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Author Archives: Adia Harvey Wingfield

Image: Luigi Mengato via Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Image: Luigi Mengato via Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, has an op-ed in the New York Times that describes the decline in workplace friendships. Grant notes that compared to workers in other countries, Americans are much less likely to claim close friends at work or to see the workplace as a social space where close friendships are built. He refers to several important sociological studies in analyzing why this is so, noting that the nature of work has changed so that workers are more likely to switch jobs frequently and thus may not feel a close sense of association with colleagues.

Grant references classical sociologist Max Weber’s theory that Calvinism shaped the perception of work as a place where money is made and emotions are inappropriate. Importantly, however, Grant notes that ignoring the workplace as a site where friendships can blossom may rob us of important opportunities. Jobs can become more pleasant and workers more effective when they work with friends.

This is an interesting piece that has important implications for a work world that has changed significantly, and one where issues of diversity are of paramount importance. Sociologists have documented the myriad challenges that people of color encounter at work—stereotyping, tokenization, difficulty finding mentors, closed socialnetworks, discrimination, and others.

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It’s been a rough summer for academics. Just in the last few months, two black women sociologists have become the subjects of national news stories when comments they wrote on twitter drew the ire of conservatives who branded them racists and demanded that the institutions where they worked fire them. First Saida Grundy, then Zandria Robinson drew media attention when conservative websites critiqued their twitter comments on the confederate flag, white college men, and other subjects related to issues of race and inequality. In Grundy’s case, she issued a statement saying that she wished she’d chosen her words more carefully, and the furor essentially died down. In Robinson’s case, after public speculation that the university fired her, she wrote a lengthy blog post desribing the details of her long association with her former employer and ultimate decision to leave for another university.

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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.

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News of improvement in the January jobs report shows that that there is cause for some optimism. The job market appears to be stable, and jobs are being added. Even the rise in unemployment indicates that those who had previously given up looking for work have returned to the labor market. However, there is still cause for concern.

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No more invisible manIf you watch American popular culture and media, it is easy to come away with a rather depressing story about the lives and experiences of black men. News media tend to overrepresent black men as criminal, and movies like Paid in Full, State Property, and Get Rich or Die Trying do their part to portray black men as victims and/or survivors of an urban ghetto defined by violence, poverty, neglect, and drug use. At the other end of the spectrum, extremely visible, successful black men like Bill Cosby and Barack Obama suggest hard work, staying in school, and good behavior are surefire routes to success.

Both accounts offer a very two-dimensional picture of black men’s lives in the U.S. today. They give the impression that nearly all black men are facing the dire threats of un- or underemployment, failing schools, urban neglect, and jail time. Those who do not fit this categorization may seem to be on another end of a continuum—part of an extremely well off, highly visible minority who point to their own accomplishments as proof that properly channeled ambition leads to success. The story media and current research tell is usually that black men’s lives generally exist only on these two ends of a spectrum.

In my book No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work, I try to draw attention to black men who do not fit either of these categorizations—everyday professional, middle class black men who work in white-collar jobs.

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A news story has been making the rounds in academic circles about a newly minted PhD job candidate who, when offered a tenure track faculty position at Nazareth College, attempted to negotiate salary and conditions only to have the college rescind the offer entirely. Here is the email the candidate says she sent the search committee:

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