The Paradoxical Repertoires of Diversity and Professionalism: Exploring Socio-Economic Diversity and Change in the Elite Professions.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Louise ASHLEY, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom
Hilary SOMMERLAD, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
Jo DUBERLEY, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
In recent years, the critical literature on diversity has underlined the extent to which associated practice and policy tends to reproduce the status quo. In order to do so, attention has turned to discourse, to demonstrate how language exerts power within organisations, to naturalise social reality and secure managerial control. This literature offers important insights, yet recent contributions have implied a clarity in the performativity of organisational and individual texts, in favour of continuity not change, and overlooked how the inevitable dilemmas of diversity are negotiated and managed in everyday life, with what effect. The current paper contributes to this debate. Drawing on 51 interviews with professionals at ten leading law and accountancy firms in the UK, we explore how they understand and articulate the contradictory relationship between socio-economic diversity and professionalism, and how they manage the tensions that emerge. Elite professional service firms provide an interesting context in which to study the difficulties of doing diversity because they are currently presented with a clear dilemma: as external pressures to diversify on the basis of socio-economic background increase, their legitimacy as assessed by multiple stakeholders increasingly rests on demonstrating both exclusivity and inclusivity at once. Using an analytical method grounded in a critical discursive pyschology approach, we show that diversity is framed by organisational actors in relation to 11 ‘interpretative repertoires’. Inconsistency within and between these repertoires may be interpreted as a form of hypocrisy and therefore viewed in negative terms. However, we argue that the ideological dilemmas that result may constitute an important resource, by offering professionals new ways of talking about the relationship between professionalism and diversity, thus facilitating some progressive change. In sum, we show that organisational actors concerned with diversity work both in and through paradox, which (paradoxically) represents potential for both continuity and change.