The Society for the Study of Social Problems presents the C. Wright Mills Award annually to the author of a new book that critically addresses an issue of contemporary public importance. Wingfield's award-winning book addresses "racial outsourcing" in the health care industry.
When Adia Harvey Wingfield interviewed Black health care professionals in the years leading up to her 2019 book Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy, she encountered a common refrain among her respondents. In addition to their medical duties, these doctors, nurses, and technicians often took on uncompensated work so their employers could achieve stated diversity goals.
“The efforts that these Black health care workers put forth are certainly valued by the organizations, and they certainly go towards achieving organizational mission,” Wingfield said. “The problem is that you cannot have individuals trying to solve organizational-level and structural problems, and essentially that's what I found with the study.” Wingfield is associate dean for faculty development, professor of sociology, and the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of Arts & Sciences.
This pattern of “racial outsourcing” has likely become even more prevalent as the U.S. grapples with COVID-19, Wingfield believes. Before the pandemic, her respondents described their attempts to overcome situations in which colleagues provided barriers to care by assuming patients were seeking drugs, exaggerating pain, or simply making poor health care decisions. “I can only imagine that those experiences would be significantly worse now for Black health care workers who are dealing with a pandemic that's disproportionately affecting communities of color, and still having to hear the same types of false ideas and misrepresentations about those communities,” Wingfield said.
In acknowledgement of the timeliness and urgency of the issues addressed in Flatlining, the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) awarded Wingfield the 2019 C. Wright Mills Award. The award was presented at the SSSP’s Aug. 7 virtual annual meeting.
According to the award criteria, the winning book must not only critically address an issue of contemporary public importance; it must contain implications for courses of action. Wingfield has recently called attention to her book’s findings in a variety of media outlets, including Fortune Magazine, the Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal. In addition, she has two primary hopes for the types of action her work may inspire.
“Organizations often say that they want more racial diversity, but they don't put the resources, the effort, the time, and the energy into actually achieving that.”
First, she hopes to see needed change within the health care industry itself. “Organizations often say that they want more racial diversity, but they don't put the resources, the effort, the time, and the energy into actually achieving that. Instead they leave it up to these few Black health care workers that they have in their employ,” she said. “I hope that people who are decision-makers in organizations – administrators in hospitals and health care facilities and so forth – would be motivated to read this book and be moved to adopt some of the solutions that I suggest.”
Wingfield’s second hope for the book goes beyond health care. “I think it's highly likely that if you looked at other institutional settings – higher education, the legal profession, maybe even media – you'd find a lot of similar patterns in place,” she said. “It would be really exciting if the work caught on and pushed other institutions and industries to think about how they may also be engaging in racial outsourcing and correct that, so that they actually put more institutional resources behind making these changes.”