“Doing the Right Thing” or “Impacting the Bottom-Line”? Diversity Managers, Business Imperatives and Moral Concerns in US and French Global Companies

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
88 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Laure Bereni, Centre Maurice Halbwachs, CNRS, Paris, France
The rise of diversity management, which took place in the US corporate world before spreading out globally, has been studied as an emblematic case of the managerialization of law : diversity programs have been increasingly framed and designed as a drive for business success rather than as a response to anti-discrimination regulations. While shifting away from legal ideas, diversity initiatives have also been increasingly separated from moral concerns : they have been less and less described as "the right thing to" and more and more distinguished from what has been labelled as "corporate social responsibility" functions. Diversity practitioners have been key actors in this process of transforming legal and moral ideas in managerial rationality. Drawing on a a series of interviews with diversity practitioners working in the headquarters of large US and French companies (N=80), this paper analyses diversity initiatives as the sites of a complex interplay between business and moral norms in globalized corporate settings.

First, I will show that US and French diversity professionals differ in the ways they draw boundaries between business and moral realms. While in the US diversity practitioners feel strongly requested to justify their activities in terms of ‘business dollars’, repelling the moral (as well as the legal) dimensions of their work, their French counterparts are more likely to frame diversity initiatives as pertaining simultaneously to moral, legal and economic imperatives, which are seen as porous categories. Second, I will show that beyond this national variation, both US and French diversity practitioners spend a great deal of time promoting the idea that treating people with ‘respect’ and ‘fairness’ goes hand in hand with business performance, rather than being contradictory concerns. As such, whether they claim it or not, they embody the moral face of managerial rationality in contemporary, globalized organizations.