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Allies as organizational change agents to promote equity and inclusion: a case study

Yun Ling Li (Center for Women and Work, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA) (Department and Graduate Institute of Social Work, Chaoyang University of Technology, Taichung, Taiwan)
Karoline Evans (Department of Management, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA)
Meg A. Bond (Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 30 August 2022

Issue publication date: 3 February 2023




The current case study investigated how intentional, systematic planning can help organizations harness the energy of these willing allies who may be motivated to support change. The focus of the study is the development of a peer-to-peer approach, involving “Equity Leaders (ELs),” that was part of a larger, multi-level organization change initiative that addressed personal, interpersonal and structural considerations at a mid-sized public university in northeastern USA.


The authors used multiple methods to collect data for the current study, including observations and interviews. Over the course of four years, the authors attended more than 50 EL meetings. In these meetings, the authors took notes regarding ELs' discussions on workshop development and planning, debates on workshop substances and ELs' personal reflections on these workshops. Following the fourth year of the program, the first two authors invited all current ELs to participate in semi-structured, open-ended interviews about their experience.


The case study shows that through careful planning, peer change can play multiple roles in pushing organizational changes. By embracing their formal responsibilities and yielding their informal power, change agents are able to cause radiating impact across as organizations. Organizations can also capitalize on the fact that employees are more likely to be engaged in the change effort when it is promoted by peers. Finally, the support and resources from the organizational leaders is important because these inputs not only legitimize change agents' roles but they also signify the importance of the actions.

Research limitations/implications

This study has limitations. First, the authors recognize that this was a qualitative study grounded in a single context. Although the study explored a novel context for understanding change agents—a deliberately planned initiative targeting social norms through addressing subtle biases like microaggressions—the authors recognize that additional examination would be necessary to understand how implementation may work in different contexts or organization types. Second, the authors also acknowledge that the authors’ positionality, as females studying a change initiative targeting gendered and intersectional microaggressions, may have shaped the role as researchers.


The findings underscore the notion that allies can serve as organized peer change agents to affect organizational culture. In alignment with the principles in the social ecological framework, the approach involved selecting change agents who are internal to the organization, have informal influence or power and can broaden the impact to other parts of the organization. Moreover, the results underscore the need for organizations to provide essential support and resources that can assist change agents to bridge organizational goals and individual actions.



This study was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant number 1629761). The authors would like to thank Equity Leaders (ELs) who were interviewed for this study, and the UMass Lowell WAVES team members (in alphabetical order): Julie Chen, Brita Dean, Chris Hansen, Michelle Haynes-Baratz, Marina Ruths and Margaret Sobkowicz.


Li, Y.L., Evans, K. and Bond, M.A. (2023), "Allies as organizational change agents to promote equity and inclusion: a case study", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 135-156.



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