The Wager: Gender, Race and Value in High-Wage Service Sector Work

Activity: Talk or presentationLecture and oral contribution


Scholars have long established that race, class, and gender, as systems of inequality, influence whose labor is valued and devalued. The focus has largely been on the devaluation of care work gender-typed as women’s work and how this work is racialized. In contrast, I investigate another side of these inequalities often omitted from the analytical focus: How and why is high-wage service sector work, composed of mostly elite white men, so highly valued? I conducted 122 in-depth interviews and field observations of hedge fund, venture capital, and technology startup firms. I identify how organizational, interactional, and cultural processes, specifically those that delineate income and wealth, designate the work of these elites as of high worth. I find that the social interactions that set wages, bonuses, and equity reflect speculative, financial cultural logics that are distinct in each of these three fields, shaping how inequality is embedded within each type of firm. The processes through which earnings and capital are distributed in these fields are based on racialized, gendered, and classed assumptions about risk, value, and worth. I call the process of speculating on earnings and equity the “wager” to capture how elites in finance and tech view their earnings as consistent with the logic of accumulation of financial markets.
Period23 Oct 2023
Held atWashington University in St. Louis, United States, Missouri
Degree of RecognitionLocal