Sub-theme 58: Pursuing Social Change through Work

Grace Augustine
The University of Bath, United Kingdom
Amit Nigam
City, University of London, United Kingdom
Vontrese D. Pamphile
George Washington University, USA

Call for Papers

In recent years, individuals’ careers and work life have increasingly intersected with social change pursuits. For example, new occupational groups that address social issues such as diversity, equality, sustainability, and corporate responsibility have proliferated and existing employee and professional groups have mobilized to address areas of social concern within and across organizations, carrying out work at the crossroads of careers and activism.
One area of empirical interest at the intersection of work and social change is the emergence and growth of occupational groups that are tasked with managing social issues inside organizations, such as diversity officers (Buchter 2021, Dobbin, Kalev and Kelly 2007), recycling managers (Lounsbury 2001), ethics officers (Chandler 2014), philanthropy professionals (Pamphile 2022), corporate social responsibility (CSR) managers (Risi and Wickert 2017) and sustainability managers (Augustine 2021). Individuals in these types of occupations sit at the interface of social movements and organizations, and their mandate can often be seen as tangential to, or even working against, an organizations’ primary goals. Individuals in these occupations work to further community wellbeing versus corporate profitability, the pursuit of diversity versus organizational cultural alignment, and the pursuit of environmental protection instead of resource acquisition (Pamphile 2022, Wright and Nyberg 2017).
Despite the proliferation of these types of occupations, we know that individuals working in them face particular challenges, such as the ambiguity of their work and the difficulty of getting the attention and resources to progress social change projects inside and across their organizations (Sonenshein 2016, Wickert and de Bakker 2018). Studies have shown that these roles can be isolating (Pamphile, 2022) and that these occupations do not benefit from some of the prototypical stages of professionalization (Risi and Wickert 2017). However, there is still much we do not know about these groups and how they pursue their work. Many individuals in these occupations espouse a strong commitment to their roles, to the movements that stand behind their work, and to the goal of furthering social change within their organizations (Augustine 2021). Yet, as in the case of diversity, the work that individuals in these roles pursue frequently falls short of what external groups had envisioned for their potential to change their organizations (Edelman et al. 2011, Kalev, Dobbin and Kelly 2006).
New occupational groups are not the only way that social change is being pursued through work, however. We also see traditional occupations and professions that are engaging in social change pursuits. For example, OBGYN professionals in France have recently expanded their work to campaign for reproductive rights for same-sex couples (Lelasseux and Lander 2019) and chemists have shifted their occupation towards environmental sustainability goals (Howard-Grenville et al. 2017). Many employees are also often interested in making a difference through work, even if it goes beyond their formal roles. The notion of “tempered radicals,” or organizational insiders with a desire to fit in at work but pursue a social change agenda (Meyerson and Scully 1995), suggests employees might take small steps towards change. Employees can pursue these efforts via participatory CSR programs (Bode, Singh and Rogan 2015) and employer-sponsored volunteering programs (Rodell 2013), but they often also band together to draw organizational attention to societal concerns, such as LGBTQ+ issues in organizations (DeJordy et al. 2020).  These changes are regularly pursued through Employee Resource Groups, i.e., affinity groups of employees typically based around a minority identity, which are now commonplace in many workplaces. Much remains unknown about how the volunteer time of employees, especially minority employees, can be used to address social issues for the organization and what this may mean for the employees who engage in extra work themselves (Welbourne, Rolf and Schlachter 2017). Despite this scholarship to date, we do not know what leads some people to pursue social change efforts through traditional careers and not others. While we know that peoples’ career histories can lead them to later pursue work that they find collectively meaningful and socially valuable (Nigam and Dokko 2019), more research is needed on the role of individuals’ career histories in shaping their decision of whether or not to engage in social change efforts that often go beyond formal role expectations.
In this sub-theme, we aim to provide a space to develop a conversation on these issues. Reflecting on the EGOS theme of Crossroads for Organizations, we invite research that grapples with the tensions at the crossroads of occupations and society. That is, how people conduct work that is seen as beneficial for society from within their careers or beyond their formal roles. We invite scholars who address a broad range of theoretical and empirical aspects related to pursuing social change at, or through, work. For example, we welcome research that helps address such questions as:

  • How do social missions become embedded in careers and occupations? How do people construct their careers to be contributors to social change efforts?

  • What tensions do individuals experience as they pursue social change through work and how do they navigate them? How can tensions be transformed into opportunities versus conflicts?

  • How do individuals stay committed to pursuing social change through work despite organizational and career obstacles?

  • What mechanisms or processes enable professionals and employees to push their organization to address societal issues? How can the social change work of a few individuals be “scaled up” within organizations?

  • How do systems of occupations and careers enable or hinder the accomplishment of social change?

  • What are the intended and unintended consequences of pursuing social change through work?

  • In what ways does pursuing social change through work impact employment outcomes or career trajectories?



  • Augustine, Grace. 2021. "We’re Not Like Those Crazy Hippies: The Dynamics of Jurisdictional Drift in Externally Mandated Occupational Groups." Organization Science, 32 (4):1056-78.
  • Bode, Christiane, Jasjit Singh and Michelle Rogan. 2015. "Corporate Social Initiatives and Employee Retention." Organization Science 26(6):1702-20.
  • Buchter, Lisa. 2021. "Escaping the Ellipsis of Diversity: Insider Activists’ Use of Implementation Resources to Influence Organization Policy." Administrative Science Quarterly 66(2):521-65.
  • Chandler, David. 2014. "Organizational Susceptibility to Institutional Complexity: Critical Events Driving the Adoption and Implementation of the Ethics and Compliance Officer Position." Organization Science 25(6):1722-43.
  • DeJordy, Rich, Maureen Scully, Marc J Ventresca and WE Douglas Creed. 2020. "Inhabited Ecosystems: Propelling Transformative Social Change between and through Organizations." Administrative Science Quarterly 65(4):931-71.
  • Dobbin, Frank, Alexandra Kalev and Erin Kelly. 2007. "Diversity Management in Corporate America." Contexts 6(4):21-27.
  • Edelman, Lauren B, Linda H Krieger, Scott R Eliason, Catherine R Albiston and Virginia Mellema. 2011. "When Organizations Rule: Judicial Deference to Institutionalized Employment Structures." American Journal of Sociology 117(3):888-954.
  • Howard-Grenville, Jennifer, Andrew J Nelson, Andrew G Earle, Julie A Haack and Douglas M Young. 2017. "“If Chemists Don’t Do It, Who Is Going To?” Peer-Driven Occupational Change and the Emergence of Green Chemistry." Administrative Science Quarterly 62(3):524-60.
  • Kalev, Alexandra, Frank Dobbin and Erin Kelly. 2006. "Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies." American Sociological Review 71(4):589-617.
  • Lelasseux, Laure and Michel William Lander. 2019. "The Role of Professional Values in the Institutional Work of Heterogeneous Actors." Pp. 17841 in Academy of Management Proceedings, Vol. 2019: Academy of Management Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510.
  • Lounsbury, Michael. 2001. "Institutional Sources of Practice Variation: Staffing College and University Recycling Programs." Administrative Science Quarterly 46(1):29-56.
  • Meyerson, Debra E and Maureen A Scully. 1995. "Crossroads Tempered Radicalism and the Politics of Ambivalence and Change." Organization Science 6(5):585-600.
  • Nigam, Amit and Gina Dokko. 2019. "Career Resourcing and the Process of Professional Emergence." Academy of Management Journal 62(4):1052-84.
  • Pamphile, Vontrese. 2022. "Paradox Peers: A Relational Approach to Navigating a Business–Society Paradox." Academy of Management Journal 65(4):1274-302.
  • Risi, David and Christopher Wickert. 2017. "Reconsidering the ‘Symmetry’between Institutionalization and Professionalization: The Case of Corporate Social Responsibility Managers." Journal of Management Studies 54(5):613-46.
  • Rodell, Jessica B. 2013. "Finding Meaning through Volunteering: Why Do Employees Volunteer and What Does It Mean for Their Jobs?". Academy of Management Journal 56(5):1274-94.
  • Sonenshein, Scott. 2016. "How Corporations Overcome Issue Illegitimacy and Issue Equivocality to Address Social Welfare: The Role of the Social Change Agent." Academy of Management Review 41(2):349-66.
  • Welbourne, Theresa M, Skylar Rolf and Steven Schlachter. 2017. "The Case for Employee Resource Groups: A Review and Social Identity Theory-Based Research Agenda." Personnel Review.
  • Wickert, Christopher and Frank GA de Bakker. 2018. "Pitching for Social Change: Toward a Relational Approach to Selling and Buying Social Issues." Academy of Management Discoveries 4(1):50-73.
  • Wright, Christopher and Daniel Nyberg. 2017. "An Inconvenient Truth: How Organizations Translate Climate Change into Business as Usual." Academy of Management Journal 60(5):1633-61.
Grace Augustine is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy & Organisations at the University of Bath School of Management, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on the managerialisation of ideals and practices that are brought to the fore by social movements. Grace’s research has been published in ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Socio-Economic Review’.
Amit Nigam is Professor of Management at Bayes Business School, City, University of London, United Kingdom. His research has been published a mix of management, medical sociology, and medical journals including ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Strategic Organization’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Social Science & Medicine’, ‘Annals of Emergency Medicine’, ‘Medical Care Research & Review’, and ‘BMJ Leader’.
Vontrese D. Pamphile is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Public Policy at the School of Business, George Washington University, USA. Her research focuses on the management of business-society tensions and how employees respond to prosocial initiatives. Voni’s research has been published in ‘Academy of Management Journal’ and ‘Organization Science’ as well as popular outlets like ‘Harvard Business Review’.