Research topic selected!

There are still a number of official processes and such to complete over the next year, but unofficially, I’ve chosen my research topic and know what I’ll be writing my Ph.D. dissertation on.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be moving forward in my final year of coursework knowing what waits for me on the other end.

My research will be a qualitative study on the experience of Employee Network (aka Employee Resource Group) leaders in the workplace.  I’ll be conducting dozens of interviews with people in my company, including current and recent Employee Network leaders from many of our different groups (which are organized by gender, ethnicity, veteran or disability status, etc.).  I’ll then tie the common themes I’m hearing in my interviews to what scholarly management research tells us about how those issues affect the organization.

So, as a hypothetical example: if I interview thirty different people and many of them share that their experiences make them less likely to consider job opportunities with other organizations, I can write about their shared experience of increased retention (or reduced attrition, to use a glass-half-empty version). Then, I’d look at previously published studies that show a significant value to organizations of retaining their employees and reducing turnover/attrition. I’d do something similar with other themes that I uncover in my interviews, demonstrating the actual impact that Employee Network leadership has on the organizations’ bottom line.

I’d also like to include leaders from other companies, and indeed even other industries, to see what kind of differences I may be able to find… But that could potentially be a follow-up study after this one. (Common advice several Ph.D.s have shared is to resist the urge to keep expanding your dissertation study with all the wonderful new ideas that come to you as you work through it… I’m repeatedly advised to define the study, keep it narrow, get it done, and then expand to your heart’s content after you’ve earned the freakin’ Ph.D.)

In case you’re not familiar and are curious: the big difference between a qualitative study and a quantitative one is that I’ll be more focused on interviews, testimonials, and shared stories from employees who’ve experienced the phenomenon of being a volunteer leader of an Employee Network, rather than relying on more numerical approaches like statistical analyses of survey scores or performance ratings. 

I had always just naturally assumed that I’d be doing a statistics-based study that proved a significant differences in results from one group to another, or within one group after some sort of intervention… Learning more about qualitative research really opened my eyes to the variety of approaches that researchers use, and I immediately thought of a dozen different studies that I want to do on various Diversity & Inclusion topics.

But they’ll have to wait until I publish this first one.  😉

Again, lots more steps to complete before this is officially my topic: I have three more semesters of classes to finish, and then a case study to write or comprehensive exams to take, and then a formal proposal that must be accepted by The Powers That Be… But damn, it’s nice to have a sense of direction here.

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