are – or are perceived to be – and what they already do, with the goals, objectives and modus operandi of their new audience

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Research Findings

What to expect when you and your job get outsourced


February 1, 2019

When I ask people what they think of when they hear the word “outsourcing,” most commonly I get the “ideal type” answer. It is an image long associated with outsourcing: information technology (IT) jobs that get shipped overseas to countries like India.  

Yet offshoring – the more appropriate term for this example – did not define the type of outsourcing affecting my friends and family or people I have come to know through my research.  Their examples were best characterized as “in-house outsourcing,” a form of outsourcing where outsourced employees remain onsite in their current environment, but work instead for a different company, as an onsite “vendor.”

In my new book, I sought to learn more about how in-house outsourcing was affecting professionals in IT and other fields. While IT has been most often targeted, in 2005, “cost centers” like human resources (HR), accounting, and other job fields were also increasingly outsourced.

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Research Findings

What makes for happy, productive workers and workplaces?

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January 29, 2019

When thinking about a job and, more precisely, the position one hopes to obtain and hold, we often automatically think of material rewards (i.e., pay, benefits, mobility prospects, etc.) or job security over the long term.

Such goals are important for workers and their families, for sure, especially in the face of restructuring and growth in unstable, part-time and precarious employment.

They tell us little, however, about day-to-day workplace experiences—that is, the things that make individuals both happy and productive in their everyday work lives and that likely also make for a good workplace.

Issues of surrounding happiness and satisfaction on the job are certainly of consequence to workers. But, to be clear, they are (or should be) of relevance as well to employers—Employers who, in the current era, grapple regularly with high rates of employee turnover, absenteeism, stress of meeting production goals and heightened financial costs associated with job training.

In a recent study, we keep this dual focus on workers and employers in mind and tackle the issues of worker satisfaction and on-the-job effort and commitment.

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Research Findings

Savvy men and shopaholic women: How media divides us

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January 25, 2019

Why do social inequalities – the kind that divide people on the basis of race, gender, etc. – persist in our societies despite many efforts to eliminate them? Who do we blame?

Our research shows that there are subtle, complex ways that people are categorized by media, which may be partly to blame.

Categories are part of our lives. Films are categorized into genres and sub-genres. Vehicles can be SUVs, sedans, minivans, etc. Categories organize information, reduce complexity, and make decisions easier.

But we also know that categories have a dark side. Because categories reduce complexity and force things into one group or another, they oversimplify reality. Importantly, categorizing people in simple ways can become a major problem because it influences our perception of those people’s real abilities and other characteristics.

In our study, we focused on one demographic aspect – gender – to unpack the mechanisms through which this operates. We focused on categorization in mainstream media given the importance of media in shaping people’s opinions, perceptions, and values.

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Research Findings

Consciousness-raising in the cocoa supply chain


January 22, 2019

In Ghana, female cocoa farmers remain a marginalised group. Cocoa has been traditionally perceived as a man’s crop, and a combination of cultural, legal and social norms have coalesced to form a situation in which although women work just as much as men on cocoa farming- their efforts are rarely rewarded in income or status.

Our case study looked at a gender programme at a Ghanaian cocoa cooperative, which aimed to change this. The 20-year-old programme is run in collaboration with the UK confectionary company to which the cocoa is sold, and an NGO partner, and was a leader for its time, advocating quotas for women farmers on committees, and providing leadership training.

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Research Findings

Union decline and the upward trend in America’s income inequality


January 15, 2019


Income inequality in the United States has been moving steadily upward for decades. By contrast, during the post-war era, the distribution of income was fairly stable and relatively egalitarian. The Gini coefficient of income inequality, changed very little between 1947 and 1968, when it hit a historic low. However, since this time, it has moved steadily upward, reaching an all-time high in 2015.

What has caused this pronounced shift in the US income distribution?

In a recent study, I argue that the decline of organized labor has contributed more significantly to rising income inequality in the United States than prior research realizes.

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Research Findings

Employment after prison: The day-to-day realities of searching for work


January 9, 2019

More than 20 years ago, William Julius Wilson wrote that work had disappeared from inner-city neighborhoods. Since then, joblessness has continued to rise—particularly among black men without high school degrees.

In 2016, nearly 50% of less-skilled black men were jobless.

When regular, stable jobs disappear from poor neighborhoods, what type of work do people find? It is well recognized among research scholars that people often cobble together temporary gigs, seasonal positions, and self-employment as a survival strategy to make ends meet.

However, there are few studies that examine this type of employment in a systematic and detailed way due to the methodological challenges of capturing unstable and irregular work experiences.

In a recent study of employment among men recently released from prison, I asked How often and how regularly do people find work? What kind of work do they do, and how consistently do they do it?

Using daily measures of job search and work collected from smartphone surveys, I documented the extreme irregularity of work in people’s everyday lives. I found that the type of work—from landscaper to warehouse worker to concession stand operator—changed nearly as often as the presence of work itself on any given day.

I proposed the concept of work as foraging to emphasize this depth of instability and variation across job types. The term foraging was originally used in employment research to describe the pursuit of short-term income-generating opportunities to maximize profit.

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Research Findings

Risks, returns, and relational lending: Personal ties in microfinance


January 3, 2019

As borrowing rates climb to record highs, one could say that consumers and their banks have never been closer. Generally, we consider these ties to be very formal, with banks and consumers connected only at arm’s length.

Yet in many settings, lenders and borrowers do develop personal relationships. For example, small business owners establish personal relationships with bankers in an effort to secure loans, and lenders build personal relationships with borrowers as a way of gaining access to private information that may affect loan repayment.

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