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Former ABF Visiting Scholar Publishes Article in Harvard Business Review on Women in the Workplace

September 12, 2018, ABF news

A former Visiting Scholar of the American Bar Foundation (ABF) and current Faculty Fellow at New York University Abu DhabiSwethaa Ballakrishnen, recently published an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, "Why Women Stay Out of the Spotlight at Work," on August 28, 2018. 

Ballakrishnen co-authored the article, which discusses the challenges and successes women face when making themselves more visible in the workplace, with Priya Fielding-Singh, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Devon Magliozzi, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Stanford University. The article is based on Ballakrishnen, Fielding-Singh, and Magliozzi's 2013 study exploring the response to workplace conflicts that women experience. For the study, the authors worked with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, where they conducted 83 in-depth interviews, observed 35 discussion groups, and sat in on 15 program-wide meetings with a group of women in a women's professional development program. Most of the participants in the study were white, college-educated women and two-thirds were parents whose job experience ranged from entry-level to vice president-level employees with an average tenure of 11 years. 

The study revealed that, while women were aware of the benefits associated with visibility at work and how being noticed is a common strategy for professional advancement, many "opted for a risk-averse, conflict-avoidant strategy in the office" that resulted in a feeling of being "well-liked but underappreciated."

The authors suggest that women "…employed this 'intentional invisibility' when they avoided conflict with colleagues, softened their assertiveness with niceness, and 'got stuff done' by quietly moving things forward without drawing attention to themselves."

In the study, Ballakrishnen and co-authors explained that women chose not to draw attention to themselves at work for three main reasons, including to avoid conflict or repercussions, to feel more authentic, and to allow for more balance in their professional and personal lives. The study concluded that urging women to make themselves more visible in the workplace without considering the risks associated with such behavior, and arguing that the problem is an issue that women need to address themselves, is shortsighted.

"To achieve workplace equality, we need to redesign organizations — not the women who work in them," Ballakrishnen, Fielding-Singh and Magliozzi write. 

While Ballakrishnen did not work on this study during her time as an AccessLex Visiting Scholar on Legal Education at the ABF from 2017-2018, she credits the Foundation with shaping her thinking and influencing her overall research on gender and professional work.  

"I did not work on this particular project at the ABF, but a lot of the thinking that influences my work more generally has been shaped by my connections to the Foundation. Over the past decade, the work and community of the ABF has been central to framing my research on gender and professional work, and it continues to be an important intellectual home for my current projects and productivity," Ballakrishnen said. 

To read Ballakrishnen, Fielding-Singh, and Magliozzi's recent article in the Harvard Business Review, click here.


About Swethaa Ballakrishnen

Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen is a Faculty Fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi. She is a socio-legal scholar whose research examines the intersections between law, globalization, and social stratification, particularly focused on how law and legal institutions create, preserve and challenge different types of socio-economic inequalities. Professor Ballakrishnen is an affiliated research fellow at the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession.  

About the American Bar Foundation 

The American Bar Foundation (ABF) is among the world's leading research institutes for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law. The ABF seeks to expand knowledge and advance justice through innovative, interdisciplinary, and rigorous empirical research on law, legal processes, and legal institutions. To further this mission, the ABF will produce timely, cutting-edge research of the highest quality to inform and guide the legal profession, the academy and society in the United States and internationally. The ABF's primary funding is provided by the American Bar Endowment and the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation

Posted by Danielle Gensburg

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