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DMO seminar: Diversity Research and Work

Annette Risberg from Copenhagen Business School will present a book chapter for the forthcoming “Oxford handbook on diversity management” entitled Ambiguous diversities - Practices and perceptions of diversity management.

The seminar will take place on November 4th , 13.15 - 15.00 in room Johan

For further questions please contact Laurence Romani.

Welcome!

Abstract: 
Diversity management is a multifarious academic and practical field; there are many different theoretical rationales and principles for engaging with diversity and many different practical takes on diversity management. One could argue that it is only fitting for a field that explicitly aims at enhancing organizational diversity to be diverse in and of itself; however, the literature tends to speak of the ambiguities of diversity management as a problem rather than a resource (Nkomo and Cox 1996; Liff and Wajcman 199; Dick and Cassell 2002). Sidestepping the discussion of whether the theoretical and practical ambiguities of diversity management are inherently good or bad, we begin from the assumption that ambiguity is an unavoidable and constitutive condition of organizational practices, generally, and practices of diversity, specifically. Our main argument, then, is that the value of ambiguity for diversity management cannot be assigned a priori, but must be studied in and through managerial practices and employee perceptions; does ambiguity lead to better or worse conditions for practicing diversity? This is a question to be studied in its specific instantiations, not to be settled as a matter of scholarly sentiment or managerial temperament.

In this chapter we offer a framework for such study, exploring various expressions of ambiguity in theoretical terms and presenting empirical illustrations of how these are practiced and perceived by managers and employees. We suggest three categories of ambiguity which may be used to express and analyze diversity in organizations: strategic ambiguity, contradiction, and ambivalence. Furthermore, we exemplify each through an illustrative case study (conducted by one of the authors, Annette Risberg) of diversity practices in a Swedish municipality. The case study was conducted between April 2008 and December 2010 and based on observations (of daily work, events, training and diversity and equality committees’ meetings), semi- and unstructured interviews and internal material (e.g., annual reports, diversity plans, personnel surveys). All observation notes and interviews have been transcribed and the texts have been analyzed looking for common and particular themes. In this chapter the results of the analysis will be used to illustrate our theoretical arguments (see Stake 1994 for a discussion of illustrative cases).

While the main purpose of this chapter is to present a conceptual and methodological framework that begins from the assumption of ambiguity as an unavoidable condition of diversity management, we also wish to suggest how expressions of ambiguity may foster new and more inclusive practices of diversity. That is, given the constitutive condition of ambiguity, which expressions of it are likely to be more productive of positive effects and which might tend to be detrimental to diversity? In order to realize these goals we first substantiate the claim that ambiguities are inherent to the theory and practice of diversity management, before moving on to the presentation and illustration of our conceptual framework for investigating expressions of ambiguity. In a final section we discuss the implications of our framework (and our illustrative findings) for future studies and practices of diversity management.

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