UMB OSC group at conference on Inequality, Institutions and Organizations in Vancouver

By Ed Carberry, David Levy, Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Suhaib Riaz, Mary Still.

The Organizations and Social Change (OSC) research group at UMass-Boston had a strong presence at a recently held conference on “Inequality, Institutions and Organizations” at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. The conference was organized by John Amis (Memphis), Tom Lawrence (Simon Fraser) and Kamal Munir (Cambridge) and featured guest discussants such as Jerry Davis (Michigan), Steve Barley (Stanford) and Pam Tolbert (Cornell) among others.

Research related to inequality comprises a key area of interest for several scholars in the OSC group at UMass-Boston and their strong presence at Vancouver highlighted their various ongoing projects. The UMB OSC group had the highest number of participants from any one institution and they were also amongst those called upon to summarize the work in their respective streams.

Ed Carberry (co-author: Edward Zajac) presented a paper on how executive compensation has changed since the collapse of Enron.  Analyzing a longitudinal dataset of 1,500 publicly traded firms, this paper assesses the influence of shareholder activism and negative media criticism on the value of executive compensation over the last ten years. The analysis focuses not only on how these pressures influenced the value of compensation, but also on how CEO power influenced responses to these pressures. The findings reveal that executives in firms in which CEOs had more power over their boards of directors received higher levels of compensation than those with less powerful CEOs, and that this power was resilient in the face of external challenges from shareholders and the media. However, in firms where CEOs had less power, these same challenges were associated with lower levels of executive compensation.

David Levy co-authored a paper with Hugh Willmott, Kamal Munir (who presented), and Ayaz Tanoli on the transformation of production systems in Pakistan’s apparel industry after the MFA quota regime was abolished in 1995. To reduce costs in the face of higher competition, Pakistani women were drafted into factories displacing male workers, and production shifted from skilled cottage-style system to a factory-based Fordist system. Traditional cultural and religious values in the region raised the promise that women entering the workforce would be low-wage and compliant, yet these same values presented hurdles to female workforce participation. Our exploration of this intersection of market and political power illustrates how cultural and economic pressures flow across global production networks and induce local nodes to reorganize. The paper draws from cultural political economy to appreciate how a new economic imaginary was invoked to advance a transition to a new production regime – requiring not just the whip of the global market but also a substantial cultural and social shift. The authors show how a somewhat unlikely alliance of local producers, government agencies, NGOs, and multilateral organizations tried to legitimize this transition by portraying the changes not just as essential economically but also as a project of modernization and female empowerment.

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan and Mary Still (co-authored with Susan Clark Muntean) presented their work on work life balance programs and how they reflect both institutionalized and internalized forms of gender and economic equality in organizations. Their paper focuses on Working Mother magazine’s best companies and examines the longitudinal outcomes of the adoption of work life balance programs including time/flexibility and care options that are purportedly available for all employees but mostly utilized by women. Their preliminary findings suggest that women fare worse when work life programs are made available. In other words, there are fewer women in the top tiers of management in organizations that adopt work life balance programs compared to those that do not adopt them. These provocative findings suggest that work life balance programs represent institutionalized and internalized inequality, both in terms of income and opportunity for advancement for the women who utilize them. By addressing the paradoxical and deleterious outcomes of programs that aim to create opportunities for women’s advancement and equality in organizations, their paper provides an opportunity to discuss the gendered norms and values facing women and men in organizations and society while also engaging in the debate over government involvement and responsibility in providing social safety nets, such as universal child care, particularly in the face of budget crises.

Suhaib Riaz and co-authors (Sean Buchanan and Madeline Toubiana) presented their research on Consumer Debt. Their work examines the role of mainstream media in institutional maintenance through a longitudinal analysis of media coverage of consumer debt in the period leading up to and during the global financial crisis. Their findings suggest that changing media frames facilitate institutional maintenance by influencing the ways in which meanings are constructed and interpreted by actors. Media frames are observed through the selection of actors included in the debate, the salience given to issues over time, and the roles assigned to consumers in media coverage. These findings contribute to research on institutional work by highlighting the role of macro-level actors in processes of creation, maintenance, and disruption of institutions underlying societal inequality.

At the conclusion of the conference, the hosts also set aside time for an announcement by Suhaib about a special issue of Human Relations for which he is a guest editor. This agenda-setting special issue is focused on “Economic Inequality and Management” and particularly encourages scholarship that draws connections between organizational practices and societal-level inequality.

Overall, the group’s presence reflected the active engagement by OSC scholars in research problems at the intersection of organizations and society. The group’s recently launched PhD program also received several positive comments from the scholarly community gathered at the conference.

OSC faculty

UMass-Boston OSC group members at the Vancouver conference (L to R: Mary Still, Ed Carberry, Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Suhaib Riaz. Not in picture but in program: David Levy). 

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