Inequality in Access to Capital

My current book project, Hedged Out, presents an insider’s look at the inner workings of the notoriously rich and secretive hedge fund industry. Hedge funds comprise one of the most lucrative and powerful industries in the U.S. The average pay at hedge funds falls well above the top one percent of earners. Like other high-paying work, women and minority men are underrepresented. Firms managed by white men manage the vast majority—97 percent—of hedge fund investments. I conducted in-depth interviews with 48 workers and field observations at 12 workplaces and 23 industry events from 2013 to 2018. Hedged Out investigates the deep and often-hidden mechanisms preventing women and racial and ethnic minority men from gaining equal access to this wealth.

A second project compares hedge fund, venture capital, and technology startup firms using data from interviews and field observations. The finance and technology sectors have unprecedented access to capital yet cultures that are remarkably different. Even though technology espouses a culture of social disruption and inclusion, technology firms have low numbers of people of color and white women in leadership positions, which makes them neither more diverse nor more inclusive than financial firms. I compare the social organization of the three fields to understand why.

Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance


December 2019, Oxford University Press

Finance is an inescapable part of American life. From how one pursues an education, buys a home, runs a business, or saves for retirement, finance orders the lives of ordinary Americans. And as finance continues to expand, inequality soars.

In Divested, Ken-Hou Lin and I demonstrate why widening inequality cannot be understood without examining the rise of big finance. The growth of the financial sector has dramatically transformed the American economy by redistributing resources from workers and families into the hands of owners, executives, and financial professionals. The average American is now divested from a world driven by the maximization of financial profit.

We provide systematic evidence to document how the ascendance of finance on Wall Street, Main Street, and among households is a fundamental cause of economic inequality. They argue that finance has reshaped the economy in three important ways. First, the financial sector extracts resources from the economy at large without providing economic benefits to those outside the financial services industry. Second, firms in other economic sectors have become increasingly involved in lending and investing, which weakens the demand for labor and the bargaining power of workers. And third, the escalating consumption of financial products by households shifts risks and uncertainties once shouldered by unions, corporations, and governments onto families.

A comprehensive account of the forces driving economic inequality in America, Divested warns us that the most damaging consequence of the expanding financial system is not simply recurrent financial crises but a widening social divide between the have and have-nots.

Inequality in the New Economy

Over the past 30 years, structural changes to the U.S. economy have made employment more precarious, unstable, and insecure for workers. Firms are now characterized by flexible production, global outsourcing, and precarious employment. I examine how these recent changes in the U.S. economy impact inequality at work and the outcomes for workers.

In one project, with Shelley Correll, Caroline Simard, and Shannon Gilmartin, I am studying a large technology firm that captures a flexible bureaucracy. We investigate how the firm’s powerholders conceive of employee potential, growth, and advancement in this new conception of the corporation. We focus on the new and popular stretch assignment, which is being adapted by firms throughout the knowledge economy, to show how this model of advancement leaves employees vulnerable to manager bias.

In a second project with Aliya Rao, I identify how a cultural schema about passion for work has become a critical marker in the labor market for sorting individuals into occupations, hiring and promotion within organizations, and assigning value to people’s labor. Rather than expecting loyalty, employers want employees to demonstrate their commitment through passion. This distinction is key in an economic context of insecurity, uncertainty and instability.

In a third project, Christine Williams and I investigate how precarious working conditions exacerbate gender inequality in the new economy. In one publication, we examine how the rise of precarious employment has impacted men and women, analyze the gender implications of employment policy, and set an agenda for future research. In a second piece, we examine how globalization, deregulation, and outsourcing have changed the labor force, resulted in new dimensions of gender inequality, and sparked various forms of feminist activism.

Gender in Politics

Another strand of my research examines how gender impacts the careers of women political leaders. My master’s thesis, “Nine Women World Leaders: Sexism on the Path to Power,” explores women presidents and prime ministers’ paths to executive office.