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Meetingby 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.

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Image: UNIDO via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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.

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ticking clocksAnyone who has worked a nonstandard, part-time job is familiar with the issues: uncertain hours, fluctuating pay and last-minute change. Add to that a more recent scheduling innovation increasingly common in retail work: on-call hours that require workers to set aside time they may be required to work, with no compensation for that time and no guarantee of hours or pay.

Variable schedules are particularly challenging for parents, who can find it difficult to arrange childcare, attend school events, and even maintain morning and bedtime routines. Fluctuating schedules can interfere with ability to attend school or hold down an additional job. Because pay varies with hours, workers may also have difficulty making ends meet.

In response to demands of women’s and labor groups, government officials are increasingly enacting or proposing legislation aiming to curtail practices that present the greatest challenges to employees. Many workers have gained the right to request predictable schedules (although laws currently do not require employers to honor their requests). Other proposals call for work schedules posted two weeks in advance, compensation for on-call status, and extra pay if workers are called in with less than 24-hours notice or are sent home after just a few hours of work.

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Males retain lion’s share of power and prestige in post-recession economy.

by Inga Kiderra

(This article was originally published on the UC San Diego News Center. The original version can be read here.)

It’s March 2013 – 50 years after Betty Friedan’s explosive book launched feminism’s “second wave,” 41 after Title IX, the equal-opportunity amendment banning sex discrimination in education, was signed into law – and some exceptionally successful women are making a lot of news. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is riding high in public opinion, winning straw polls for the 2016 presidency. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, after shrugging off maternity leave, has sparked the “Great Telecommuting Debate” with a company-wide ban on working from home. And Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, is on the cover of TIME and every other national stage, it seems, talking about “Lean In,” her just-published memoir and “sort of feminist” manifesto on succeeding as a female in corporate America.

The very presence of these women would seem to contradict the need for a national dialogue on women in the workplace that Sandberg is urging. Except that it doesn’t. These women are rare exceptions – according to a report from the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego.

The report details ongoing inequalities in the American labor market on the basis of gender.

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A recent article on Forbes purported to rank the least stressful jobs, and perhaps predictably, sparked outrage among academics when it ranked being a university professor as the number one least stressful job. The article contains some dubious claims that might make you do a double-take if you work as a professor–among them that professors are “off” from May-September, enjoy long breaks during the school year, that there is “some” pressure to publish (!) and that “deadlines are few”. The ranking is based on markers of stress including but not limited to travel, competitiveness, growth potential, and risk to one’s own life or others.

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