Workplace narratives: Enacting the value for diversity

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Beverly Allen


Organizational change, Workplace, Diversity

Subject Categories

Race and Ethnicity | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Work, Economy and Organizations


Diversity management has become an important component for describing successful organizations, public and private, in the global economy. Tangible assets, such as organizational performance and strategy outcomes, are common ways to measure an organizational success. Statements such as "It makes good business sense," and "To be competitive in the global market, organizations must learn how to utilize the talents of all employees," have become taken-for-granted expressions for what it means to value diversity. In spite of the millions of dollars that are spent every year on diversity programs, an understanding of diversity in American organizations remains elusive.

This study's primary research question was "How do employees utilize meanings about diversity?" Rather than ask a normative query about how diversity management helped people to create meaning about diversity in the workplace, this study explored and described how employees in one organization accessed their own understandings about diversity. The research site was unique because the organization had two competing goals: one goal was to flatten the hierarchy by eliminating middle management positions and by placing these managers into new roles. The second goal was to increase diversity at higher levels of the organization.

Using Kenneth Burke's method of Dramatism and his method of analysis, the Pentad, the researcher found that employees' narratives utilized meanings about diversity in three ways. First, because five groups' meanings about diversity were different, their narratives contributed to a synthesized organizational narrative about flattening the organizational hierarchy while increasing diversity in management ranks. Second, by sharing meanings about diversity through give, employees assisted each other to understand unresolved situations involving diversity. Third, when employees told personal stories about meaningful events that were related to diversity, they linked their past to the organizational goals.

The significant contribution of this study shows that narrative, as theory and method, is powerful for researching organizational change and diversity. Using the Pentad as a method of analysis elucidated how language constituted the enactment of valuing diversity and how the context for understanding diversity is embedded not only in meaning but also in performance.


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