Research Summary


by Curtis Kwinyen Chan


I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Organizational Behavior program jointly offered by Harvard Business School and the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. My research interests focus on the social and cultural processes around meaning-making, job quality, and inequality as they relate to the lived experiences of workers in organizations and occupational groups. Currently, I have research in two streams of work. My first stream considers processes of inequality. In an article forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly, I and co-author Michel Anteby draw upon an inductive, qualitative case study of female and male screening workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to theorize a mechanism of task segregation, when a group of workers is disproportionately allocated to spend more time doing particular tasks within a job. If these tasks are relatively undesirable, then the segregated group may have relatively poorer job quality. Drawing on interviews with airport security screeners, we analyze a case of task segregation and the processes through which it generated inequality in job quality. Relative to male screeners, female screeners were more often allocated the reportedly undesirable task of passenger pat-downs, disproportionately exposing them to processes of physical exertion, emotional labor, and relational strain. Task segregation also disproportionately exposed female screeners to processes of managerial sanction and skillset narrowing that further contributed to poor job quality for women. Overall, we build theory around how task segregation can act as a mechanism for generating within-job inequality in job quality. My second stream of research considers cultural processes of meaning-making. As part of my dissertation research, I am conducting an ongoing inductive case study of a consulting firm, examining how workers view certain kinds of work as meaningful, and what role the interpretation of organizational communications plays in this meaning-making.

Keywords: qualitative research; ethnography; corporate culture; organizational behavior; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Theory; Working Conditions; Consulting Industry;