Seminar Title / Other Information
Feb 13, 2014 Capability Erosion Dynamics

Dr. Hazhir Rahmandad Visiting Associate Professor, MIT Sloan; Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

Abstract: The notion of a capability is widely invoked to explain differences in organizational performance, and much research has explored capability development mechanisms. Yet there is little research on how effective organizational capabilities may erode.  We empirically identify capability erosion dynamics that lead two software development organizations to diverging capability trajectories despite similar organizational and technological settings.  Building a simulation-based theory using these data we identify the adaptation trap, a mechanism through which managerial learning can lead to capability erosion: well-intentioned efforts by managers to search locally for the optimal workload balance lead them to systematically overload their organizations and, thereby, cause capabilities to erode.  The analysis of our model provides insight into the settings in which capability erosion is likely and strategically relevant.

Mar 6, 2014 The Work-Family Narrative as a Social Defense: Explaining the Persistence of Gender Inequality in Organizations

Robin Ely - Diane Doerge Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Senior Associate Dean for Culture and Community, Harvard Business School

Abstract: A widely-accepted explanation for women's stalled advancement into senior organizational positions is that their family obligations conflict with these jobs’ long hours, and the widely-championed solution has been policies offering flexible work arrangements designed to mitigate such conflict.  Yet the success of such policies has been uneven, at best.  Drawing on an in-depth case study of a global professional service firm, we offer two explanations for the persistence of the belief in work-family solutions in the face of this lack of success.  We first explain how the pervasive and resilient nature of the work-family explanation qualifies it as a “hegemonic narrative”; we then take a psychodynamic systems perspective on organizations to argue that organizations use this narrative and attendant routines and policies as an unconscious "social defense."  Specifically, we propose that organizations—supported and reinforced by cultural beliefs about intensive mothering—may rely on the work-family narrative as an explanation for women's blocked mobility partly because it diverts attention from the broader problem of a long-hours work culture.  The readily-available work-family narrative allows firms and their members to avoid this reality and the anxieties it creates by projecting the problem exclusively onto women and by projecting the image of a successful employee exclusively onto men.  Ironically, this focus leads to accommodation policies that do little to help women and often hurt them.  Meanwhile, the larger problem remains unaddressed and unacknowledged, penalizing all employees and limiting firms' efficacy in accomplishing their primary tasks.

Mar 20, 2014 Fates of Cooperative and Mutual Enterprise Systems in the Neoliberal Era: Mutual Banks, Community and Conversions to Stock Corporations in the US

Marc Schneiberg - John C. Pock Professor of Sociology, Reed College

Abstract: How have systems of cooperative, mutual and public enterprises fared in the US in the face of financialization and the “victory of the market” during the late 20th century?   Have alternatives to investor-owned corporations been able to retain their distinctive identities, mission and form, or have they been purged from the path?  I address these questions by analyzing the fates and forms of saving and loans associations in the US – a system of depositor-owned mutual enterprises that played a pivotal role in making mortgage markets.  Beginning in the 1970s, mutual associations faced increasingly powerful pressures to embrace the market and abandon their traditional forms and community orientation. Many embraced the call of the market and converted to stock corporations, but others remained committed to communities and the mutual form. Using time series data on nearly the entire population of mutual savings and loans associations, I analyze arguments that as Americans increasingly bowl (virtually or) alone, as elites become less connected to their local communities, and as communities become more fractured along class or race lines, they may also be less inclined to support mutual or public enterprise, and more receptive to market and its for-profit forms. I find the decisions to convert rested critically on local social embeddedness, and the presence of particular kinds of social and organizational communities, highlighting continuing possibilities for cooperativism in the age of neoliberalism. But conversions were themselves socially embedded processes, resting on the reconstitution rather than simple dissolution of local communities.  

Apr 10, 2014 The Decline of Whiteness and the Rise of the Tea Party

Robb Willer - Associate Professor, Stanford University

Abstract:The Tea Party is the most electorally influential social movement in recent American history. What factors led the movement to emerge when it did? And what role might racial prejudice play in Tea Party support? Here I test the claim that recent political, demographic, and economic events have threatened the status of white Americans, leading them to increased racial prejudice and support for the Tea Party. Five studies support this reasoning, demonstrating that various threats to the status of whites lead white Americans to express both greater prejudice and greater support for the movement. A final study finds that threatened whites reported greater support for the Tea Party when racialized aspects of its platform (e.g., opposition to immigration) were highlighted, not when libertarian positions (e.g., opposition to environmental regulation) were. These findings support a view of the Tea Party as, in part, a response to a perceived decline in the status of whiteness in America. I conclude by discussing prospects for a general theory of the role of group status in the mobilization of large scale collective actions.

May 8, 2014 The Effects of Peripheral but Self-revealing Similarities on Improving and Sustaining Interracial Relationships

Joe Magee - Associate Professor of Management, NYU Wagner

Abstract: Integrating theory on close relationships and intergroup relations, my co-authors and I construct a manipulation of similarity that we demonstrate can improve interracial interactions across different settings. We find that manipulating perceptions of similarity on self-revealing attributes that are peripheral to the interaction improves interactions in cross-race dyads and racially diverse task groups.  In a getting-acquainted context, we demonstrate that the belief that one’s different-race partner is similar to oneself on self-revealing, peripheral attributes leads to less anticipatory anxiety than the belief that one's partner is similar on peripheral, non-self-revealing attributes. In a dyadic context, we explore the range of benefits that perceptions of peripheral, self-revealing similarity can bring to different-race interaction partners and find a) less anxiety during interaction, b) greater interest in sustained contact with one’s partner, and c) stronger accuracy in perceptions of one’s partners’ relationship intentions. By contrast, participants in same-race interactions were largely unaffected by these manipulations of perceived similarity. Our final experiment shows that among small task groups composed of racially diverse individuals, those whose members perceive peripheral, self-revealing similarity perform superior to those who perceive dissimilarity. Implications for using this approach to improve interracial interactions across different goal-driven contexts are discussed.