Unequal by Structure: Exploring the Structural Embeddedness of Organizational Diversity

Lotte Holck

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This article applies classical concepts of organizational structure and extends them to contemporary challenges of diversity to explore why unequal opportunity structures persist in an organization despite its commitment to diversity and employing highly skilled ethnic minority employees. Based on a study of the team-based municipal center CityBiz, the article inquires as to how inequality is embedded in two structural features: first, the differentiation of roles accelerates in response to continuous change, which results in similar workers being attracted to collaborating with one another, which generates inequality. Second, inequality is sustained by inadequate integration methods that merge a formal–informal hierarchy, which results in peer competition and majority elites. The structural approach to organizational diversity developed in this article nuances the current research on diversity that is predominantly concerned with employee experiences of inequality in an organizational structural landscape perceived as fixed and stable. This study offers a dynamic view of organizational structure based on how it is experienced, navigated, and reshaped by employees of different ethnicities. Linking micro-interactions to structural triggers and outcomes points to situated caveats about inequalities ingrained in the organizational structural set-up. Tapping into employees’ sentiments and interactions furthermore gives the possibility to mobilize collective change in favor of equal opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)242-259
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Published online: 27. July 2017


  • Continuous change
  • Critical diversity
  • Formal–informal hierarchy
  • Inequality
  • Organizational structures of differentiation and integration

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