Interview with Best Paper on Environmental and Social Practices Award Winner

Sara Marquez-Gallardo (De Montfort) interviewing Kylie Jiwon Hwang
and Damon J. Phillips (Columbia), Winners of the Best Paper on Environmental and Social Practices, for “Entrepreneurship as a Response to Labor Market Discrimination for Formerly Incarcerated People”


Sara Marquez-Gallardo (SMG): First, congratulations on winning the best paper on environmental and social practices. Can you briefly summarize what the paper meant for you?


Kylie Jiwon Hwang (KJH): Thank you so much! We’d like to thank the OMT division for the recognition! This paper examines entrepreneurship as a response to labor market discrimination. Specifically, we examine entrepreneurship as a career choice for formerly incarcerated individuals, a group of individuals who face substantial discrimination in the labor market. We find that formerly incarcerated people are more likely to become entrepreneurs compared to individuals who have never been incarcerated. The findings suggest that formerly incarcerated individuals, especially those who are black, are pushed into entrepreneurship due to the discrimination they face from employers. Yet, we also find that entrepreneurship is a viable alternative career choice for formerly incarcerated people, yielding both higher average income and lower rates of going back to prison.


SMG: The Best Paper on Environmental and Social Practices recognizes research that advances our understanding of environmental and social dimensions of organizing. What does it mean to you that your paper advances our understanding of social dimensions of organizing?


KJH: We believe this paper advances our understanding on the social impact of entrepreneurship (itself an act of organizing), by highlighting how those who face labor market discrimination from employers can seek entrepreneurship as an effective way to find work and gainful income. Our paper also speaks to the significance of labor market discrimination that formerly incarcerated people in the United States face. While we introduce entrepreneurship as an alternative career choice for formerly incarcerated people, our work also re-emphasizes the severity of discrimination and stigma that they face from employers. Finally, our paper highlights the important intersection of race and incarceration in the United States, and we hope our paper provides implications to researchers, employers, and policymakers, on ways to alleviate discrimination for this population. We believe the findings of our study can offer insights to other population groups that face discrimination in the labor market, as well.


SMG: Now, let’s talk about the development of the paper. How did you come up with the idea of the paper? How did each of you contribute to the development of the project?


Damon J. Phillips (DJP): This paper is part of Kylie’s dissertation that examines entrepreneurship for formerly incarcerated people. Kylie started her dissertation based on her interest in discrimination and entrepreneurship, and her eye-opening experience of working at a criminal background check company. Damon [speaking] also has deep interests in incarceration and discrimination and teaches a course at Columbia where MBA students learn about the role of businesses in mass incarceration and have the opportunity to teach inside prisons. Kylie and Damon have been working on this paper together since 2017.


SMG: The two of you are based in the US, where the development of entrepreneurial activities as well as the stigma associated with having been incarcerated has different connotations to those in other countries. How have you accounted for these differences?


DJP: Absolutely – you are right. The United States is different from other countries, both in terms of incarceration and the severity of the stigma attached to it, as well as the entrepreneurial environment. The US holds the largest incarcerated population in the world, more than half of the world’s incarcerated population, and the important intersection of race and incarceration adds a layer of severity to the stigma involved with having an incarceration record. As this is the first study of its kind, there is little evidence to help fully understand differences in other societies. To extend our understanding of incarceration and entrepreneurship in different settings, we plan to expand our study to other country settings. For example, Kylie has a project with Tunde Cserpes (Aarhus University) on the effect of incarceration on entrepreneurship and employment in Denmark.


SMG: According to your findings, how are they surprising, theoretically? And, how could these findings contribute to enhancing the entrepreneurial possibilities of stigmatized members of society?


DJP: We argue and show that entrepreneurship can help disadvantaged populations achieve economic and social integration, by focusing on a particularly marginalized population: formerly incarcerated people. Our study can contribute theoretically by noting that entrepreneurship can be a beneficial career choice for stigmatized members of the society. Before conducting this study, it is not obvious that formerly incarcerated people would be more likely to start a business, let alone reap any benefits from doing so. Entrepreneurship is very difficult for anyone, let alone someone returning from prison. With what we have learned thus far, we hope our study also brings attention to the additional barriers that stigmatized members of the society face when engaging in entrepreneurship.


SMG: Do you have any advice for early career researchers who have the ambition to produce research that can make an original contribution to urgent matters related to social practices? Any ideas in mind for further research?


KJH: We think research addressing urgent matters related to social practices is important, to provide implications to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Our research is even more salient with the events of 2020. But these topics have always been important. We hope more researchers explore creative ways in which business can alleviate discrimination and inequality for marginalized groups in society. We plan to continue research on the role of businesses and entrepreneurship in alleviating discrimination. For example, we plan to explore the social impact of formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs, examining their likelihood to hire other justice-impacted individuals and to start pro-social enterprises that seek to help others experiencing discrimination.