Practical and Theoretical Implications of Successfully Doing Difference in Organizations: Volume 1


Table of contents

(21 chapters)


Pages xi-xii
Content available


Pages xiii-xviii
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Now well into the 21st century, the world’s most powerful organizations’ highest executive levels and boards of directors still fail to represent a diverse collection of people shaped by unique social identity dimensions according to age, class, culture, ethnicity, faith/spirituality, gender, physical/psychological ability, sexual orientation, and more. Offered in this book is an investigation into why a homophily framework, or a similarity-attraction hypothesis, continues to perpetuate leadership by predominantly Caucasian/White males and reinforces barriers that keep qualified people possessing a multiplicity of social identity dimensions from achieving their full human potential.

To understand interactive processes through which discrimination is reproduced in the workplace, social identity theorists explore connections between ways that people create social identity and that organizations become socially constructed. Social identity theory explains how people seek to develop oneness with groups that help them to develop and/or to enhance positive self-esteem – and to better understand how people develop notions of high-status ingroups and low-status outgroups. Both of these frameworks are central to this book’s attention to difference in organizations. Difference is positioned as a positive advance in organizational dynamics; advocating respect and appreciation for multiple and intersecting social identities – not for profitability and other business case reasons – but because it is morally justified to eradicate inequitable and exclusionary practices in organizations. This book offers an introduction to doing difference research by introducing a number of theoretical underpinnings, addressing methodological challenges, and presenting a wide cross-section of numerous bodies of literature which have been attending to difference work. Chapter 1 is divided into subthemes of: applying social identity theory, emphasizing the “center” and the “margin,” managing organizational climate, and avoiding business case thinking and other flawed models by advocating for real diversity.


Research projects designed to examine social identity difference in organizations are driven by a passion to affect positive change that ultimately leads to a more just society rather than one which enables status quo power perpetuation and continues to marginalize certain people and inhibit them from achieving personal and career goals. This important change requires the support of all people and not just those who use a simplistically essentialist dyad because they feel a personal connection or because such avenues of inquiry are considered off limits when a researcher or a manager does not “match” members of specific minority groups. Polyvocality is necessary to exorcise -isms in the workplace and larger global communities, so this important work is everyone’s responsibility.

In Chapter 2, difference is operationalized and it is acknowledged that recognizing power differentials between ourselves as researcher and our respondents or participants as researched is a starting point in any important journey when exploring social identity difference. Researching across social identity difference is examined, the simplistically essentialist dyad or racial-matching paradigm is critiqued, and the partial perspective and lived experience orientations are advanced. Useful guidance and methodological techniques also are offered for self-reflexive moves when considering research paradigms, theoretical underpinnings, data collection procedures, data interpretation and analysis steps, and dissemination of findings – as well as discussion about ways that institutionalized power can intervene in potentially risky ways for researchers of social identity and difference.

This book represents an integration of numerous theory streams and approaches so that researchers of social identity difference will have at least one go-to source for engaging with potential analytical, ethical, and methodological challenges. Chapter 2 is divided into these central subthemes: what is social identity difference?, power issues among researchers and the researched, techniques for doing social identity difference research, and researching across social identity difference and the matching paradigm.


Intersectionality research is normative; rooted in a desire to improve society as inspired by Sojourner Truth’s 19th century writings and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s ongoing contemporary legal crusade. Overlapping social identity dimensions which constitute every human individual must be recognized and multidimensionality of lived experiences among people embraced. These dimensions intersect such that no one is just a gender or an ethnicity or a (dis)ability or a sexual orientation or a social class or a religion, and so on. Furthermore, intersectionalities are not some collection of layers that are piled or added on. Humans possess many distinctive social identity qualities simultaneously and they interplay in unique ways.

Those who embrace multiplicity of social identity dimensions and explore how they intersect also posit that uneven power distribution in a society complicates situated identities by more firmly entrenching some people at the center and others in the margins. Researchers dedicated to dismantling infrastructures supporting inequality and desirous of elevating multi-textured voices of the disenfranchised are drawn to intersectional analyses. Overall, intersectionality scholars question perceived group homogeneity, essentialist categories, and argue that there are substantial intra-group differences.

Intersectionalities of social identity dimensions play a significant role in organizational work environments. Critiqued in this chapter are ways that organizations use the business case to gain advantages when thinking of social identity intersectionality in terms of “double dipping” and recruiting the “two-fer” in order to satisfy government-imposed policies. In particular, occupying a liminal space due to social identity intersectionality, stereotypes, and othering effects are explored. Chapter 3 examines these issues and more according to themes of: defining intersectionality, “unbending” social identity intersectionalities, applying intersectionality in organizations, and advancing intersectionalities scholarship.


This chapter offers an introduction to the major directions that the study of culture as a social identity dimension has taken theory building and practical application. Culture is explored as it relates to a way of life of a people through arts, beliefs, ceremonies, communication, customs, ethnicity, food, gossip, language, lifestyle, music, nation of origin, religion, ritual practices, stories, and more – and ways that this filters through organizations. Various interpretive and critical approaches are used to scrutinize the nature/culture debate, challenges in operationalizing culture, the circuitous process of culture, culture’s interactions with social structures, and intersectionalities of culture with other social identity dimensions.

Culture dimensions of social identity have been explored by social scientists intrigued by ways that people report negotiating among two or more cultures – double consciousness – and making cognitive shifts for strategic reasons. Too often, even well-intentioned social policies and research designed to advance cultural plurality – or multiculturalism – ends up focusing primarily on ethnic difference while overlooking other social identity dimensions and ignoring bases of cultural differentiation. Organizational culture as an outgrowth of communication, globalization contexts, profit-centric motives, and culture’s intersectionalities with other social identity dimensions is critiqued. Chapter 4 also explores these issues according to subthemes of: Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, culture and social identity, problems with culture and social identity for individuals, and managing organizational culture.


This chapter uses critical race theory (CRT) and postcolonial lenses to critique the postrace concept and organizational power differentials mirroring an ethnically coded society. CRT reminds us that despite antidiscrimination laws around the globe, employers still normatively pursue workplace homogeneity; not necessarily a racist impulse, but in an effort to promote perceived organizational efficiency. Understanding how organizations have become hard-wired to perpetuate White privilege helps to dismantle systemic barriers which continue to stand between people of color and an ability to reach their full human potential at work.

Understanding of power and difference in organizations requires consistent diligence. Using ethnic diversity primarily as a means for advancing profit generation motives rather than as an opportunity to advance social justice, too many multinational corporations offer mere lip service to ethnic diversity. For example, organizations tend to imagine that they are more ethnically diverse than they really are and enable prejudice, racism and microagressions against people who constitute ethnic minorities. Among social researchers, attention to ethnic difference requires careful and consistent attention as well. Because skin color ranks among the most visible of social identity dimensions, diversity and ethnicity/race erroneously are considered synonymous and skin color becomes some default condition for diversity in social research studies. Chapter 5 explores these important subthemes: interrogating Whiteness and navigating diversity at work; exposing the “requisite variety” concept for its homophily thesis roots; examining effects of “othering,” liminal spaces and tokenism; racism and microaggressions have gone underground; and intersectionality of ethnicity with other social identity dimensions.


Gender remains a politically charged and powerful ideological social identity dimension that categorically essentializes and reproduces opportunities and limitations in organizations. Addressed in Chapter 6 are assumptions about gender and ways that gender classifications and gender roles form and spill forth into both work and home life for an overlap of public and private spheres that disadvantage women and privilege men. Furthermore, femininity and masculinity constructs strengthen the power system that undergirds them, reinforces their meanings, and perpetuates behaviors, changing over time, across and within cultures, and over the life course.

In organizations, the glass ceiling metaphor has become a popular representation of inequality in the workplace for women, people of color and sexual minorities; a phenomenon expanded in recent years to include glass walls and glass cliffs to describe advancement barriers. Gender-neutral mindsets and blame-the-victim strategies found in organizations are examined, as well as the breadwinner role and intersectionalities of gender with social identity dimensions of age, ethnicity, and social class. Chapter 6 is divided into these subthemes: gender, roles, femininity, and masculinity; power and gender inequality at work, and effects on women; gender, parenting, and the second shift; the breadwinner role, hegemonic masculinity, and masculinity in crisis; gendered occupations and feminization of career fields; intersectionalities of gender with age, ethnicity, and social class; and shattering schemas with androgyny and transgenderism.


Social identity shaped by sexual orientation is unique because it is invisible (as compared to age and some ethnic identities); a circumstance that may activate homophobia perceptions when an individual’s sexual orientation becomes fodder for speculation. Chapter 7 enjoins a wide variety of related issues in order to sharpen a focus on sex in the workplace; love and sex in the literal sense, as well as social identity shaped by sexual orientation, sex-based discrimination, sex as political action, and important ways that sex intersects with other social identity dimensions including age, gender, ethnicity/race, and socioeconomic status. An important distinction made throughout the chapter is the degree that protections are offered to various groups with regard to sex and work. These protections (or lack of them) are critical for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered, and queer or questioning people who consider whether or not to disclose information about their sexual identity at work.

While many multinational corporations have adopted policies or guidelines and implemented programs to communicate an inclusive perspective on sexual identity in the workplace and to promote diversity training for all employees, too few workplaces around the globe offer legal protections for workers relative to sexual identity. People are subject to workplace discrimination whether they are gay or lesbian, or simply appear to be so and sexual harassment according to gender remains a fixture of organizations. To explore the organizational research on sexuality, Chapter 7 attends to subthemes of: love, lust, and sex-based harassment in the workplace; how organizations address sexual orientation and sex-based harassment in the workplace; managing one’s sexual identity in the workplace; and intersectionalities of sexual identity with ethnicity, gender, and social class.


Influenced by postmodern and poststructuralist perspectives, cultural studies and humanities researchers have critiqued ways that old age plays out in lived realities – including effects of ageism and power loss in both private and public spheres. Generally, older people are perceived negatively and as less powerful than younger people. Age tends to trump most other social identity dimensions in negative ways so that aging is an eventuality that many people the world over dread or fear.

In recent years, age has been treated as a social, political and economic issue that draws from anxiety and fear associated with the advancing life course. Some nations outlaw age discrimination in the workplace, but others do not. So, while improved sanitation, diet and health care means that many people live longer, they still face enduring negative stereotypes about aging processes. Chapter 8 sharpens the focus on social identity marked by age and dimensions that overlap with age – in the larger social milieu and in organizational contexts. Several theoretical ties bind this chapter’s exploration of age and aging, including critical/cultural studies, feminism, critical gerontology, and postmodern and poststructuralist perspectives. To explore research on aging and identity, this chapter is divided into subthemes: sociocultural perspectives on and theorizing about aging, age categories and birth cohorts, aging effects for organizations, aging effects for employees, and age with other social identity intersectionalities.


This chapter offers a broad view of ways organizations create and sustain social class distinction in the workplace and how these outcomes bolster broader perspectives about socioeconomic status and social class. One’s social class generally refers to earnings, education, or occupational status. In more complex terms, power dynamics create a dichotomy between owners of production forces and workers they employ; a social class structure of haves versus have-nots which organizes human relations. Chapter 9 draws from multiple research traditions to examine the wage labor system, combined with trends, myths and fallacies about social class, social identity intersectionalities, and specifically how social class is performed in organizations.

No matter how much people and their societies prefer to think of themselves as unrestricted and egalitarian, it seems that social class – perhaps more rigidly than any other social identity dimension – offers a ready reminder that social spaces and experiences at work, home, and elsewhere are clearly marked by social class. Key concepts explored include classism, class-free society illusions, and blue- and other color collar metaphors which connote power and privilege. To interrogate social identity research on social class in organizations, explored are subthemes of: socioeconomic status (SES) and the wage labor system in organizations; trends, myths, and fallacies about social class in the United States; intersectionalities of social class identity with age, ethnicity, gender, and physical/psychological ability; and “doing social class” at work.


A person’s value in terms of physical and mental abilities, talents and skills is not simply located in degrees of her/his body’s ability to function. Efforts to achieve social and workplace equality for people with a physical/body or psychological/mental disability have grown to a transnational social movement. The community of people with a disability may be among the largest, most diverse group of people. By examining disability through lenses of cultural, economic, and political contexts, Chapter 10 underscores the importance of understanding how and why experiences and issues associated with social identity shaped by these dimensions has captured the attention of policymakers and employers around the world.

A person’s identity is socially constructed and impacted by government policy, cultural values, and organizational decision making. The field of disability studies is dedicated to advancing greater understanding of experiences of people with a disability and empowering them to pursue happy and fulfilling lives. Institutionalized manifestations of stigma, ableism, discrimination, and bias diminish these pursuits, however. People everywhere and the organizations staffed and managed by them are urged to consider the positive outcomes of fully embracing people with a disability for their ability to perform responsibilities and to bring unique perspectives on organizational practices and exchanges with key stakeholders. Chapter 10 examines subthemes central to the study of social identity among people with a disability: paradigm shift and policy making about disability, legislation and policy, people working with a disability in organizations, language and naming debates, and disability and other social identity intersectionalities.


Social identity as shaped by religion or spirituality is unique in comparison to some other social identity dimensions because it may be invisible unless a person wears a symbol or dress widely regarded as synonymous with a given religious tradition. Yet, some employees choose to fuse their personal and work lives when religion or spirituality is a salient dimension of their social identity. Problems emerge, however, and can make for an awkward fit in the business world.

Perhaps the primary advantage to religion or spirituality at work is potential for high employee morale and residual benefits in enhanced performance. Scholars who research the God gap suggest that abundant and ongoing airing of political and religious difference can benefit everyone. Numerous business organizations endorse respectful pluralism and lived religion, enabling employees to participate in community service activities, retreats with nature walks, physical exercise, meditation, spiritual contemplation, physical space for individual prayer and group discussions throughout the day, faith-related reading materials, and faith leaders to provide counseling. Yet, even though religion is a federally protected class and employers in some parts of the world are mandated to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and observances so long as no undue hardship on business operations results, this does not mean that conflicts do not arise. To explore religious identity and spirituality with a focus on workplace dynamics, Chapter 11 is divided into subthemes of: what is religious identity?, accommodating faith/spirituality at work, faith/spirituality in organizations and health, the formal religion-spirituality dichotomy, lived religion, and conflicts about faith/spirituality in the workplace.


This book offers theoretical frameworks and results of hundreds of empirical studies designed to investigate aspects of social identity dimensions of difference. Part I provides a foundation for examining social identity by defining it in terms of systems of power and hegemony, offering discussion of relationships between researchers and their participants (or, employees), and focusing on an ever-expanding literature which addresses the many ways that social identity dimensions overlap and intersect for individuals. Part II offers in-depth looks at specific social identity dimensions of culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical and psychological ability, and faith/spirituality. As the final installment, Chapter 12 summarizes the book’s major themes. The message speaks to human resources and diversity managers in organizations as well as researchers; encouraging them to actively disassemble homogeneity at the top of organizations and to support enabling of all humans to reach their full human potential across organizations and in all social realms. Promoting and enabling social identity difference throughout organizations is no easy task due to multiple challenges. Indeed, incremental gains and small wins mean moving forward; the right direction.


Pages 271-278
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International Perspectives on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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