Sub-theme 55: Inequality by Design? The Impact of Organizational Practices on Individual Employment Outcomes

Isabel Fernandez-Mateo
London Business School, UK
Emilio J. Castilla
MIT Sloan School of Management, USA
Olav Sorenson
Yale School of Management, New Haven, USA

Call for Papers


At the core of research in organization studies lays the fundamental premise that organizations play a key role in generating and sustaining inequality in the workplace (Baron & Bielby, 1984; for reviews, cf. e.g. Reskin & McBrier, 2000; Fernandez & Mors, 2008). For example, many studies show that women and racial minorities occupy lower quality jobs, through processes of hiring, promotion, and/or termination (Petersen & Saporta, 2004; Fernandez & Fernandez-Mateo, 2006). Recent empirical work has found that gender and racial disparities in the workplace remain even after the adoption of diversity programs (Kalev et al., 2006), problem-solving team and job-training arrangements (Kalev, 2009), merit-based pay practices and cultures (Castilla, 2008; Castilla & Benard, 2010), and other work policies (Kelly & Dobbin, 1999). Other studies have also examined how structural factors internal to organizations, such as organizational size and tenure, hierarchical structure, and the use of job categories, affect ascriptive inequality (for a review, cf. e.g. Beckman & Phillips, 2005). In the end, the distribution of resources and opportunities in society cannot be fully understood without paying attention to the impact of organizations and their practices on key individual work outcomes.

The purpose of this sub-theme is to bring together a group of researchers who share a concern for advancing our knowledge about the impact of organizational practices on workplace inequality and diversity. In particular, our goal is to discuss innovative research that sheds new light on the theoretical mechanisms that explain how organizational practices affect key employee employment outcomes such as assignment to jobs, wages, promotions, career advancement, training opportunities, etc. Because the nature of organizations and their boundaries are changing so rapidly, talking about "organizational practices" may not be the ideal way of thinking about these issues any more: Thus we would also like to explore how the blurring of organizational boundaries, values, and procedures, the recent patterns of employment and employee mobility, as well as the increasing use of "market-driven" employment practices (Cappelli, 1999) contribute to our understanding of workplace inequality. This topic is not only relevant for the advancement of organizational theory and research, but it also has practical implications for employees, managers, communities, and society as a whole.

We are open to learning from multiple theoretical perspectives, ranging from purely structural or incentive-based accounts of inequality to cognitive and identity-based perspectives on how differential opportunities and inequitable treatment may emerge within organizations. Some of the topics we would like to discuss include (but are not limited to):

  • How do recruitment and hiring, training and development, as well as incentive systems within traditional and non-traditional organizations affect individuals' careers in the workplace?
  • How do new organizational forms and employment arrangements (temporary and contingent work, intermediaries, network-based firms, etc.) influence workplace inequality and diversity?
  • What are the (un)intended consequences of old and new organizational routines, in particular as they favour some individuals or groups while constraining opportunities for others inside and outside work organizations?
  • How can organizational practices be designed and implemented to mitigate workplace inequality and increase diversity?


We welcome a broad array of methodologies, from qualitative or quantitative analysis to simulations and experimental approaches. We are also interested in studies across industries and markets, as long as they share a concern for the role of organizational practices in understanding workplace inequality. By learning from different theoretical and empirical approaches, we believe attendees to this sub-theme will substantially enrich their particular research agendas within the broad topic of organizations, inequality, and diversity.




Baron, J. & W.T. Bielby (1984): "The Organization of Work in a Segmented Economy." American Sociological Review, 49, 454–473
Beckman, C.M. & D.J. Phillips (2005): "Interorganizational Determinants of Promotion: Client Leadership and the Attainment of Women Attorneys." American Sociological Review, 70, 678–701
Cappelli, P. (1999): "Career Jobs are Dead." California Management Review, 42, 146–167
Castilla, E.J. (2008): "Gender, Race, and Meritocracy in Organizational Careers." American Journal of Sociology, 113, 1479–1526
Castilla, E.J. & S. Benard (2010): "The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations." Administrative Science Quarterly, 55, 543–576
Fernandez, R.M. & I. Fernandez-Mateo (2006): "Networks, Race, and Hiring." American Sociological Review, 71, 42–71
Fernandez, R.M. & M.L. Mors (2008): "Competing for Jobs: Labor Queues and Gender Sorting in the Hiring Process." Social Science Research, 37, 1061–1080
Kalev, A. (2009): "Cracking the Glass Cages? Restructuring and Ascriptive Inequality at Work." American Journal of Sociology, 114, 1591–1643
Kalev, A., F. Dobbin & E. Kelly (2006): "Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies." American Sociological Review, 71, 589–617
Kelly, E. & F. Dobbin (1999): "Civil Rights Law at Work: Sex Discrimination and the Rise of Maternity Leave Policies." American Journal of Sociology, 105, 455–492
Petersen, T. & I. Saporta (2004): "The Opportunity Structure for Discrimination." American Journal of Sociology, 109, 852–901
Reskin, B.F. & D.B. McBrier (2000): "Why Not Ascription? Organizations' Employment of Male and Female Managers." American Sociological Review, 65, 210–233


Isabel Fernandez-Mateo Isabel Fernandez-Mateo is Assistant Professor at the London Business School. She studies the mechanisms and outcomes of market intermediation. Her research has two key elements. On the one hand she examines how market brokers manage to utilize their relationships to extract rents from their counterparties over time. On the other, she studies the effects of these brokers’ practices on individuals’ workplace outcomes. Her research has been published, among others, in the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology, and Organization Science.
Emilio J. Castilla Emilio J. Castilla is Associate Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is a faculty member at the Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) and the Economic Sociology Program at MIT; he is also a research fellow at the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School. His research focuses on the areas of organizations, social networks, and inequality, with special emphasis on the sociological aspects of work and employment.
Olav Sorenson Olav Sorenson is Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management. His research agenda sits at the intersection of organizational ecology and social networks. In particular, he is interested in how social networks affect transactions and shape the geography and evolution of industries. He also studies how these social networks affect income inequality, as drivers of individuals’ geographic mobility and of the matching of employees to employers.