Life of BrianAs an out-and-proud MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) I have a beautiful road bike. It’s black, red and sleek. It’s only fault is that it exposes my physical deficiencies: I can no longer blame the bike as I huff and puff up steep country hills. The other problem is that friends and family now buy me cycling books as gifts. The latest, So you think you’re a cyclist?, is a comedic take on the different types of cyclists.

One such type is the Hipster. The Hipster rides a fixie – a bike with no gears and no brakes to speak of. They rebel not just against restrictive bike parts but also corporate branding, so their bikes are striped bear of logos and details. They call it pure riding. These city-dwelling twentysomethings sport beards, tattoos and skinny jeans. They like to eat artisanal bread and hang out in cafés. The Hipsters’ drink of choice defines our current era – the ‘flat white economy’ – according to Douglas McWilliams. They work in creative jobs powered by the internet – in online retailing and marketing. When they’re not downloading apps, they’re developing them. Read More

Logo_INETThe Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), was founded after the global financial crash by George Soros and a few fellow traveler financier/philanthropists to reframe the economics profession toward more plausible models. They hold the economics profession as at least partially responsible for the global crash, a position I share. Thus INET’s goal is to transform mainstream economic thought and by extension the policy models adopted by governments and central banks. This is clearly an unusual approach to policy and science development, a kind of terraforming from the outside-in. INET has a program of well-funded grants, conferences, and public relations vehicles (here is their YouTube channel). They even have a program for transforming the economics curriculum and another for graduate student participation in INET conferences.

The conference is populated by multiple economic Nobel Prize winners, young mainstream and older heterodox economists, policy economists, and a smattering of other scientists from sociology, political science, psychology, neuroscience, and even physics.  Mysteriously, my co-author Ken-Hou Lin and I were invited. Who could resist?

Read More

Credit: The New York Times

Credit: The New York Times

LAST WEEK The New York Times ran a set of stories that illustrate just how vital investigative journalism is, especially in an era in which savage capitalism seizes upon vulnerable groups-–immigrant women in powerless positions—and exploits them with impunity, knowing that governmental institutions lack the power, authority, or will to intervene. Written by Sarah Maslin Nir, the stories showed us that the outposts of bourgeois femininity—nail salons–we see in virtually all in commercial areas, have a dark side to them that is often quite hidden, even to the customers: rampant the wage theft and health hazards that are common practices within nail salons.

In a two part series that will likely win a Pulitzer prize (you read it here first!), Nir reports on the ways in which immigrant networks connect salon owners to a nearly endless flow of Asia and Latin American women, many of whom lack documentation or English language facility, and who are easily coerced to work long hours, even for no wages at all. Nir reports that “new employees must pay $100 [for being hired], then work unpaid for several weeks, before they are started at $30 or $40,” this for as many as sixty hours, or more. The highest paid worker in Nir’s report was an Ecuadorean women named Nora Cacho, who “earned 50 percent of the price of every manicure or lip wax she did at a Harlem shop that was part of a chain, Envy Nails.” But Cacho still routinely earned “about $200 for each 66-hour workweek — about $3 an hour” –less than half the federal minimum wage. The industry has developed a skill hierarchy, and especially diligent workers might try to climb it. But doing so requires further payment to owners, who often charge $100 –half a week’s wage—to teach such skills as eyebrow waxing and gel sculpting.

Surviving as a manicurist also requires exposure to substances that are banned in many other nations, are known to disrupt women’s reproductive systems, and that expose workers to a sharply elevated risk of lung disease, skin disorders, and breast cancer. Though manicurists are aware of these risks –they share stories among themselves in hushed tones, and older women advise their younger counterparts to pursue other forms of work if they can— but often, they can’t. Lacking money, documents, and English, they continue working at the salons despite knowing that their bodies (and those of their children, if they are live births) may well pay a heavy price. The object of this labor process –the production of beauty— has a rather different (at times, a disfiguring) appearance from the worker’s point of view. One worker, having survived a struggle with breast cancer, tried but failed to conceal a scar that stretched from her collarbone across her torso. Miscarriages are a commonplace among the manicurists. And one woman’s story is especially tragic, as her son’s cognitive and bodily functioning have been stunted in horrible ways, probably due to her exposure to salon chemicals while she was pregnant..

These sad realities raise at least three far-reaching questions: First, they prompt us to interrogate the politics of femininity in an age of consumer capitalism. Second, they provide us with an image of the abject failure of governmental institutions (until they are shamed into action –see below), which seem unable or unwilling to protect vulnerable workers of color. Third, and by implication, they enable us to glimpse the real nature of the unregulated market capitalism –that is, what you get when you foster a capitalism driven by the race to the bottom. This is an eloquent reminder to those who advocate reduced governmental regulation and who worship at the altar of entrepreneurial activity: This is the face of a perfect, unregulated capitalism, its glamorous mask stripped away, however momentarily.

Read More

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) promo photo via LinkedIn

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) promo photo via LinkedIn

The blog This is Not a Pattern has an intriguing post entitled “Ways Men in Tech are Unintentionally Sexist.” The post draws attention to various unintended but meaningful ways that men in high technology, a notoriously male-dominated field, behave and speak in ways that normalize women’s exclusion and marginalization in this profession. This is particularly timely in the wake of Ellen Pao’s recent lawsuit for gender discrimination. The author sees several ways in which the culture of high technology subordinates women: language that perpetuates men as the default and women as outsiders; normative assumptions that tokenize women, emphasizing the (assumed or real) contrasts between them and men as the majority group; and perhaps most importantly, the tendency among workers to remain silent (and thus complicit) when sexist behaviors and gender discrimination occur.

While this article highlights important patterns that no doubt contribute to the myriad challenges women face in technology, I found this article particularly interesting because in many ways these innocuous behaviors are likely found in many male-dominated professions. Kris Paap’s ethnography of women working construction, for instance, provides extensive evidence of how men assume a gendered (male) worker in this field, and how that assumption shapes their language and interactions in ways that help maintain women’s underrepresentation in this field. Similarly, sociologists like Louise Roth and Jennifer Pierce have shown how women in finance and law, respectively, face cultural assumptions about their lack of qualifications, skill, and suitability for their professions.

Read More

SOURCE: Public Domain Pictures

Searching for that perfect Mother’s Day gift this year?  My suggestion is some reading material, all of which you can find here.  So go ahead and share this with loved ones this weekend.

Gift Idea #1:  Workplace Tips for Mom-to-Be

There’s the study “Professional Image Maintenance: How Women Navigate Pregnancy in the Workplace.” By Laura M. Little, Virginia Smith Major, Amanda S. Hinojosa, and Debra L. Nelson recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The authors were interested in understanding professional image maintenance at work. More specifically, they asked how employees sought to managing others’ perceptions of them, the better to maintain a viable professional image. In one of their three studies presented in the paper, they interviewed a sample of 35 mostly white, pregnant or recently pregnant working women employed in a range of jobs. The question they posed was this:  How does pregnancy affect working women’s professional experiences?

By and large, interviews revealed that pregnant women actively engage in “image maintenance.”  They actively attempt to manage others’ perceptions and reactions to their pregnancy in order to preserve the professional image they had before revealing their pregnancy.  Interviewees felt this image maintenance was necessary in order to avoid being stereotyped as “delicate” or “cute” or “irresponsible”—all of which have negative implications for their professional image and careers. Others cited the need to ensure that others did not see them as more likely to quit (which would have reduced their changes of winning good job assignments, promotions, etc.). How did these women do this?

Read More

stokes_image1by Allyson Stokes

Fashion design is an occupation where women far outnumber men, yet there is a widespread perception that gay men are the most successful. Scholars, journalists, and industry insiders have all commented on how gay men (e.g. Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs) are “media darlings,” win more awards, and have more prestigious jobs. Why is this the case?

On the one hand, gay men’s successes in fashion design are cause for celebration. LGBTQ people have historically faced discrimination and disadvantages in the broader labor market, but fashion is one of a few creative fields considered more or less “gay friendly,” and it employs large numbers of gay men. However, recent research finds that even “gay friendly” workplaces can reproduce old stereotypes and inequalities between gay and straight, men and women. And since fashion design is numerically dominated by women, the success of men designers is suggestive of gender inequality.

Read More

Image credit: Vitor Lima, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Image credit: Vitor Lima, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The topic of workplace surveillance made The New York Times last summer with evidence of benevolent kinds of monitoring, that is, surveillance technologies that will – by some interpretations – benefit workers and managers alike. Some of these systems monitor employees in their every movement around the firm, even on breaks. A Bank of America call center, for instance, used these monitoring techniques and found that workers who communicate more closely when off the desk, are more effective when they return. Managers implemented a 15-minute coffee break for workers to talk with each other – and voila! Call-handling productivity increased 10 percent, and employee turnover fell by 70 percent. Happy workers, happy employers, right?

I was struck that the article mentions research from my campus, Washington University, Saint Louis. Lamar Pierce, a faculty member in the Business School (along with colleagues elsewhere), analyzed data from a surveillance program adopted in casual restaurants (i.e., places like Chili’s, Applebee’s, and the Olive Garden). This program algorithmically observes the way wait staff input sales into the computer, to address potential theft (particularly, under-documenting items on the bill, so that servers can pocket more of the cash left on the table). Results of this monitoring were favorable for employers, as employee theft reduced slightly when they were monitored. In addition, and perhaps as an added bonus, sales went up (because waiters were working harder to sell more food and raise the total charges). Even more, this meant gains for workers too, as their tips increased due to the increase in sales. Another case of good times all around.

But all of this makes me wonder: might this euphoria about surveillance be missing the bigger picture of what happens with technological monitoring in the workplace?

Read More

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 320 other followers