Canada Research Chair in Law and Inequality
Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Early Career Scholar and Faculty Associate
Work and organizations, inequality, gender and race employment discrimination, law and society, legal mobilization, quantitative methods
Most advanced industrialized nations have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on workers’ gender, race, and ethnicity. But outlawing a practice doesn’t eliminate it. Discrimination against women and racial minorities persists, and each year, thousands of workers file formal legal claims of gender and racial bias. My research examines how people identify discrimination on the job, what leads them to file legal claims, and whether legal interventions and diversity policies reduce discrimination.
What leads workers to identify discrimination and file legal claims?
Much of my work examines how workers come to identify discrimination on the job and what workplace conditions heighten their awareness of it. Using administrative data on charge filings and surveys of workers, I find that workers are most likely to report discrimination in workplaces that lack diversity, especially among leadership (American Journal of Sociology 2008, Law and Society Review 2010). Diversity policies can heighten legal consciousness of discrimination and empower workers to file claims (Industrial Relations 2009). To understand workers’ firsthand experiences with bias, I have also conducted interviews with plaintiffs involved in major discrimination lawsuits in the U.S. (American Behavioral Scientist 2014) and reviewed legal accounts of caregivers bias in Canada (Gender and Society 2020). Taken together, my work on claims-making advances a context-oriented approach to discrimination, arguing that workers do not perceive discrimination as a single act but as a series of experiences that occur against a backdrop of white- and male-dominated compositional structures and thwarted opportunities for advancement.
Are legal interventions and diversity policies effective for remedying discrimination?
I am also interested in understanding how law and policy can most effectively be used to reduce discrimination and promote equity. I have studied the impact of formal discrimination charges on gender and race occupational segregation (American Sociological Review 2009), the impact of lawsuit resolutions on the representation of women and African Americans in management (American Journal of Sociology 2018, Harvard Business Review 2019), and the impact of specific court-mandated policy changes on managerial diversity (Industrial and Labor Relations Review 2017). I show that legal interventions do promote equity among targeted firms, especially when accompanied by sustained market and political pressures and mandated accountability policies, including affirmative action and targeted hiring plans. Finally, I have examined the effectiveness of voluntary corporate diversity programs, including an evaluation of sexual harassment initiatives (Research in the Sociology of Work 2016) and an analysis of the impact of flexibility policies on motherhood wage penalties (Work and Occupations 2019).
Given the policy relevance of my work, I have consulted with or served on advisory panels at local, national, and international government agencies, including the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, the Department of Justice Canada, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth, Christina Treleaven, and Sylvia Fuller (2020). “Caregivers, Gender, and the Law: An Analysis of Family Responsibilities Discrimination Case Outcomes,” Gender and Society 34(5).
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth (2019). “Do Lawsuits Improve Gender and Racial Equality at Work?,” Harvard Business Review 123(4):1117-1160.
Fuller, Sylvia and C. Elizabeth Hirsh (2019). “Family-Friendly Jobs and Motherhood Pay Penalties: The Impact of Flexible Work Arrangements Across the Educational Spectrum,” Work and Occupations 46(1):3-44.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth and Youngjoo Cha (2018). “For Law and Markets: Employment Discrimination Lawsuits, Market Performance, and Managerial Diversity,” American Journal of Sociology 123(4):1117-1160.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth and Youngjoo Cha (2017). “Mandating Change: The Impact of Court-Mandated Policy Changes on Managerial Diversity,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 70(1):42-72.
Kmec, Julie, C. Elizabeth Hirsh and Sheryl Skagges (2016). “Workplace Regulation of Sexual Harassment and Federal and State-Level Legal Environments,” Research in the Sociology of Work 29(1):215-240.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth and Youngjoo Cha (2014). “Employment Discrimination Lawsuits and Corporate Stock Prices.” Social Currents 2:40-57.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth (2013). “Beyond Treatment and Impact: A Context-Oriented Approach to Employment Discrimination.” American Behavioral Scientist 58(2):256-73.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth and Christopher J. Lyons (2010). “Perceiving Discrimination on the Job: Legal Consciousness, Workplace Context, and the Construction of Race Discrimination,” Law and Society Review 44(2):269-298.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth (2009). “The Strength of Weak Enforcement: The Impact of Discrimination Charges on Sex and Race Segregation in the Workplace.” American Sociological Review 74(2):245-71.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth (2008). “Settling for Less? The Organizational Determinants of Discrimination-Charge Outcomes.” Law and Society Review 42(2):239-274.
Hirsh, C. Elizabeth and Sabino Kornrich (2008). “The Context of Discrimination: Workplace Conditions, Institutional Environments, and Sex and Race Discrimination Charges,” American Journal of Sociology 113(5):1394-1432.
“When Work and Care Clash: The Gendered Nature of Caregiver Bias,” Oxford University, January 2021.
“What Works to Reduce Inequality: The Role of Lawsuits,” Radcliffe Exploratory Seminar, Harvard University, April 2018.
“Mandating Change? The Origins and Impact of Employment Discrimination Lawsuits,” Center for the Study of Law and Society, University of California, Berkeley, CA, March 2017.
Oral Testimony on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Proposal to Collect Compensation Data from Private Employers, Commissioners Meeting, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, D.C., March 2016.
“Mandating Change? The Impact of Mandated Policy Changes on Managerial Diversity,” Industrial and Labor Relations School, Cornell University, New York, NY, June 2015.