academic

Race, Class, and Bias in Hiring

At the start of a new year, a lot of people make resolutions for what they want to achieve in the next twelve months – and often those resolutions have something to do with work. The resolution could be to choose a new career, to get more education, or to look for a new job. So now is a particularly appropriate time to look at two recent studies about bias in employers’ hiring processes. The results of these studies demonstrate that job applicants can often be rejected for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do the job. And the studies also suggest that biased hiring has effects that go way beyond individual careers or workplaces.

These two studies used essentially the same methodology, which is (more…)

Shadow Work and Customer Service

In any organization, there are tasks that have to be done if anything is going to be accomplished or produced. So the organization has to decide which jobs in the organization are responsible for completing those tasks. In workplaces, this decision process is referred to as “job design” – putting different tasks together to create jobs.

Ideally, according to job characteristics theory, a job has skill variety, task significance (feeling like the task contributes something meaningful), autonomy, and the opportunity to get performance feedback. All of these make the job enjoyable for the worker who has that job. The organization also has to ensure that the tasks in one job don’t overlap with or duplicate tasks in other jobs, and that all the tasks in the organization are assigned to a job.

However, tasks in a workplace are not always easy to fully define, or to fit inside clear boundaries. Think of something like (more…)

Job Churn and Precarious Work

I wrote an opinion article for the Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail newspaper, responding to recent comments by Canadian politicians that workers should “get used to” job churn and precarious work. You can read the article here.

University Diversity

Diversity in the workforce is a challenging issue for many organizations, but it’s particularly critical for universities. This is partly because many universities are publicly funded, which might imply that they have a larger responsibility to represent the population that financially supports them. And universities that teach about inclusivity and equality should surely be expected to live those values in their own operations.

But another reason is that universities are large and very visible organizations. Unlike workers at companies whose operations are largely unseen, workers at universities interact with large numbers of people – students, communities, governments – every day. So if there is a lack of diversity in the workforce at universities, it will be far more noticeable than it might be in other types of organizations.

Statistics Canada collects data on gender diversity among post-secondary instructors, but it doesn’t collect data on racial, ethnic or international diversity in that occupation. So I was very interested in (more…)

Pumpkins and Pomposity

Margaret Wente, a columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper, isn’t known for having insightful or original perspectives on issues. Earlier this year, it was discovered that some of her columns were truly unoriginal – that is, they contained unattributed material taken from other sources. But the topics of Wente’s columns also tend to be recycled, and two weeks ago she returned to one of her favourite topics: the silliness of some academic research.

Since I’ve written about Wente’s attacks on academics before, I recognize that I’m also recycling topics by devoting a blog post to her latest anti-academic screed. But Wente’s reasoning and analyses in this column are so appallingly weak that they deserve to be called out.

Wente’s column starts (more…)

Graduate Degrees and Low-Wage Work

Underemployment is a phenomenon in the labour market that doesn’t get a lot of attention. That’s partly because the term “underemployment” can mean a couple of different things. One definition of “underemployment” is part-time workers who would prefer to be working full-time, or who are actively seeking full-time work while working part-time. Those situations aren’t always captured by measures that simply count the numbers of part-time workers, because those data don’t look at workers’ reasons why they are working part-time.

Another definition of “underemployment” is workers that have higher qualifications than the requirements of the job they’re employed in. This is also referred to as “overqualification”. And there’s a new study with some fascinating data about underemployment or overqualification among people with graduate degrees. (more…)

Selective Attention

At the end of April, Margaret Wente, a columnist for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper, was accused of plagiarism for the second time. Her column temporarily disappeared, and Globe editor David Walmsley stated that “[t]he Opinion team will be working with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again”.

Wente’s column started showing up again on the Globe’s editorial pages in mid-May. If her June 11 column is an example of her rehabilitated writing, it looks like Wente might have learned not to plagiarize – but she continues to express opinions that don’t fit the facts.

The column in question pooh-poohs the idea of “quotas for women” to encourage more equitable gender representation in leadership positions. Wente states that “in business circles, it is now conventional to declare that companies with more women on their boards are more socially responsible and tally better financial results”. She then proceeds to attack that idea by citing this recent academic article by researcher Alice Eagly, presenting it as proof that a diverse board of directors does not improve a company’s financial performance or the board’s own effectiveness.

I’m not sure where Wente is finding these “business circles” that believe in diverse board membership. (more…)

Letting the Sunshine In

How much light should a “sunshine list” shine?

Public sector compensation disclosure lists – “sunshine lists” – are lists of individuals in public sector jobs that are paid more than a certain amount. These annual lists usually include the person’s name, the public sector organization they work for, their job title, and their annual earnings for that fiscal year.  In Canada, five provinces have some version of a legislated “sunshine list”: Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick. (Other provinces publish salary information in their public accounts, but don’t produce a single comprehensive list.)

The reasons for publishing these lists usually involve “accountability” and “transparency” – but recently there has been pushback from some of the workers included on the lists. (more…)

Conferences and Codes of Conduct

Nearly every organization has a code of conduct for its employees. These codes are usually explicit rules about what the organization’s members are and aren’t allowed to do, including the penalties – from reprimands to firing – for breaking those rules. Often there are also statements of the organization’s guiding values and principles, which employees are expected to uphold in carrying out their work or making decisions. But when employees go to professional events like conferences – events related to work but which take place outside the workplace – the rules of behaviour aren’t always as clear.

Behaviour at conferences is something that I’ve been thinking about as conference season is starting for me. Every year, away from the watchful eyes of their supervisors and their human resources department, some people act like idiots. They might do things like ask questions during a seminar or presentation with the sole intention of making the presenter look bad and making themselves look good. Or they might harass other conference attendees, usually at social events, by doing things like looking down women’s tops, making inappropriate comments about how someone is dressed, or uttering racist or sexist insults (I’ve personally witnessed all of these).

Surprisingly, though, many conference organizers are reluctant to crack down on these kinds of behaviours by attendees. (more…)

Book Publishing and False Economies

The North American book publishing industry has been disrupted in the last couple of years. Publishers’ revenues are dropping for a number of reasons:  different publishing formats, the increased ease of self-publishing, and upheavals in distribution and sales channels. And in any business, when revenues decrease, one of the first strategic responses is usually to reduce production costs. For book publishers, that can mean reducing the costs of editing or proofreading in the book production process. But cutbacks in those areas can be a false economy, if those cutbacks significantly affect the quality of the finished product. And this week I received a review copy of a book that perfectly illustrates that dilemma.
(more…)