This paper theorises how equal employment opportunities (EEO) practitioners (EPs) operate as change agents within organisations.
It takes a feminist and post‐structuralist perspective, in which EPs are seen as agents of positive social change, contesting existing discourses, but are also themselves subject to being changed by their engagement in those same discursive formations. The key example used is the way that EPs handle tensions between “business” and “social justice” agendas. A case study of EPs in New Zealand government organisations provides the empirical base.
It argues that agency is both produced and constrained by the discursive context of agents in specific situations. The case study showed EPs operating in an environment where the social justice discourse that had been central to introducing the concepts of EEO to the Public Service in the 1980s was in conflict with an increasingly powerful business agenda. This situation produced new “texts” and therefore new possibilities of agency. EPs struggled to define means and ends, and to handle the conflicts in ways that were coherent with their own concepts of ethics and politics. It argues that practitioners can act more effectively if they can find ways to reflect on their discursive locations. Research that draws out the contradictions in our positions, identities and language helps us do this.
The feminist post‐structuralist theoretical frame used in theorising this case can be used in any other empirical situations to understand how discursive practices operate to enable or constrain the work of change agents.Practical implications – It sets out to show how feminist and post‐structuralist approaches can be of practical value in supporting change agents by providing a framework for reflecting on their social and organisational context.
It combines a critical de‐naturalising stance, typical of writing in critical management studies, with the more action‐oriented agenda of most writing on equal opportunities.
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