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Adia Harvey Wingfield On The Intersection Of Workplace Status, Racial Discrimination

Adia Harvey Wingfield joined Wednesday's talk show.
Sean Garcia

Washington University’s Adia Harvey Wingfield, who is a professor of sociology, has long been interested in the ways that race, class and gender influence everyday workplace structures and interactions. Her most recent book, “Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy,” looks closely at the experiences of black workers in health care — as does a new study of which she is the co-author.

Focused around 60 in-depth interviews with black doctors, nurses and technicians, the study suggests that among people of color, one’s professional status within an organizational hierarchy has a significant effect on how one perceives instances of racial discrimination.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Harvey Wingfield joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss the implications of this research for the health care industry and beyond.

Harvey Wingfield said the study found big differences in the racism reported by black health care workers, depending on the category of their position within the industry.

"Physicians were a lot more likely to talk less about individual interactions that they had that were a challenge and more likely to put their challenges in the context of bigger structural problems," the professor saud. "So they would talk, for example, about issues with access to education, or issues finding mentors, or even issues getting into hiring."

By contrast, Harvey Wingfield said, nurses referenced more individual experiences.

"They were a lot more likely to talk about challenges with supervisors and situate these as examples of individual discrimination that were a lot more prevalent."

Technicians were even less likely to talk about structural issues.

"For them," Harvey Wingfield said, "their experiences were even more individualized than, say, nurses, and certainly more than most doctors."

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.