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Agency in the Context of Diversity with Rachel Arnett

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In her first presentation, Rachel shared some of her work about agency in the context of diversity.  Diversity is increasingly a reality of the workplace, and it brings lots of benefits – we gain new perspectives, we gain access to broader and better talent pools, for example, which helps us to innovate and improve how we do things in organizations. And there are also many challenges for example,  how do we navigate sources of differences.  Rachel’s research explores how the perceived risks and benefits of sharing features and aspects of identity can influence and enhance both individual and collective agency at work.

Rachel shared a two dimensional framework that she is currently researching that shows how people think through the benefits and risks of using agency in the context of diversity and a common dilemma that minority employees face in deciding how to navigate a minority identity perspective in the workplace specifically, whether to manifest identity or suppress their identity at work.  These different ways of thinking about manifestation and suppression as well as risks and benefits can lead to four different approaches for managing a minority identity in the workplace.

Rachel ended her talk by suggesting that organizations need to encourage people to use their agency in this way.  By doing so, It demonstrates that there are many benefits that minority employees bring to their work in terms of their diverse backgrounds.  Leaders need to create environments that are inclusive enough that minority employees feel comfortable expressing themselves, yet at the same time don’t feel pressured or obligated to do so.  Organizations can communicate that they value the sharing of diverse perspectives, emphasizing that people have agency over whether they want to share or exclude parts of their identities in the workspace. This sends a broad message about how much that organization values diversity and values differences.

Rachel suggested a few questions for us to reflect on. We welcome your comments in the section below.

  • What benefits and risks are on your minds?
  • What factors are contributing to these perceptions?
  • What can organizations do about it?

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