Sub-theme 34: Inequality, Institutions, and Organizations

John M. Amis
University of Edinburgh Business School, United Kingdom
Johanna Mair
Hertie School, Germany
Kamal A. Munir
Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

In this sub-theme, we engage with the conference theme to examine implications of ‘the beauty of imperfection’ for our understanding of inequality in organizations. Organizations, apparently beguiled by homophily in their privileging of white, middle-class, male somatic norms, have engendered structures and systems that advance a very particular understanding of ‘perfection’ when it comes to organizational work. We problematize this in this sub-theme by engaging with work that exposes the mechanisms through which organizations are constructed in certain ways. In so doing, we build on a series of EGOS sub-themes (2012, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020) and related work (e.g., Amis et al., 2020; Amis et al., 2017; Amis et al., 2018; Munir, 2021) that has focused on the relationships between inequality, institutions and organizations. 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., 2020; Bapuji et al., 2020a; Davis, 2017; George et al., 2012; Lawrence & Dover, 2015), we are in need of work that develops our theoretical and empirical understanding of the persistence of inequality in organizations. Of particular interest is developing appreciation of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequality (Bapuji et al., 2020b; Munir, 2021) and the consequent strategies that organizations will put in place – or not – to redress this inequity.
Despite academic and popular press commentaries, economic inequality continues to be one of society’s most pressing challenges. According to Oxfam (2020), wealth inequality has continued to grow with the richest 1% having more than twice as much wealth as the 6.9 billion people that make up 60% of the world’s population. It is also apparent that men control much more of this wealth than women, and that women do much more unpaid work than men. Disparities are also prevalent along racial and class lines. 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 (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010) and weaker democratic institutions (Piketty, 2014).
Organizations are an important source of the mechanisms that reify inequality (e.g., Amis et al., 2020). It appears that organizations designed to enable economic development and progress often exacerbate systemic social inequalities. 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 (Marmot, 2015). 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). Racial disparities (Kang et al., 2016), sexual harassment (Berdahl, 2007), discrimination against stigmatized and marginalized individuals and groups (Martí & Fernández, 2013) 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 link between inequalities and environmental degradation 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.” In this sense, the focus of this year’s colloquium theme regarding how power and politics play a determining role in what is considered ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ and where such boundaries are drawn is timely and very pertinent to our sub-theme.
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 across different inequalities and, most notably, how intersectionality plays out to further define the existence of groups of people. These could touch upon, without being confined to:

  • What kind of an image of ‘perfection’ proliferates our organizations?

  • How are we complicit in perpetuating particular images of perfection when it comes to leadership, careers and achievements in organizations?

  • What are the institutional and organizational foundations of inequality?

  • How is inequality created and perpetuated in organizations?

  • How do power and politics shape organizational structures of advantage and disadvantage?

  • How has the pandemic deepened systemic inequalities in organizations?

  • How do organizations create conditions for intersectionality?

  • How do the myths associated with globalization, meritocracy and/or efficiency define working practices?

  • How have the creation of new types of jobs, and new types of organizations impacted various inequalities?

  • What are the effects of technology on the persistence and creation of inequality?

  • What role do elites play in creating and/or reproducing self-serving structures of inequality?

  • What forms of institutional work of specific individual organizational actors increase or decrease social inequality?

  • How are particular devices used to disguise inequality?

  • How are domains of activity legitimized to create greater or lesser inequality?

  • What strategies have proved successful in disrupting systemic forms of inequality?

  • What are the implications of inequality for theories of organization studies?



  • Adler, P.S. (2012): “The sociological ambivalence of bureaucracy: From Weber via Gouldner to Marx.” Organization Science, 23 (1), 244–266.
  • Amis, J.M., & Greenwood, R. (2020): “Organisational change in a (post-)pandemic world: Rediscovering interests and values.” Journal of Management Studies, 58 (2), 582–586.
  • Amis, J.M., Mair, J., & Munir, K. (2020): “Organizational reproduction of inequality.” Academy of Management Annals, 14 (1), 1–36.
  • Amis, J.M., Munir, K.A., Lawrence, T.B., Hirsch, P., & McGahan, A. (2018): “Inequality, institutions and organizations.” Organization Studies, 39 (9), 1131–1152.
  • Amis, J.M., Munir, K.A., & Mair, J. (2017): “Institutions and Economic Inequality.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T. Lawrence & R. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 705–736.
  • Banerjee, S.B. (2012): “A Climate for change? Critical reflections on the Durban United Nations Climate Change Conference. Organization Studies, 33 (12), 1761–1786.
  • Bapuji, H., Ertug, G., & Shaw, J.D. (2020a): “Organizations and societal economic inequality: A review and way forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 14 (1), 60–91.
  • Bapuji, H., Patel, C., Ertug, G., & Allen, D.G. (2020b): “Corona crisis and inequality: Why management research needs a societal turn.” Journal of Management, 46 (7), 1205–1222.
  • Belliveau, M.A. (2012): “Engendering inequity? How social accounts create vs. merely explain unfavorable pay outcomes for women.” Organization Science, 23 (4), 1154–1174.
  • Berdahl, J.L. (2007): “Harassment based on sex: Protecting social status in the context of gender hierarchy.” Academy of Management Review, 32 (2), 641–658.
  • Davis, G.F. (2017): “How institutions create income inequality.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T. Lawrence, & R. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 689–704.
  • George, G. McGahan, A.M., & Prabhu, J. (2012): “Innovation for inclusive growth: Towards a theoretical framework and a research agenda.” Journal of Management Studies, 49 (4), 661–683.
  • Kang, S.K., DeCelles, K.A., Tilcsik, A., & Jun, S. (2016): “Whitened résumés: Race and self-presentation in the labor market.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 61 (3), 1–34.
  • Lawrence, T.B., & Dover, G. (2015): “Place and institutional work: Creating housing for the hard-to-house.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 60 (3), 371–410.
  • Leana, C.R., Mittal, V., & Stiehl, E. (2012): “Organizational behavior and the working poor.” Organization Science, 23 (3), 888–906.
  • Mair, J., Martí, I., & Ventresca, M.J. (2012): “Building inclusive markets in rural Bangladesh: How intermediaries work institutional voids.” Academy of Management Journal, 55 (4), 819–850.
  • Marmot, M. (2015): The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Martí, I., & Fernández, P. (2013): “The Institutional work of oppression and resistance: Learning from the Holocaust. “Organization Studies, 34 (8), 1195–1223.
  • Michel, A. (2011): “Transcending socialization: A nine-year ethnography of the body’s role in organizational control and knowledge workers’ transformation.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 56 (3), 325–368.
  • Munir, K.A. (2021): “Inequality in the time of corona virus.” Journal of Management Studies, 58 (2), 607–610.
  • Oxfam (2020): 5 shocking facts about extreme inequality and how to even it up, available at
  • Piketty, T. (2014): Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
  • Wilkinson, R., & Pickett, K. (2010): The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin Books.
John M. Amis is Professor of Strategic Management and Organisation at the University of Edinburgh Business School, United Kingdom. John’s research, largely focused on issues of organizational, institutional and societal change, has been published in leading organization theory and management journals.
Johanna Mair is a Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School in Berlin, Germany. She also directs the Global Innovation for Impact Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Johanna’s research is published in leading organization theory and management journals focuses on the nexus of organizations, institutions and societal challenges.
Kamal A. Munir teaches Strategy and Policy at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. He has published several articles in leading organizational journals, and has been invited to present his work in numerous academic and policy forums around the world.