Redefining Diversity: Practice Theorization and Legitimation As Local Processes

Friday, June 24, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
210 South Hall (South Hall)
Shawna Vican, University of Delaware, Newark, DE
Theorization is a key element of institutional change; it is the process through which innovative practices are made comprehensible to a broader population and thus necessary for emergent practices to gain legitimacy.  In this paper I argue that while theorization and legitimation have been viewed as operating externally to organizations, or as field-level processes, it is equally important to consider how theorization and legitimation operate within firms.  Through interviews with diversity managers at 60 firms across the US, I study how actors negotiate the day-to-day adoption and implementation of diversity management practices. My results suggest that while diversity management practices are common in the United States and garner positive legitimacy judgments by external audiences, they frequently lack legitimacy within firms.  In response, diversity managers employ six distinct strategies to garner positive legitimacy judgment from other actors within their organizations, leading to greater variation in the implementation of diversity management than a traditional institutional model would predict.  One strategy, that of “retheorization,” changes the very meaning of diversity management practices.  In redefining diversity as “all difference” and removing the focus on race, ethnicity, or gender, diversity management is distanced from its historical roots in addressing patterns of inequality within organizations.  Thus in an effort to gain support for their work, diversity managers may in fact dilute effort to remediate inequality within their firms.