Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Adia Harvey Wingfield's "Flatlining"

Adia Harvey Wingfield is Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. She is a regular contributor to Slate, Harvard Business Review, and the Atlantic. She is the author of several books, including No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men's Work.

Wingfield applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Callie is a black woman who works as a patient care technician on a mother-baby floor in a university hospital on the East Coast. She describes it as a “very prestigious hospital,” and it is in fact affiliated with one of the best universities in the United States. Most of the patients she sees are white and well off, and though some patients of color are admitted to the hospital, they are in the minority. After working there for several years, Callie, like many other technicians in this study, came to view her work as a stepping-stone in her career progression. She really wanted to move into nursing and was taking classes that would go toward her nursing degree. She saw this as a way to have more of an impact and to focus more fully on patient care.
Page 99 is the beginning of a chapter about black technicians and the ways that changes to how we work affect them. Since it’s the beginning of a chapter, it only gets half a page, so the page 99 test is at a bit of a disadvantage! Callie’s narrative is the beginning of one segment of a much larger story.

What happens to black professionals in a new economy where the social contract between organizations and labor is increasingly frayed? In an era of technological advancement, diminishing protections for workers, and growing income inequality, organizations today prioritize shedding labor, cutting costs, and increasing shareholder returns. These changes mean that even in “good jobs,” workers have fewer protections from downsizing or termination, rely heavily on social networks when seeking employment, change jobs more frequently, and experience greater economic uncertainty. At the same time, many organizations also profess an interest in meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse population, and many express support for including workers of color in professional jobs. How does this tension between greater diversity and shrinking support for workers impact black professionals? How do they navigate professional jobs in an environment where organizations tout a commitment to diversity but labor power is weakened?

Flatlining focuses on black professionals in the health care industry to answer these questions. Using multiple methodological approaches, I show how broader economic and structural changes fundamentally reoriented professional jobs, impacting the work black professionals do within and outside of their places of employment. This labor varies by occupational status and gender, leaving black men and women with divergent responsibilities depending on their position in the organizational hierarchy. As a result, professional work today comes with a different set of challenges for black employees, revealing complicated issues for organizations and new mechanisms of racial inequality in the workplace.
Learn more about Flatlining at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue