Lauren Alyssa Hayes

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Wyoming, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10561

Approve Date

September 29, 2023

Project Title

Hayes, Lauren (Wyoming, U.) "Walking the Line: Gender, Communication, and the New Manufacturing Workplace in Appalachia"

This book explores how shifts to a global enterprise culture, where soft skills like communication become commodities, are negotiated through gendered divisions of labor and skill. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork at an auto-parts plant in Appalachian Kentucky in the United States as the company shifted from authoritative management practices to softer styles of leadership and teamwork. In the contemporary workplace, teamwork-oriented discourse behaviors, ideologically linked to women, like building rapport or helping, are increasingly valued. Scholars suggest that the feminization of these skills may produce changes in gender relations, particularly in fields like manufacturing, where women are under-represented and face higher levels of harassment. Yet, in Appalachia, factories offer higher-paid options for women entering waged work as primary breadwinners amidst coal’s decline. Findings show that new management values attune gatekeepers to women’s skill and encourage workers to navigate status through creative constructions of gender. However, gendered divisions of labor and work culture norms in this site continued to exclude women. Given historically high US women’s employment yet the persistence of the gender wage gap, my findings present important contributions to feminist and work anthropology and to our understanding of the cultural mechanisms that reproduce gender inequalities in capitalism.