36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
Our intent in this sub-theme is to build on a stream of work focused on the relationships between inequality, institutions
and organizations. In so doing, we connect directly with the timely Hamburg Colloquium theme that calls for reflection on
the responsibility of modern organizations in our society. Although the relevance of organizational research to societal problems
has spawned debate for at least a decade, and has generated a proliferation of polemics and prescriptions (e.g., Amis et al.,
2018; Dover & Lawrence, 2010; George et al 2012; Lawrence & Dover, 2015; Von Glinow, 2005), there has been insufficient
serious, sustained theoretical and empirical engagement among organization scholars on questions that primarily relate to
socially desirable values and configurations.
One dimension of organizations that profoundly determines the role they end up playing in social progress concerns how they impact inequality. In the past three decades, economic inequality has emerged as one of society’s most pressing challenges. According to Oxfam (2018), 42 people now control the same wealth as the bottom 50% of the world’s population or 3.7 billion people. Furthermore, 82% of all the wealth generated by economic growth in 2017 flowed to the wealthiest 1% in the world, while the poorest 50% received nothing. Such trends are problematic not least because higher levels of economic inequality are associated with higher levels of social and health problems including higher rates of mortality, mistrust, crime, obesity, mental illnesses, violence, and incarceration rates (Pickett & Wilkinson, 2015; Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010) and weaker democratic institutions (Piketty, 2014; Wolf, 2017).
Given the strong connection between inequality and the well-being of society, it is particularly problematic to observe that inequality across social groups tends to persist and in places even increase from generation to generation. Class mobility in many countries seems to have gone down, the gender pay gap while certainly narrower, nevertheless remains in place, and minorities continue to fare worse than their white fellow citizens. The persistence of these differences point to underlying mechanisms that maintain inequality over time (e.g., Amis et al., 2017).
Organizations form part of this mechanism. It appears that organisations designed to enable economic development and progress often tend to exacerbate the effects of social inequalities that are embedded in underlying human systems. For example, the “working poor”, while “seemingly indispensable to the value creation model for firms in developed economies” (Leana et al., 2012: 901) are simultaneously constrained by these same systems with little chance of advancing beyond their current circumstances (see also Mair et al., 2012). Virtual workers have reported feeling less respected and more disconnected to the organizations that employ them than more traditional workers (Bartel et al., 2012).
Further, despite decades of awareness, women remain discriminated against in many organizations, leading to a perpetuation of unequal pay and severe under-representation in senior management positions (Belliveau, 2012; Ryan & Haslam, 2007). Racial disparities (Carton & Rosette, 2011; Cortina, 2008), sexual harassment (Berdahl, 2007; Raver & Gelfand, 2005), discrimination against stigmatized and marginalized individuals and groups (Martí & Fernández, 2013; Soule, 2012) and even exploitation that leads to “body breakdowns” (Michel, 2011) have also been reported as outcomes of pernicious organization-related and often institutionalized actions. Finally, the degradation caused to the natural environment as an outcome of political action, power dynamics, and investment decisions is also under-explored (Banerjee, 2012). As Adler (2012: 246) has stated, as well as being an enabling tool for required cooperative functioning, bureaucracies also remain a “coercive weapon for exploitation”.
Unfortunately, despite the tremendous growth in research over the past decades, the intersection of social inequality, organizations and institutions remains significantly under-examined. As such, we feel that scholars interested in institutions and organizations, from those who study the behavior of individuals to those who are interested in how societies are shaped and governed – and all levels in between – can and should contribute to our understanding of various types of inequalities and interaction across these. We are most interested in work that goes beyond static, macro comparisons to studies that unveil the dynamic processes, practices, innovations and changes that will in turn enable a richer understanding of the relationships between inequality, institutions and organizations.
In particular, we are interested in papers that focus on how this process unfolds in the case of gender, class and race-based inequalities. These could touch upon, without being confined to:
Institutional and organizational foundations of inequality
How gender-based inequality is created and perpetuated in organizations
How class-based inequality is created and perpetuated in organizations
How race-based inequality is created and perpetuated in organizations
How do different dimensions like gender, race, and class intersect in organizational life
How does globalization of business impact intra and inter-country inequalities
How does the creation of new types of jobs, and new types of organizations impact various inequalities
The effects of technology on the persistence and creation of inequality
The role of elites in creating and/or reproducing self-serving structures of inequality
The institutional work of specific individual organizational actors to increase or decrease social inequality
The use and exposure of devices that disguise inequality
The legitimization of domains of activity that lead to greater or lesser inequality
The roles of power and political structures in the creation and maintenance of structures of inequality
Strategies that disrupt institutionalized structures of inequality
The implications of inequality for theories of organization studies