Media headlines of late are challenging our presumptions about what is invisible labor.
Amazon, for instance, announced the opening of a store that eliminates the frontline job of cashiers – as well as the checkout lane and all the self-checkout machines. Instead, this work will be done through the automatic scanning of consumer movements around the store and on the shelves. Live employment will be diverted to locations behind the scenes, in labors of preparing and stocking the food.
Likewise, in my home state of Missouri, a waitress at Hooters was fired for failing to do the work of looking right on the job. That labor involved wearing a wig (bought at her own expense) to cover scar on her head after returning from brain surgery, and thus upholding gendered and sexualized appearance rules at work.
Even acts of resistance on the job are telling, like when an African-American employee broke a stained-glass window in the Yale dining hall where he washed dishes. Outraged by a scene depicting slaves picking cotton, he was no longer willing to do the work of idly supporting in a discriminatory organizational environment.
Automation, aesthetic labor, and racial tasks are examples of contemporary ways that the workplace is disempowering workers and submerging the types of tasks they are expected to do. This is the starting point of a new book I co-edited with two legal scholars, Marion Crain and Miriam Cherry.
by Steve Vincent
Common sense suggests professional self-employment is liberating, for women in particular. Women are more likely to choose to work reduced hours when self-employed because they bear the burden of domestic responsibilities. As a consequence, careers that promise flexibility can be attractive.
Arguably, self-employed professionals can take control of their working time by spacing contracts with clients. As their work is typically mobilised by technology, they can often choose when and where they work. As a result, they can escape the long-hours culture typical of professional work and pattern their working lives to suit their personal interests.
In short, if employment fails to deliver suitable working patters, self-employed professionals can go their own way.
My recent research questions this common sense view by exploring the practices of self-employed human resources (HR) consultants. The research indicates that self-employed consultants who chose to work fewer hours experienced some fairly intractable forms of disadvantage. Here’s why.
Ashley Mears, Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston University, has gone where few sociologists have gone: First, the world of high fashion and runway modeling, and now the world of VIP clubs, which often traffic in women. Combining multiple strands of social science theory, her 2011 book, Pricing Beauty (University of California Press), has won multiple prizes. Her recent article in the American Sociological Review, “Working for Free in the VIP,” asks why women workers participate in their own commercial exploitation. Here we sit down with Ashley and ask some “back stage” questions about the course and conduct of her fieldwork.
Steve: Your book, Pricing Beauty, addresses three distinct but overlapping bodies of knowledge (so to speak) –the sociology of economic institutions, of gender, and of work. Wasn’t it a daunting prospect to try to speak to three areas of study, al this while you were a graduate student? Any thoughts about managing one’s ambitions while also addressing broad intellectual challenges?
Ashley: Don’t forget field theory and the sociology of culture! To me, each of these literatures is a tool to be mobilized to solve empirical problems. My work has always been driven by puzzles and phenomena I encounter Read More
Image: UNIDO via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
by Maria Azocar and Myra Marx Ferree
Important changes are under way in the world of lawyers. Their work has become increasingly dominated by large organizations, globalization has re-structured their work to be increasingly transnational, and demographic changes have redefined the profession. For example, an increasing participation of women in the legal profession is a global trend, with Latin American countries leading the rankings in terms of the number of women who enroll in and graduate from law schools.
What can the sociology of professions say about these changes? The consensus view of the field would be that these changes will translate into increasing jurisdictional battles over lawyers’ claims to expertise. Expertise is sociologically understood as knowledge that people have to accomplish a given task (Abbott 1988; Freidson 2001; Larson 1979). In this scholarship, the focus of study is often on the sites where expertise is produced and recognized, for example in practices of credentialing and licensing. Gender (and other) inequalities in a profession would be analyzed in terms of women’s struggles with men who are often considered more valuable workers or through considering the causes and effects of sex segregation in setting values, rewards or access to power.
These are important insights, but from a gender perspective, expertise not only involves practices of discrimination against women or the segregation of women from men. Expertise can itself be gendered through the differential evaluations of competences and expert claims. Science studies, especially actor-network theory (Latour 1987, Eyal 2013), also suggest asking how objects, technologies, and institutions are gendered and how they acquire stability as jurisdictional boundaries. In addition to claims and competences, networks of social arrangements can be gendered, and their gender can work independently of the gender of the individuals making use of them to advance their relative position.
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.
by Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre
Imagine you’ve stepped inside one of those foodie television shows. You know, the ones set in fine dining restaurants where waiters and sous chefs dash around the kitchen at a frenetic pace, calling out food orders, and tasting dishes in hopes they will live up to the executive chef’s exacting palate. The executive chef moves through the kitchen and is clearly in charge of the action. Maybe the chef you’re imagining is barking orders at subordinates. Maybe they’re appraising the kitchen with a cool eye.
Now, imagine you’re in a different type of kitchen—a kitchen in the “typical” middle-class American home. In this setting, the “chef” is grabbing food out of the refrigerator and, instead of sous chefs, young children are whipping around the kitchen talking about soccer games and piano lessons that have to be worked into everyone’s schedule. Instead of worrying about earning another Michelin star or impressing a food reviewer, this “chef” is just trying to get dinner on the table for the family.
In the two scenarios above, what genders did you imagine for the chefs? If you’re like most people, you probably pictured the professional chef as a man dressed in a white jacket and toque while the second scene may have led to visions of harried mothers, perhaps still in the clothes they wore to work, frantically trying to get dinner on the table for her family.
Image: ScoRDS via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
For the first time in its history, the City Council in my hometown of Austin, Texas is run by a female majority. This important milestone should be cause for celebration. Instead, Austin was embroiled in controversy when it was revealed that the city manager’s office had brought in experts to help staffers “cope” with this new reality.
Consultants from Florida provided a two-hour training session to explain how new approaches would be needed to present issues before the council now that women are in charge. Staffers were told that men and women do not process information in the same way. Nor do they care about the same things: men are interested in the financial bottom line, while women want to know how various issues impact the community, families, and children. Women also ask a lot more questions than men do, and take more time reaching a decision.
The staffers at the event (most of whom were women) were encouraged to adopt a gender-appropriate repertoire as soon as possible because more women political leaders are inevitable, thanks to the inspiration of Hillary Clinton.
This egregious stereotyping of women leaders led to a barrage of embarrassing press coverage. Consequently, the City Manager suspended the person responsible for arranging the training session.
Image: Koivth via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.5)
by Jessica Looze, Aleta Sprague, and Jody Heymann
Over the past half century, the number of women in the workforce and their earnings rose markedly—not just in the United States, but worldwide. Yet in recent years, this progress has stagnated, and we’re still far short of gender parity in the economy. This is in large part because many workplaces continue to operate as if employees have no caregiving responsibilities. The global increase in women in the labor market hasn’t coincided with an equivalent rise in men’s share of caregiving. And in too many countries, laws and policies aren’t helping.
Indeed, the gender wage gap is largely a motherhood gap: unmarried women without children earn 95 cents on a man’s dollar, but for married mothers with at least one child under age 18, this figure drops to 76 cents. The gender gap at work is fueled by a gender gap at home. Women continue to spend more time doing carework than men, which is not simply a reflection of personal preferences: gender disparities in caregiving are embedded in, and perpetuated by countries’ laws, and policies. The consequences for the financial well-being of women and their families can be enormous.
To assess countries’ progress toward promoting gender equality in the economy and in caregiving, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center (WORLD) at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, together with our colleagues at the Maternal and Child Health Equity (MACHEquity) research program, recently released new globally comparative data and analyses on laws and policies affecting work and caregiving across all 193 UN member states. We examined the availability of leave following the birth of a child, for children’s health and education needs, as well as leave for the health needs of adult family members. The data show that while globally, countries are making some progress in promoting gender equality for workers with infant children, many countries still have a ways to go. Moreover, compared to infant caregiving, countries have made far less progress toward promoting gender equality when it comes to providing care for children beyond infancy or for elderly parents.
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.
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?