The Myth of the COVID-Transformed Workplace: Are Changes Long-lasting or Temporary?

Sponsored by SAGE Publishing

Recorded on 09/01/2021
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 215

Starting in March 2020, widespread changes to work life prompted declarations of a “new normal.” The implementation of remote work, reliance on video conferencing, and shift in balance between home and work life appeared to signal a “transformed workplace.” But will these adaptions remain permanent? A year and a half later, have our work lives really transformed, or are we headed toward a pre-pandemic “normal” instead?

In this series, Cynthia Clark of Bentley University, Gwendolyn Combs of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Hari Rajagopalan of Francis Marion University, and Rhonda Sharpe of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race join the program to discuss the trap of the “transformed workplace” narrative. Bringing together expertise in business, higher education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, our guests drill down into positive changes that may remain post-pandemic, unequal effects of work environment adjustments, and how to support students entering today’s workforce.

In this first episode, our speakers highlight the differences between the temporary shifts we’ve seen and substantial, long-lasting transformation within organizations. First, Rhonda explains the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on high- and low-wage workers. Hari reasons that the longevity of proposed work changes will depend on location, context, and access to technology. Last, Cynthia and Gwendolyn speak to how the pandemic hastened developments that were long in the works—automation, artificial intelligence, and carbon footprint reduction, to name a few.

About the guests:

Rhonda Sharpe
Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race

Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe is the founder and President of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race (WISER). She was named a Black Scholar You Should Know by and She is the co-editor of the Review of Black Political Economy and served as the past President of the National Economic Association. In 2020, she was selected to serve on the Center for American Progress National Advisory Council on Eliminating the Black-White Wealth Gap. Rhonda’s research focuses on three areas: gender and racial inequality, the diversity of STEM, and the demography of higher education. Her recent publications include: “Disaggregating data by race allows for more accurate research”; “Is the economics knowledge production function constrained by race in the USA?” (with GN Price); “We’ve to Build the Pipeline: What’s the Problem and What’s Next?”; “Who Attends For-Profit Institutions? The Enrollment Landscape” (with William (Sandy) Darity, Jr. and Steve Stokes); and “HBCUs: Creating a Scientific Workforce Outta 15 Cents.”

Her research has been featured on the PBS News Hour, in the New York Times, and on the Kerri Miller Show. She is a recurring guest on the BBC’s Business Matters. Rhonda serves on the boards of the International Association for Feminist Economists and Diversifying and Decolonising Economics. She is the co-founder (with Sandy Darity) of the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics (DITE), for which she served as the Associate Director from 2008 to 2014. She is the co-recipient of the 2004 Rhonda Williams Prize from the International Association for Feminist Economists. Rhonda completed her undergraduate studies in mathematics at North Carolina Wesleyan College and her doctorate in economics/mathematics at Claremont Graduate University.

Cynthia Clark
Professor, Management
Bentley University

Cynthia E. Clark serves as the director of the Harold S. Geneen Institute of Corporate Governance, an institute dedicated to bridging corporate governance research with practice. She has conducted numerous training sessions on ethical decision-making, activism and optimal nominating and governance procedures to boards of directors. Cynthia’s research interests concern ethics and governance issues in organizations, such as conflicts of interest, shareholder activism, privacy breaches and disclosing information, with a particular focus on how firms address them. Recently published work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Strategic Management Journal, Business Ethics Quarterly, Journal of Business Ethics, MIS Quarterly, Organization & Environment and Business & Society. Cynthia serves on the editorial board of Business & Society.

Additionally, she is an active member and Governance Fellow with the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Society for Governance Professionals and 2020 Women on Boards. She has been widely cited in the media on governance issues including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, CNN, Fortune, Reuters and Bloomberg Radio. Prior to joining Bentley, Cynthia was a member of the faculty at Boston University, following a career in the banking and securities industry. She holds a PhD from the honors program at Boston University, a Master’s degree from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Boston College.

Gwendolyn Combs
Associate Professor of Management, College of Business
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Gwendolyn Marizett Combs serves the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in both faculty and administrative roles. Academically, she is an Associate Professor of Management in the College of Business. Administratively, she is the Director for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion in the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor; and Coordinates the work of the three UNL Chancellor’s Diversity Commissions (Commissions on the Status of People of Color, the Status of Women, and on the Status of Gender and Sexual Identities). Her scholarship has focused on the dynamics of human resource management, diversity, and inclusion practices on organizational outcomes and employee behaviors, and well being.

Combs teaches a variety of courses in human resources management and advises students interested in careers in that professional field. Her scholarly publications and conference presentations are framed more specifically within the areas of recruitment and selection, individual identity and inter-group behaviors, workplace equality, and organizational environments for diversity and inclusion. Additionally, she assists organizations in developing and integrating human resource programs/policy, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and diversity training.

Combs received her BA from Wellesley College, an MBA from Washington University (MO), and her doctoral degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Combs holds leadership roles in professional and service organizations including the Executive Board of the Diversity and Inclusion Theme Committee of the Academy of Management, Chair of the UNL African and African American Caucus, and member of the Institutional Research Committee of the National Board of Directors for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.

Hari K. Rajagopalan
Dean of the School of Business / Eugene A. Fallon Jr. Professor of Management
Francis Marion University

Dr. Rajagopalan teaches management science, operations management, and statistical model building and does research in location models, supply chain management and complex adaptive systems. His research has been published in academic journals such as Journal of Operations Research Society, European Journal of Operational Research, Computers and Operations Research and Decision Support Systems. He is also an active participant in INFORMS: Decision Sciences Conference, European Working Group in Transportation Meeting, and Mini EURO Conference.

Enjoy the conversation? Listen to the rest of the series:

Check out our previous series with SAGE Publishing, Preparing Diverse Students for Success in the Academic and Private Sectors:

Missed an episode? We’ve got you covered:

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Choice Podcast Updates!

Check out the Authority File Round-Up on our blog, Open Stacks!