Sub-theme 22: Powering Inequality: The Impact of Organizational Practices on Individual Employment Outcomes

Emilio J. Castilla
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA
Isabel Fernandez-Mateo
London Business School, UK

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. For example, many studies show that women and racial minorities occupy lower quality jobs, through processes of hiring, promotion, and termination. Recent empirical work has found that gender and racial disparities in the workplace remain even after the adoption of diversity programs, problem-solving team and job-training arrangements, merit-based pay practices and cultures, and other work policies. 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. In the end, the distribution of resources, power 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 also would 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 contribute to our understanding of workplace inequality. We are also interested in examining how the current economic crisis in many parts of the world has affected firms' organizational practices, and thus their consequences for new forms of economic and social 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 economic instability and financial crises affect changes in organizational practices and thus the reproduction of inequality in the workplace?
  • 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 the distribution of power in labor markets and in turn workplace inequality?
  • What are the (un)intended consequences of old and new organizational routines, in particular as they favor 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.


Emilio J. Castilla is Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, USA. He is a faculty member at the Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) and the Economic Sociology Program at MIT. His research focuses on the areas of organizations, social networks, and workplace inequality, with special emphasis on the sociological aspects of work and employment.
Isabel Fernandez-Mateo is Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, UK. Her work focuses on how relationships influence labor market outcomes, particularly in hiring, job transitions and career advancement. She is currently doing research on the organizational and social barriers that prevent women's access to top management positions.