RANGANATHAN (2018). TRAIN THEM TO RETAIN THEM: WORK READINESS AND THE RETENTION OF FIRST-TIME WOMEN WORKERS IN INDIA

Author:

Aruna Ranganathan – Stanford Graduate School of Business

Interviewers:

Rohini Jalan – Cornell University

Kevin Lee – New York University

Article link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0001839217750868

Question 1. We very much appreciated the unconventional setting which you chose to study. Management research has often been criticized for privileging Western contexts, as they are not necessarily generalizable to other countries and cultures. What additional analytical purchase can scholars gain from studying organizations in developing countries as you did in your paper? What challenges did you face in studying this more unconventional setting?

Thank you for reaching out to me for this interview! I’m excited to share my thoughts about this paper.

Scholars can gain tremendous analytical purchase by studying organizations in developing countries. In particular, these unconventional settings enable the discovery of novel mechanisms underlying important debates in established literatures and also offer unique empirical advantages.

In this paper, I revisited an important debate in the literature on training programs about whether training programs are effective in improving outcomes for historically disadvantaged workers in organizations. I chose to investigate this question at an Indian garment factory employing first-time women workers. Choosing this setting in a developing country context allowed me to uncover a novel mechanism through which training programs can be effective, namely work-readiness skills, or essential skills needed to survive at work including self-presentation, interpersonal communication, work-life separation, and self-reliance. While this mechanism is likely to help understand the impact of training programs in both developed and developing countries among diverse disadvantaged workers, my setting facilitated the detection of this mechanism because first-time women workers in India were especially in need of work-readiness skills.

Additionally, my setting offered the empirical advantages of relatively easy access and permission from factory management to engage in fieldwork, interviews and survey data collection. In some developing country contexts, researchers are not seen as a threat to organizations, but instead are welcomed by organizations. Rather than being seen as outsiders, in such cases, researchers are bestowed with “insider” status relatively quickly, which enables the collection of high-quality data.

One important challenge in studying organizations in developing countries is the distance from one’s home institution. This makes research more expensive and logistically harder to conduct as it requires researchers to take time off their busy schedules to visit these far-away settings (especially if they are collecting qualitative data).

Question 2. You have presented a unique and rather skilled case of full cycle methodology. How did you come to learn and be interested in the variety of methodologies you used? What challenges did you face while learning these methodologies, while implementing them, and while going through the review process? What advice would you give to graduate students looking to publish in ASQ about publishing mixed methods research?

Thank you for appreciating my full-cycle research design! I learned several of the methods that I employ in this paper in graduate school. I was advised to not fall prey to quickly categorizing myself as either a quantitative or qualitative researcher, but instead to use my time in graduate school to explore different methods and “tool up.” As such, I took classes in ethnographic methods and qualitative data collection, econometrics, as well as field experiments. Taking these diverse classes helped build my interest in a variety of methodologies. Now, in my research, I try to draw on methods that are appropriate for the research question at hand.

One important challenge in learning and implementing a variety of methods is the time and investment it entails. Additionally, taking a class does not make you an expert in a particular method – there is no substitute to practicing that method. Moreover, despite your best intentions, there might be gaps in your understanding of particular methods or you might not be up to date on the latest debates and tools associated with certain methods. My advice here is to constantly consult with your colleagues to update your knowledge and ensure that you are conforming to the best practices associated with each method. For example, while I had worked with survey data before, I had little experience with constructing and testing a scale prior to working on this paper. I sought the help of one of my colleagues at Stanford, Justin Berg, who had more experience with scale development, as well as the support of the Behavioral Lab at Stanford GSB, to overcome this challenge.

In terms of the review process, overall, this paper went through a very constructive review process at ASQ. My editor, Dev Jennings, and my three anonymous reviewers were very supportive of my full-cycle methodology and in fact, encouraged me to bring in more qualitative data (than I originally had included) to paint a picture of the first-time women workers I was studying, their challenges and frustrations, and their experiences undergoing training. In my opinion, this significantly improved the paper. The main challenge I faced was that my paper was initially very long, as presenting data and findings from multiple methods takes a lot of space. I worked with a copy editor to make my paper as concise as possible and also generously used appendices to present evidence that could not find room in the main text of the paper.

My advice to graduate students is to not be deterred by the prospect of publishing mixed methods research. We have all heard horror stories that publishing mixed methods pieces can be especially challenging. These stories are mostly unfounded, in my opinion. As long as the methods are aligned with your research question, I think editors and reviewers will appreciate your effort in collecting different kinds of data, and will help you showcase your diverse data in the best possible light.

Question 3. We realize that you used two methodologies – one inductive and one deductive – which indicate two different approaches to theory. At what point during your research process did theoretical lenses become salient to you? How did the framing of your paper change over time, if at all?

Theoretical lenses became salient to me after I was fully immersed in my setting and my qualitative data collection was well underway. Early in my fieldwork, I identified an interesting empirical puzzle: while a handful of first-time women workers were entering the garment factory that I was studying on any given day, within just a few weeks, a non-trivial proportion of these women seemed to quit. What explains this variation in retention, where some women seemed to survive in the organization whereas others did not? This question guided my fieldwork initially. Once I discovered that the training program at this factory was one of the first organizational practices that the first-time women workers were exposed to, I began to wonder whether this training program might influence women’s retention. At this point, I started exploring literatures on training programs and disadvantaged workers in organizations as well as literatures on women’s labor force participation, especially in developing countries. I iterated between my data and these literatures to help guide my theory and hypotheses development processes.

The framing of my paper significantly improved over time, thanks to my editor and reviewers at ASQ. My editor, Dev Jennings, encouraged me to adopt a problem-based framing where I quickly identify the social problem or puzzle that the paper is tackling and then move to a theoretical rationale for the paper that would be of interest to management/OT scholars. This, in fact, mimicked my own research process where I started with inductive methods to make progress on an empirical puzzle and then tested theory with deductive methods. This framing suggestion, in my opinion, really worked for this paper and helped highlight both the theoretical contributions as well as the policy implications from this research.

Question 4. Your writing style is beautifully concise and easy to read. What advice might you give graduate students looking to publish in ASQ about writing well? Are there any inspirations that you draw on, academic or otherwise, which have informed your writing style? 

Thank you for complimenting my writing style! My advice to graduate students is to actively practice writing. A habit I formed in graduate school that I continue to follow is to block off time every morning just to write. If you have not yet started working on research papers, I would encourage you to write memos about potential research ideas. In addition to practicing writing, it is important to share your writing with close friends and mentors who will give you feedback and help improve your writing. In particular, two of my advisors at MIT, Susan Silbey and Ezra Zuckerman, and two mentors at Stanford, Jesper Sorensen and Bill Barnett, have tirelessly poured over multiple versions of introductions to my papers and I have learned a lot about writing from their feedback. In addition, Erin Reid, Carrie Oelberger, Julia DiBenigno and Mabel Abraham have given close reads of multiple drafts of my papers and really helped push my writing.

I would also encourage graduate students to read articles published in top journals and identify their favorite articles in these journals. Upon identifying these articles, I would encourage you to break down these articles, paragraph by paragraph and then sentence by sentence and analyze the rhetorical strategies and choices made by the authors. I am a huge fan of how Steve Barley and Kate Kellogg write and construct their articles. In graduate school, I have spent many hours poring over their articles and especially paying attention to how they articulate gaps in existing literatures and craft their contributions.

Finally, I also have to thank the editing team at ASQ – Linda Johanson and Joan Friedman – for their help in tightening my prose after my paper was accepted.

Question 5. Are there any questions you wish we had asked you about the article, or are there any lessons you would like to share with us?

I think you’ve covered all the important questions! The only other lesson that I would like to share is to fearlessly engage with a diverse set of scholars and literatures, even those outside of your immediate comfort zone and theoretical domain, when developing your ideas. Even though I am trained as a sociologist, this paper definitely benefited from my engagement with scholars and literatures in development economics as well as micro-OB.

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