Tracking Inclusive Leadership Praxes? Diversity in Teams as Outset for Developing Inclusive Leadership Style

Lotte Holck

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It is generally acknowledged that ethnic-minority employees are excluded or marginalized as low-skilled labour in the workplace (e.g. Acker, 2006; Ortlieb & Sieben, 2013). This is also the situation in Denmark that has experienced a growing diversity at the labor market for the past 25 years (Ejrnæs, 2012; Holck, 2016; Holck and Muhr, 2017; Romani et al, 2016). However, Danish organizations are increasingly encouraged to include a diverse group of employees drawing on business case arguments from diversity management literature. Two of the most predominant arguments for hiring diverse employees are either related to competences related to minority background driving innovation and creativity potential or as mere labor; a way to obtain loyal, hardworking and low cost labour. In relation to the first mentioned, ethnically diverse composition of work teams are advocated to increase return on equity by promoting problem solving, creativity, and innovation via individually different perspectives and approaches to job tasks drawing on insights from literature on learning as well as group processes (Ortlieb and Siben, 2013; Van Laer and Janssens, 2014; Zanoni and Jannsens, 2015). The latter mentioned, which is rarely explicitly advocated by companies but are none the less the most prominent reason to employ minorities – at least according to literature – is the quest for low labor costs and a supposed “right attitude to work”. Often, ethnic minorities are hired under job conditions unattractive to others, including low wages, poor career prospects, and low reputation combined with ethnic minorities’ lower bargaining power, presumed high adaptability and flexibility (Ahonen et al., 2014; Holck and Muhr, 2017). One of the Danish companies that actively recruit immigrants and refugees is Service, a Danish award winning diversity champion with 50% of the employees having non-Danish background. Service employs more than 7000 employees across Denmark. As a consequence Service has for the past 15 years worked to value the different skills, work experiences and competences that the many diverse employees bring into the organization. One of these measures is to strive for a diverse composition in teams at every level in the organization defined by a maximum of 70% homogeneity in relation to age/generation, gender and national background. Exactly this organization in diverse teams can been seen as the optimal conditions for leveraging the promise of inclusion and diversity; to offer an environment where diversity is promoted and employees’ differences and valued accepted (e.g. competences, former working experience, country of origin, gender, age etc.), combined with sense of belonging in the team to prevent the social isolation that may occur if one becomes highly individuated. Hence in theory, working with diversity in teams in Service should stimulate an inclusive organizational environment, where each employee is treated as an insider and also allowed and encouraged to retain individual uniqueness (Shore et al., 2011). However, organizational scholars are divided between arguments of the empowering respectively exploitative aspects of team organization: On the one hand, especially proponents of human relation emphasize the empowering aspects of teams as fundamental to a more democratic, employee centered organization. On the other, critical organizational researchers of power and control highlight how teams encourage self-monitoring among peers leading to disciplining and internalizing production norms limiting internal solidarity. Allegedly empowering teams are thus a ‘disguise’ for normative, implicit modes of managerial control to yield higher productivity (Ahonen et al., 2014; Crowley et al, 2014; Diefenbach and Sillince, 2011; Vallas, 2003). Combining literature on team organization and inclusion, this paper explores the empowering and exploitive as well as inclusive and exclusive aspects of diverse teams in Service. Empirically this is done by drawing on an ethnographic study of 30 teams in Service. The main ambition is to inquire whether organizing in diverse teams helps Service to install a corporate ethic of care and inclusion, in a company otherwise driven by instrumental goals and tight production deadlines, and predominantly employing immigrants in temporary, low-skilled and physically straining positions. Exploring the issue of Service between empowerment and exploitation, involves a theoretical contribution of developing a relational and context sensitive approach to literature on teams and inclusion. First of all literature combining teams and inclusion is very limited (apart from Shore et al., 2011) despite this combination’s obvious benefit for progressing literature on organizational inclusion. Second, both literature on teams and inclusion draw on a normative and descriptive approach, while a relational and situated approach is little developed. To make this contribution, this paper is structured as follows. In the first section, a theoretical framework that combines a context sensitive and relational approach to teams and inclusion in organizations is developed to structure the analysis and position the study. Then the method, research site, and analytical methods are presented. Next, the analysis demonstrates how diverse teams in Service struggle with the tensions of empowerment and exploitation intersecting with perceptions of inclusion and exclusion among the employees. Finally, some basic limitations of contemporary research on teams and inclusion are flagged together with a discussion on how to promote diverse teams to the benefit of inclusion and employee empowerment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventThe 33rd EGOS Colloquium 2017: The Good Organization - Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 6 Jul 20178 Jul 2017
Conference number: 33


ConferenceThe 33rd EGOS Colloquium 2017
LocationCopenhagen Business School
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