Author Archives: Guest Contributor


by Richard Benton

Activist investors have become a prominent fixture in corporate America. Recent commentaries proclaim that activists have “captured the center ring and are directing the main event” and acknowledge that “shareholder activism has rapidly changed how corporate America thinks.” Activist investors are at the vanguard of the shareholder value movement, mounting high-profile campaigns against corporate management and strategy.

Given this flurry of activity, scholars and popular commentators have been pressed to explain activists’ increased effectiveness. In a recent study, I show that an important reason for activists’ success involves corporate leaders’ increased social dislocation and ineffectiveness. In recent years, corporate leaders are less socially interconnected with their peers, having seen their social network ties fracture. As a result, corporate leaders are less able to collaborate and coordinate with their peers, losing their collective ability to buttress their own interests.

For most of the last century, corporate leaders were interconnected through a web of social network ties of overlapping board appointments. When a director sits on the board of multiple companies, this forms a social network tie connecting firms and individuals. Considerable research demonstrates that this network was important for coordinating strategies, sharing information, and building consensus across corporate America. This “old boys’ network” was an important source of power and unity for corporate leaders in domains such as politics and corporate governance.

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by Fabrizio Bernardi

Many empirical sociologists misuse statistical significance testing in their research.

At a conference, it is common to hear colleagues presenting their results with sentences like: “the coefficient is highly significant”, suggesting in this way that they have found an important result, or “the coefficient is not statistically significant”, implying that the coefficient is equal to 0. This impression is reinforced if one browses any major sociological journal. Many sociologists thus still engage in a practice that has been characterised as the ritual of Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST).

In a nutshell, this ritual consists of the following: A researcher estimates a coefficient that expresses the effect of a variable X on a variable Y and computes its statistical significance p (note that in what follows I use the term ‘effect’ with no causal implication); if p is smaller than a conventional threshold (usually 0.05, sometimes 0.10), the researcher concludes that the coefficient is statistically significant and that there is an effect; conversely, if p is above the given threshold, the coefficient is statistically insignificant and the researcher concludes that there is no effect.

In this ritual, the size and sociological meaning of the coefficient and the uncertainty associated with the estimate are both ignored. The NHST is then a “yes-no” criterion to establish whether there is or is not an effect.

There are three main flaws associated with the ritual of the NHST.

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by Kristine Kilanski

In a recent article, New York Times correspondent Claire Cain Miller posed a puzzle of longstanding interest to sociologists of work: Today when women leave school and enter the workforce they earn roughly the same as their men counterparts. However, soon women’s and men’s wages begin to diverge.

What leads to the emergence of a gender pay gap? Miller’s answer largely mimics the lyrics to a well-known children’s riddle: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes [insert man’s name here] and [insert woman’s name here] with a baby carriage.”

Miller offers two main pieces of evidence to support the claim that marriage and babies are to blame for the gender pay gap. For one, the gender pay gap widens the most when workers are in their late twenties and early thirties—around the time women are likely to get married and to become mothers. Secondly, unmarried women without children tend to earn roughly the same as their men counterparts.

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The road to a meat-processing factory in South Wales

by John Lever

We often see only what we want to see, and what we want to see is often conditioned by what we learn to see as members of society. What we don’t see in this sense is the high dependency of the food and meat-processing sector on migrant labour.

Indeed without migrants working in the sector it would be difficult for companies to meet fluctuating market demand and get food to supermarkets at an affordable (if increasingly unsustainable) price.

These were some of the findings from a recently published study I conducted with the geographer Paul Milbourne on migrant labour in the meat-processing sector in Wales in the UK. We found that migrants are an invisible part of the workforce.

Specifically, we found that the industry is characterized by employment practices and working conditions that set workers against each other in a competitive spiral of self-exploitation. This situation occurs in the tightly defined occupational spaces of the factory floor, where migrants are employed in positions (boning, freezing, preserving and packing meat) that are renowned for being dirty, dangerous and demanding.

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Gender sign

by Elad N. Sherf and Subra Tangirala 

A gender-balanced workforce is an economic and moral imperative for organizations. Advancing women’s equality is not only right from a social justice perspective but as a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute suggests it can add $12 trillion to global economic growth. Not surprisingly, many organizations have launched gender-parity initiatives or organized attempts to improve the balance of the gender make-up of their workforces.

Yet, such gender-parity initiatives frequently fail to meet their desired objectives. Although multiple reasons potentially contribute to such failures, one crucial reason may be men’s passivity or lack of enthusiastic involvement in those initiatives.

When men stay on the sidelines, a critical stakeholder is left out of conversations on how organizations can approach and implement gender-equitable policies and practices. That is, gender-parity initiatives run the risk of getting marginalized as “women’s issues” that fail to capture and mobilize the attention and resources of all members of the organization. As men are frequently in positions of power and authority, their lower involvement can thus especially contribute to gender-parity initiatives’ lack of success.

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by Jeremy R. Levine

In May of 2013, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) hosted a public meeting in the low-income neighborhood of Upham’s Corner. The purpose was to solicit input about bike lanes, traffic congestion, and other transportation issues. The meeting resembled similar rituals of participatory democracy that have become increasingly common in poor neighborhoods across the United States: Residents came together with policymakers and collectively debated an issue of public importance.

In theory, participation enables democracy and empowers citizens by incorporating their unique knowledge into public decision-making. But in practice, participation can fall short of these lofty goals.

At the meeting in Upham’s Corner, a transportation consultant contracted by the BRA presented plans to consolidate two bus stops in the neighborhood. The state transportation authority had already committed to the consolidation; the consultant was just explaining the change as background context for her additional recommendations.

Residents at the meeting were both unaware of and upset at the news. Cedric, an African American resident in his forties, argued that the bus stops were important for “this community.”  The consultant responded that a “robust public participation process” had already occurred, and during that process, “people were invited to submit comments.” There were public meetings, she claimed, “and this was ultimately the decision that was made with the consensus of the community working with the City of Boston, and working with the [state transportation authority].”

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Capitolby James R. Jones

Throughout the course of the day, amidst a sea of gawking tourists and politicking lawmakers, African American employees nod to one another while walking in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol. In a recently published study, I investigated why Black staffers nod to one another and what it means.

The Black professional staff I interviewed often brushed the nod off as a common cultural practice shared among African Americans outside of Capitol Hill. However, my analysis shows that what happens in these ephemeral interactions goes beyond signaling a quick greeting. Instead, it conveys important information about what it means to be Black while working in a White-dominated political institution.

My findings demonstrate that what happens in micro-level encounters is not just about the individuals involved, but also characterizes and embodies a complex socio-historical relationship about race and power in the United States and in Congress.

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