Work and Organization Studies

OS Seminar

The Work and Organization Studies group is a hub for the study of work, employment, and organizations, and is host to one of the longest-running seminar series at MIT. These weekly seminars attract researchers from across the Institute and around the world. The OS Seminar will be held virtually from 11:00-12:30 pm ET on the dates listed below.  Seminar details, along with the Zoom links will be sent to the OS Seminar mailing group prior to the seminar.  To join our mailing group, please contact Virginia Geiger (  Please check the schedule below for upcoming speakers.

Current Seminars

  • March 3, 2022

    Justin Berg, Stanford Graduate School of Business

    One-Hit Wonders versus Hit Makers:  Sustaining Success in Creative Industries

    Creative industries produce many one-hit wonders who struggle to repeat their initial success and fewer hit makers who sustain success over time. To develop theory on the role of creativity in driving sustained market success, I propose a path dependence theory of creators’ careers that considers creators’ whole portfolios of products over time and how their early portfolios shape their later capacity to sustain success. The main idea is that a creator’s path to sustained success depends on the creativity in their portfolio at the time of their initial hit—relatively creative portfolios give creators more options for leveraging their past portfolios while adapting to market changes, increasing their odds of additional hits. I tested the proposed theory using an archival study of the U.S. music industry from 1959–2010, including data on over 3 million songs by 69,050 artists, and the results largely support the hypotheses. Artists who reached their initial hits with relatively creative (novel or varied) portfolios were more likely to generate additional hits, but a novel portfolio was less likely to yield an initial hit than was a typical portfolio. These findings suggest that new creators face a tradeoff between their likelihood of initial versus sustained success, such that building a relatively creative early portfolio is a risky bet that can make or break a creator’s career. 

  • March 31, 2022

    Sean Martin, University of Virginia

    Social Class and Class Mobility in Management

    Social class is a powerful force in society that shapes cognition, behavior, social attributions and organizational experiences. In this research presentation, I will discuss social class as a unique form of social hierarchy, and the importance of considering social class research in management. I will also highlight some taken-for-granted assumptions that scholars should skeptically analyze. In discussing these topics, I will present the results of several field and experimental studies, as well as some preliminary data from upcoming projects.

Past Seminars

  • October 21, 2021

    Dan Stein, Berkeley Haas 

    The Organizational Consequences of Altering Rituals 

    From the Walmart Cheer to Google's TGIF meetings, rituals—or predefined sequences of symbolic actions—are pervasive in organizational settings. To understand how rituals influence individuals, groups, and organizations, I examine how people respond when rituals are altered. In two papers, I show that altering rituals (1) provokes moral outrage and (2) reduces an individual’s workgroup commitment. Specifically, in the first paper, I show how attempts to alter more (versus less) ritualistic cultural events (e.g., U.S. holiday rituals) triggered moral outrage, which ultimately produced a desire and willingness to punish the ritual alterer. Moreover, moral outrage and willingness to punish were particularly pronounced among people who were more strongly committed to the group in which the ritual originated, revealing the stalwarts of the groups’ rituals. In the second paper, I collected four-waves of a full-time employee panel survey and demonstrate that COVID-19 induced alterations to more (versus less) ritualistic workplace activities (e.g., workplace meetings) diminished perceptions that workgroups are cohesive, which ultimately reduced an individual's workgroup commitment. Finally, I share insights from an in-progress laboratory experiment that causally links ritual alterations to diminished commitment. In summary, my research identifies micro-level, psychological consequences of rituals, which supports the view that rituals have essential qualities that influence people at work. 

  • November 1, 2021

    Yang Yang, Syracuse University - School of Information Studies 

    Gender Diverse Teams Produce More Innovative and Influential Ideas in Medical Research 

     This work addresses questions about how concurrent increases in teamwork and women in science have changed how the gender composition of a team positively correlates with its research innovativeness and impact. Using ~6.6 million medicine publications from 2000 to 2019, we examine the link between gender diverse research teams and team performance. There are several important findings. First, gender diverse teams publish papers that are more innovative and impactful than same gender teams, controlling for confounds due to the authors’ past performance, prestige, subfield, and journal. Secondly, the results strongly generalize to the subfields of medical science, whether the diverse team’s leader is a woman or a man. Nevertheless, gender diverse teams are significantly underrepresented, potentially constraining scientific advances. More generally, this work expands science of science studies from analyses of gender differences to analyses of gender complementarities, recognizing distinctive advantages in the scientific outcomes from gender-diverse teams. 

  • November 3, 2021

    Jacqueline Lane, Harvard Business School 

    Generating Innovation in the Lab: Experimental Evidence from the Life Sciences 

    High-value innovations in science and technology often come from especially novel or atypical recombinations of ideas and prior innovations. In this paper, we use a field experiment to investigate how exposure to new ideas affects the novelty and value of recombinant innovations. Partnering with a scientific organization and intervening in their grant evaluation process, we created exogenous variation in the new ideas that 142 research scientists at a leading medical school were exposed to, by randomly assigning each researcher to evaluate 15 (out of 150) scientific proposals. We then leverage this unique approach to test key claims of existing theories of novel recombinations while also documenting a range of added patterns. Tracking the scientists’ research outputs over the following five years, we find that the randomized exposures led to papers that recombined ideas that are more novel to the scientist, while simultaneously broadening their expertise. In particular, the papers were 10% and 34% more likely to be published in journals and subfields that were new to the scientist, and also involved 0.5 new coauthors on average. That said, we find no evidence that the recombinations could be judged as more novel in relation to the prior literature. Further, recombinations that were less novel (i.e., more incremental) were more successful in terms of forward citations and journal impact factor. Our study offers insights into how successful recombinant innovations can be generated from new idea exposures, while highlighting the potential trade-offs between the novelty and value of innovative outputs. 

  • November 4, 2021

    Alicia Sheares, University of California - Berkeley 

    Getting in the Door: The Racialized Legitimation Strategies of Black Tech Entrepreneurs 

    Existing research highlights the myriad of challenges that Black professionals face in organizations and their response strategies. I build on this scholarship to examine how Black tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and Atlanta understand racial inequality in their respective markets and the tactics they deploy to get ahead. Drawing on nearly 100 in-depth interviews, 100 hours of participant observation, and content analysis of media reports, I found that Black tech entrepreneurs faced similar constraints, but developed distinct racialized legitimation strategies. Those in Silicon Valley used approaches such as acquiring more elite institutional credentials and relying on White and Asian cofounders as a racial cover, while those in Atlanta used blackness as capital by tapping into Black networks, diversity-focused programs, and consumer markets. This research highlights how racially minoritized individuals consider both systemic racism and field-specific logics in their strategic decision-making processes. Implications for understanding systemic racism in elite markets as well as field reproduction and transformation are discussed.     

  • November 10, 2021

    Jacob Foster, UCLA - Sociology 

    Modeling culture: Linking Theory and Method with Machine Learning and Macroevolution 

    Culture is critical to contemporary social science. It plays a starring role in our explanations, and cultural data (broadly construed) is available at unprecedented scale and resolution. Yet explanatory and empirical treatments of culture are often disjoint; theory and method are not in alignment. In this talk, I consider culture from two perspectives, emphasizing the union of theory and method in each case.  

    First, I use computational thinking to explore the learning, production, and interpretation of natural language. I present a new model of language production and interpretation that allows us to identify latent patterns in text data from many domains. This approach, Discourse Atom Topic Modeling, draws on advances in theoretical machine learning to integrate topic modeling and word embedding, capitalizing on the distinct capabilities of each. I illustrate this method with a compelling example of underutilized administrative text: unstructured narratives from the US National Violent Death Reporting System. I identify latent topics in narratives (many not captured by existing structured variables) and show how to identify latent meanings (e.g., gender bias) in topics. 

    Second, I discuss the drivers of socio-cultural change, drawing on ideas from cultural evolution and methods from contemporary macroevolutionary biology. By shifting focus to the dynamics of ideas and objects in public culture, I argue that we can use formal evolutionary mechanisms to explain long-run changes in cultural forms. I show how new Bayesian models of birth-death processes can be used to explain the diversity dynamics of cultural populations, illustrating this approach with a near-complete record of the history of metal music. I offer strong evidence that the genre has been shaped by competition between ideas for “cultural carrying capacity” (the cognitive resources actors can invest in learning about and reproducing this cultural form) and that key innovations (the invention of new sub-genres) have expanded cultural carrying capacity by opening space for new ideas.  

    I conclude by arguing that a coherent approach to culture must embrace (and combine) its computational and evolutionary dimensions. Modeling culture can help us do this. 


  • November 15, 2021

    Sophia Fu, Rutgers School of Communication and Information 

    Where Does Innovation Come From?  Institutions, Networks, and Technology in Global Social Impact Organizing 

    Due to the significance of organizational innovation for human, social, and economic development, research has long sought to understand how existing knowledge and information may be recombined in innovation efforts. In this presentation, I focus on three distinct, yet interrelated factors for global social impact organizing. In Study 1, I investigate how social networks influence public health innovation adoption in an interorganizational system in India. In Study 2, I examine the paradoxical effects of communication visibility in organizational social media use for social entrepreneurship organizing in China. 

    In Study 3, I further examine the conditions under which the coexistence of multiple institutional logics (i.e., institutional complexity) may fuel innovative solutions to tackle organizational and societal challenges. Using two surveys from U.S. social ventures (N1 = 293, N2 = 318), I first create and validate a measurement scale to evaluate the heterogeneity in how institutional complexity manifests in social ventures. I then develop and test a set of novel theoretical predications about the relationship between logic (in)compatibility, centrality, and organizational innovation. The data provided support for the mediated moderation model proposed in this research. Specifically, organizational actors that perceive social welfare and market logics at a moderate level of incompatibility are more likely to develop novel and good ideas. However, the inverted U-shaped curvilinear effect of perceived logic (in)compatibility on organizational innovation is amplified by the perceived centrality of constituent logics: organizations that consider both social welfare and market logics core to their functioning are associated with more pronounced shifts in organizational innovation than organizations that prioritize either the social welfare or market logic. Moreover, an organization’s entrepreneurial orientation fully mediates the relationship between institutional complexity and organizational innovation. 

    Taken together, the findings of the three studies underscore the influence of institutional, network, and technological factors on organizational innovation. This research offers important theoretical contributions for research in social and interorganizational networks, technology management, affordances, sociomateriality, hybrid organizing, institutional theory, and social entrepreneurship. It also has important practical implications for organizational leaders, social entrepreneurs, and network managers to adopt or develop social innovations to more effectively tackle grand challenges, such as public health crises, climate change, and social inequities. 

  • November 16, 2021

    Audrey Holm, Boston University Questrom School of Business 

    Jurisdictional Deflection in Social Justice Occupations: How Reentry Counselors Uphold Professional Ideals 

    Advancing the interests of underprivileged and underrepresented groups of people is a core component of many occupations – from social workers to diversity officers. Extant scholarship, however, suggests that the social justice impact of such occupations may sometimes be more of an ideal than a reality, particularly due to the systemic nature of inequality. Here, I ask: how do members of social justice occupations navigate the contradictions between their social impact ideals, and the reality that they may never live up to these ideals? I draw inductively from interviews, observations, and archives associated with reentry counselors specialized in helping formerly incarcerated jobseekers become “job ready.” I first detail counselors’ ideals, i.e., their high order aspiration of ensuring formerly incarcerated jobseekers’ successful transition to stable employment. I then show how helping clients sustain employment is both difficult to accomplish and to assess. Faced with the risk that they will fail to make an impact, reentry counselors engage in what I label “jurisdictional deflection”: a process in which professionals avoid situations that would challenge their professional ideals and deflect attention away from their own jurisdiction to explain failure. These findings add to our understanding of an understudied yet key part of today’s occupational landscape – social justice professionals – and extend the study of ideals as they relate to professions and labor markets. The implications for reentry organizations, employers and policymakers are also discussed. 


  • November 18, 2021

    Laura Adler, Harvard University 

    From the Job’s Worth to the Person’s Price: The Transformation of Organizational Pay Practices since 1950 

    This talk examines a major historical change in the way employers determine worker pay. In the post-war decades, most U.S. employers used bureaucratic tools to measure the worth of each job. Starting in the 1980s, employers abandoned these practices and relied instead on external market data to assess the price of a candidate. In doing so, organizations tied employee pay more tightly to the external labor market. I demonstrate the role of legal debates over the definition of gender equity in precipitating this shift, drawing on 1,059 publications from the Society of Human Resources Management and 83 interviews with compensation professionals. The data suggest that when the U.S. courts rejected comparable worth lawsuits in the 1980s, their decisions created an opportunity for employers to reduce liability for discrimination by relying on external, market data. Those legal decisions encouraged employers to abandon bureaucratic pay practices. I use the case of pay-setting to theorize market coupling—using the market to distance organizations from discriminatory outcomes—as a response to the law. The analysis also shows how the comparable worth movement backfired by encouraging a change in organizational practices that entrenched the gender pay gap by leaving gender inequality in place but reducing organizational accountability for that inequality. 

  • November 30, 2021

    Arvind Karunakaran, McGill University 

    Front-Line Professionals in the Wake of Social Media Scrutiny: Examining the Processes of Obscured Accountability 

    Social media is enabling increased public scrutiny of organizations and their front-line professionals. How do front-line professionals respond to social media scrutiny by the public, and with what consequences for organizational accountability? Since organizations want to regain the reputation lost due to negative publicity generated via social media scrutiny, prior research predicts that such forms of scrutiny should improve organizational accountability. However, findings from this 24-month ethnographic study of 911 emergency management organizations (EMOs) suggest that the public’s scrutiny of organizations and their front-line professionals via social media can, under some conditions, obscure the locus of accountability. This study unpacks the processes—front-line professionals’ increased risk aversion, undermined role identities, strained role relations, and resource lockup—that emerge in the wake of social media scrutiny by the public. Together, these processes produce a vicious cycle of coordination, which, in turn, obscures the locus of accountability. Using a “matched case” research design, the practices of two structurally similar EMOs facing the above challenges are then compared to identify the importance of role-rotation in breaking the vicious cycle of coordination, and consequently, improving accountability. This study contributes to the literature on professions and accountability by examining the processes and unintended consequences of social media scrutiny by the public. Findings from this research also have implications for law enforcement reform in the United States, highlighting the nature and structure of interdependent work in policing and therefore the need to view police accountability as a distinctly organizational problem. 

  • December 1, 2021

    Elinor Flynn, NYU Stern 

    (Not) Minding the Gap? Cognitive Mechanisms Undermining Gender Diversity Initiative Support   

    The extent to which employees support diversity initiatives is a critical predictor of their success, but the psychological processes that shape attitudes toward diversity initiatives remain unclear. Although much of the focus on predictors of diversity initiative support has focused on motivated factors, including self-interest and ideology, in this talk, I discuss two projects that investigate additional cognitive mechanisms that undermine support for diversity initiatives, even amongst those they are designed to benefit. In Part I, I will discuss theory and findings from my dissertation which investigates lay theories of the gender gap and their differential consequences for diversity support. In Part II, I will present a paper on how employees react to a novel work-life policy that targets women, egg freezing coverage, and its unintended consequences. In both projects, I identify key misalignments between what organizations intend by implementing diversity initiatives and employee perceptions of those initiatives, which may undermine their effectiveness.  

  • December 2, 2021

    Bryan Spencer, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management 

    Scripted Secondments: How Temporary Jurisdictional Contests Support Artificial Intelligence Development 

    While scholars have significantly advanced our understanding of how jurisdictional contests unfold between competing occupational and professional groups in the workplace, jurisdictional change occurring within a profession has received less scholarly attention. In a 13-month ethnographic field study of an elite teaching hospital in China, “Southern Eye Hospital,” I study how AI development led medical trainees to make claims to tasks and authority that they normally did not possess in order to successfully complete their projects, a move that was at odds with the traditional hierarchy of the hospital. Existing literature suggests that when members move to claim tasks held by others, conflict ensues. I examine how trainees managed the observability of their interactions across time and space as they worked with patients in a carefully scripted way meant to evade detection by senior doctors. These performances, which I call “scripted secondments,” reconceptualize jurisdictional change as temporary, covert claims to tasks that enable trainees to accomplish their goals without causing conflict with senior doctors. While this provisional jurisdictional change appeared innocuous, it preceded radical change at the hospital. This research contributes to an understanding of relationality in jurisdictional change by examining how change unfolds within the hierarchy of a profession. 

  • December 7, 2021

    Sa-kiera Hudson, Yale University 

    How Group Competition, Apathy, & Antipathy Influence Intergroup Harm 

    Empathy is often hailed as the emotion to target in intergroup conflicts, as it predicts consequential prosocial behaviors that can help reduce inequality. And indeed, in many social conflicts, people struggle to feel empathy for those not part of their social groups. In this talk I will argue that while empathy is relevant for prosocial and helpful behaviors, it cannot adequately explain why people harm members of other groups. In my work I have developed a model that offers a more nuanced perspective, proposing that we need to incorporate a second, understudied emotion, namely schadenfreude, to understand people’s more nasty, harmful behaviors. Schadenfreude is the good feeling people have in reaction to another person’s pain and is especially likely to manifest when group dynamics are competitive. I suggest that group competition, as embedded within social contexts and within people’s ideologies, is an important motivator for feeling empathy and schadenfreude (or not) towards outgroups and low-status groups. Further, these emotions can help explain individuals’ policy support, such that empathy is the emotion primarily involved in helping other groups while schadenfreude is the emotion primarily involved in harming other groups. I discuss the implications of these findings to the maintenance of unequal social hierarchies. 

  • December 8, 2021

    Marlon Twyman, USC – Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism 

    Attracting Attention Online: Signaling Topic Diversity and Status in a User-Generated Content Community 

    User-generated content communities contain vast quantities of content that are available for consumption but finding relevant content can be difficult. To help attract consumers, producers can signal the topic diversity of their content to gain more attention and feedback by demonstrating relevance to audiences with diverse interests. Additionally, the status of the producer is another influential signal that consumers can attend to when selecting content. Separate streams of literature independently suggest that signals of topic diversity and status should both result in positive outcomes for attention and feedback. However, if true, community attention and feedback would concentrate around a select group of high-status producers who signal topically diverse content, which would undermine content production from lower status community members. By analyzing 94,310 documents created by 34,951 members of a large online community for data science, the results show that both types of signals positively affect the amount of attention and feedback that content receives, but low-status producers who signal topic diversity of their content experience greater benefits than high-status producers. The difference between status levels is attributed to the ability of low-status producers to differentiate themselves from other low-status community members through topic diversity signaling; an action that does not differentiate high-status producers from other high-status producers. By investigating signaling behaviors of producers in attention markets, the current study details how a UGC community navigates the tension that arises from the competing signals of topic diversity and status when both are enacted to increase attention and feedback given to UGC. 

  • December 9, 2021

    Erika Kirgios, Wharton 

    When Seeking Help, Women and Racial Minorities Benefit from Explicitly Stating their Identity 

    Receiving help can make or break a career, but women and racial minorities do not always receive the instrumental support they seek. Across two audit experiments—one with politicians and another with students—as well as an online experiment (total N=5,145), we test whether women and racial minorities benefit from explicitly mentioning their demographic identity in requests for help (e.g., by including statements like “As a Black woman. . . ” in their communications). We propose that when someone highlights their marginalized identity, it activates prospective helpers’ motivations to avoid prejudiced reactions and increases prospective helpers’ willingness to provide support. Consistent with this theorizing, when marginalized group members explicitly mentioned their demographic identity in help-seeking emails, politicians and students responded 24.4% (7.42 percentage-points) and 79.6% (2.73 percentage-points) more often, respectively. These findings suggest people’s motivation to control prejudice can be harnessed to improve outcomes for women and racial minorities.