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Re-orientations: moving from boxed-in to box-breaking research in diversity and inclusion

Special issue call for papers from Management Decision

Alvesson and Sandberg (2012) link the paucity of high-impact, conversation-changing management research to the ubiquity of boxed-in, incremental scholarship based on taken-for-granted beliefs. The field of equality, diversity, and inclusion has long been subject to fashions, dilemmas, and blind spots, and shaped by narrow assumptions about difference, power, and organisation (Oswick and Noon, 2014). This special issue aims to exert a field re-orienting focus, in attempting to tell the untold stories of diverse actors and organisations, and exploring fresh, and novel perspectives on what we think we already know about diversity and inclusion.

The following are a possible, though not an exhaustive, list of topic areas, in which box-breaking research is provoked to push diversity and inclusion scholarship into new ground:

Giving a rich account of specialist actors in equality, diversity, and inclusion

Despite decades of research in equality, diversity and inclusion, there is incomplete knowledge of the dynamic role and effect of specialist diversity and inclusion workers vis-à-vis management and organisation. With notable exceptions (Kirton, Greene, and Dean, 2007; Tatli, 2011; Zanoni and Janssens, 2004), the work of intra- and extra-organisational diversity actors are under-theorised, and their complex relationship with key organisational actors, such as top management, and their connections to industry setting, as well as the wider social context, is under-explored. Research that broadly responds to the following questions are thus vitally needed:

What are the conflicts and challenges experienced by diversity and inclusion specialists, and how do multiple pressures shape these agents’ capacity to effectuate deep change in organisational life?

How do diversity and inclusion workers bargain with, push against or adhere to the formation and execution of diversity and inclusion values, strategies and policies in organisations?

Understanding the role of privilege in management and organisational contexts
In management and organisation, the ideal worker is a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisman who is unencumbered with care responsibilities (Acker, 2006; Young, 1990). Diversity and inclusion literature tends to black-box the ideal worker, focusing the analysis on constructing accounts of exclusionary processes experienced by non-ideal workers, with the aim to expose patterns of discrimination to remedy inequalities. Yet, non-discrimination cannot lead to equality for all, if some organisational members experience invisible, and unaccounted for, privileges which smooth their way to the top, while others do not (Ahmed, 2007; Tatli and Ozbilgin, 2012). Research is thus needed to respond to the questions:

How should privilege be conceptualised? What are the key forms of privilege, and how do forms of privilege invisibly operate within organisational settings? What is the interplay among privileged actors, non-privileged actors, and organisation?

Countering silences and invisibilities in diversity and inclusion   
The origins story of the equality, diversity and inclusion scholarship harks back to the catalytic US social movements for civil rights and women’s liberation. As such, gender and race have historically been the main lines of enquiry in the field, while many other strands have often taken the back seat. For example, gender identity is a prime example of such relative neglect in diversity and inclusion scholarship (Ozturk and Tatli, 2017).

Studies on gender and diversity have tended to account for white women workers’ experiences, while studies on race and diversity often privilege black men’s work lives. Intersectional accounts that outline the complexities of disadvantage experienced in the broad categories of gender and race are still not in the mainstream of the field. Further, within intersectional studies which purport to remedy silences and invisibilities, the interplay of gender and race has come to dominate the analysis, while connections with other crucial strands such as class, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, etc. have remained under-researched. Research is thus needed to respond to the questions:

What are the degrees and shapes of exclusion experienced by workers whose identity categories represent the under-researched diversity strands?

What are the intersectional (dis)-advantages that workers experience across multiple categories of difference rather than solely race and gender?    

Refining the theoretical and empirical accounts of inclusion

Conceptual and empirical accounts that fully unpack inclusion and explain its distinguishing properties have yet to be developed. Often, the overuse (and misuse of) the term, and the diversity documents and policies that accompany it, seem to be taken to mean that an organisation must be inclusive (Ahmed, 2012). Yet, there is still no consensus on what it is to be inclusive, and what it takes to have a truly inclusive organisational culture. Thus, research is needed to respond to the questions:

What does genuine organisational inclusion of all workers look like analytically? Does inclusion of the uniqueness of each individual imply the collapse of historical group difference? What are the key criteria that capture an inclusive organisational climate? What are the properties / capacities that constitute an included worker?

In this special issue, which calls for the new and the novel, articles based on a range of social science, business and management, and interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks are welcome. Conceptual papers should offer a well-developed theoretical framework, rather than a review of the literature with a particular slant. As well, empirical research ranging from small-N studies to large-scale statistical work is encouraged.

The deadline for submissions of articles for this special issue is 1st December 2018.

Guest editor:
Mustafa Bilgehan Ozturk, Queen Mary University of London,

Acker, J. (2006). Inequality regimes: Gender, class, and race in organizations. Gender and Society, 20(4), 441-464.
Ahmed, S. (2007). A phenomenology of whiteness. Feminist Theory, 8(2), 149-168.
Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2014). Habitat and habitus: Boxed-in versus box-breaking research. Organization Studies, 35(7), 967-987.
Kirton, G., Greene, A. M., & Dean, D. (2007). British diversity professionals as change agents–radicals, tempered radicals or liberal reformers? International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(11), 1979-1994.
Oswick, C., & Noon, M. (2014). Discourses of diversity, equality and inclusion: trenchant formulations or transient fashions? British Journal of Management, 25(1), 23-39.
Ozturk, M. B., & Tatli, A. (2016). Gender identity inclusion in the workplace: broadening diversity management research and practice through the case of transgender employees in the UK. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 27(8), 781-802.
Tatli, A. (2011). A multi‐layered exploration of the diversity management field: diversity discourses, practices and practitioners in the UK. British Journal of Management, 22(2), 238-253.
Tatli, A., & Özbilgin, M. (2012). Surprising intersectionalities of inequality and privilege: the case of the arts and cultural sector. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31(3), 249-265
Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Zanoni, P. and Janssens, M. (2004) Deconstructing difference: the rhetoric of human resource managers’ diversity discourses. Organization Studies, 25(1): 55–74.