Spatially Embedded Inequality: Exploring Structure, Agency, and Ethnic Minority Strategies to Navigate Organizational Opportunity Structures

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Purpose: – The purpose of this paper is to apply a spatial approach to organizational inequality to explore why unequal opportunity structures persist in an organization despite its commitment to diversity and employing highly skilled ethnic minority employees.
Design/methodology/approach: – The (re)production of inequality is explored by linking research on organizational space with HRM diversity management. Data from an ethnographic study undertaken in a Danish municipal center illustrates how a substructure of inequality is spatially upheld alongside a
formal diversity policy. Archer’s distinction between structure and agency informs the analysis of how minority agency not only reproduces but also challenges organizational opportunity structures.
Findings: – The analysis demonstrates how substructures of inequality stabilize in spatial routines enacted in an ethnic zoning of the workplace and ethnification of job categories. However, the same spatial structures allows for a variety of opposition and conciliation strategies among minority employees, even though the latter tend to prevail in a reproduction rather than a transformation of the organizational opportunity structures.
Research limitations/implications: – The reliance on a single case study restricts the generalizability of the findings but highlights fruitful areas for future research.
Practical implications: – The study sensitizes HRM practitioners to the situated quality of workplace diversity and to develop a broader scope of HRM practices to address the more subtle, spatially embedded forms of inequality.
Originality/value: – Theoretical and empirical connections between research on organizational space and HRM diversity management have thus far not been systematically studied. This combination might advance knowledge on the persistence of micro-inequality even in organizations formally committed to diversity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPersonnel Review
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)643-662
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Mixed methodologies
  • Qualitative
  • Power
  • Action research
  • Critical
  • Diversity management
  • Human Resource Management (HRM)
  • Equality
  • Diversity
  • Inclusion
  • Ethnographic methods

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