December 10, 2021
Written by Merrit Stueven, MPP ’22
Edited by Anisha Asundi, WAPPP Research Fellow, and
Moira Notarstefano, WAPPP Communications Manager
David Pedulla’s research, from precarious employment to work-family policies
In the final installment of WAPPP’s fall 2021 seminar series on intersectional approaches to gender equity, Professor David Pedulla presented his ongoing research about supportive work-family policies. Dr. Pedulla, who joined the Harvard Sociology Department in 2020, focuses on how nonstandard, contingent and precarious work shape labor market processes as well as the mechanisms that give rise to gender and race stratification.
In 2020, Dr. Pedulla published Making the Cut: Hiring Decisions, Bias, and the Consequences of Nonstandard, Mismatched, and Precarious Employment, which focuses on how hiring agents, such as HR managers and recruiters, evaluate workers with nonstandard, mismatched, or precarious employment experiences. While existing research largely focuses on workers’ experiences of these types of employment, Making the Cut focuses on how those making hiring decisions perceive and treat these workers. Among findings on how these decision-makers interpret candidates’ employment histories, including different effects of nonstandard, mismatched, and precarious employment, Dr. Pedulla finds that hiring professionals rely on group stereotypes, including racial and gender stereotypes, to create divergent narratives about workers with similar employment experiences.
In his presentation for WAPPP’s audience, Dr. Pedulla presented a working paper investigating whether gender and parental status discrimination varies depending on whether companies offer supportive work-family policies. He frames this research within the context of stalling gains in gender equity, compared to significant progress made in the latter part of the 20th century, and the potential for supportive work-family policies to impact this trend. These policies—which include paid parental and family leave, childcare support, and flexible scheduling—are designed to make it easier for parents and caregivers to balance work and care responsibilities, especially for mothers who are traditionally more likely to be excluded from work due to care responsibilities.
In investigating the potential for supportive work-family policies to reduce gender gaps in the workplace, Dr. Pedulla and his research team investigated the relationship between these policies and discrimination against women and parents in hiring processes. One hypothesis is that supportive work-family policies are a signal of a positive and accommodating work environment for women and parents and a willingness to hire employees with caregiving responsibilities. This would result in companies with supportive work-family policies discriminating less against parents and women than other companies.
Alternatively, companies’ supportive work-family policies could have the unintended consequence of increasing women’s and parents’ risk of discrimination. When companies implement supportive work-family policies, their labor costs increase. Because employers may expect that women and parents will be more likely than other workers to take time off from employment, they may see women and parents as less competitive candidates. This also feeds into stereotypes that parents and mothers, as well as women more generally, are less reliable and less committed to their work since employers expect them to prioritize care responsibilities.
In investigating the risk of discrimination against women and parents at firms with supportive work-family policies, the research team also accounts for how race may intersect with their gender, focusing on Black and white men and women, to shape discriminatory practices. In addition, they incorporate measures of gendered occupational contexts, examining if the presence of supportive work-family policies has different impacts in man-dominated occupations. In their research, Dr. Pedulla and colleagues investigated these questions through a resume audit study and matched employer survey, which examines whether the callback rates for candidates with different gender, race, and parental status signals vary between companies with and without supportive work-family policies.