An interview with Dr. Adia Harvey Wingfield about her blog, Women are Advancing in the Workplace, but Women of Color Still Lag Behind.
Why is your topic important to study?
It is important to study underrepresented groups in the workplace, because these experiences give better insight into understanding how our current workplaces can be improved to maximize human capital. Americans spend a significant amount of our time at work, and it is increasingly tied to other functions (health care, retirement), but we also know that work is fundamentally unequal. People of color are concentrated into lower paying, less prestigious jobs, and women of all races experience widespread pay disparity, sexual harassment, and blocked paths to leadership. It’s critical to understand how these processes occur so that researchers and policymakers can work on changing them.
Dr. Adia Harvey Wingfield is Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. She specializes in research that examines the ways intersections of race, gender, and class affect social processes at work. Learn more about Dr. Wingfield on her website.
What did you find when investigating this topic?
My research has yielded some really interesting findings about how racial and gender inequality persists in workplaces. My book, No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work, focused on Black men working in white male-dominated occupations (law, medicine, finance, and engineering). One of the findings from this study was that while many Black men felt that they were able to form relatively close ties with their white male counterparts, they also used their positions at work to try to advocate for women of all races, because they saw the ways women were adversely affected by the gender dynamics in these professions. A more recent study, Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy, examines how the changing health care industry affects Black professionals. In this book, I show that organizational focus on short-term profits means that responsibility for creating more diversity and inclusion falls to Black workers. In particular, Black women working at various levels of the health care industry (as doctors, nurses, and technicians) have very different experiences. Both studies point to ways organizations can change to be more equitable for Black workers.
What are 3 important action steps that working women can use in their lives?
It’s important for women to push for organizations to change to be more equitable. Often underrepresented workers try to enact change themselves, but that is a difficult strategy. Apart from that, I encourage working women to ensure that they have a diverse array of mentors (career, personal, and so forth). Mentoring takes on an outsize role in today’s organizations, and it is key to have support, particularly in jobs where women are underrepresented. Finally, I encourage women to support other women whenever possible, and to be mindful of the intersections (racial, ethnic, citizenship, sexual or gender identity) that may shape various other women’s experiences. There are other suggestions that may be more or less useful depending on the particular career field, but ultimately, I think it’s critically important for women to work collectively to create change in today’s organizations.