Theses Doctoral

Another Brick in the Wall: Three Essays on Diversity and Inequality in Organizations

Portocarrero, Sandra

In recent years, organizations have sought to address historic inequities by adopting ameliorative policies ranging from providing merit-based avenues of entry and promotion to members of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups to creating a new organizational function that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (hereafter DEI). My dissertation comprises three case studies of the implementation and unanticipated consequences of such policies. I find that in all three cases, even the most far-reaching attempts at reform tend to reproduce existing ethnoracial and class barriers, thereby illustrating the dynamic of “reproduction through change” (Bourdieu 1988).

The first paper is a case study of what happens when a relatively limited form of inclusion is introduced into a context marked by firm class boundaries. The analysis is based on interviews and participant observation with administrators and recipients of a prestigious and merit-based scholarship to an elite university in Peru. While administrators described themselves as committed to inclusion, their message to scholarship recipients was ambiguous, often counseling them to hide their scholarship status. This more insidious form of gatekeeping, together with evident class boundaries, entailed enormous social-psychological and interactional costs for scholarship recipients and transformed their pride in winning the scholarship into shame.

The second paper describes a similar dynamic but in a different and more surprising context. Drawing from in-depth interviews conducted with current and former Foreign Service Officers to explain how recipients of the Pickering Fellowship, a U.S. Department of State fellowship, learn to accept a devaluing status belief about this accolade once they enter the Foreign Service. Within this organizational context, there is an established belief that Foreign Service Officers who are not the prototypical “Male, Pale, and Yale” workers must be “diversity hires” who entered the U.S. Department of State through a “back door” and have a “leg up” because of their race. This racialized negative evaluation gets linked to the Pickering fellowship and affects all fellows. This paper offers insights into the intersection of racial diversity and status processes in organizations.

The third paper analyzes the structural tension concentrated in the position of Black DEI workers, explicitly hired as part of an organizational effort to implement a more thoroughgoing set of reforms addressing historical inequities. The case study examines the work lives of DEI workers in an elite public university. Between 2019 and 2021, we conducted in-depth interviews with DEI workers, students, and high-status organizational actors. The analysis suggests that DEI workers and their organizational colleagues envision the prototypical DEI worker as a member of a minoritized racial group. This race-typed prototype dictated (1) how colleagues and organizational leaders evaluated the expertise of DEI workers who belong to different racial groups and (2) how DEI workers of color intertwined their life narratives in accounts of their expertise, while White DEI workers did not do so. The development of this form of racialized expertise leads to a (3) racial task segregation among DEI workers of different groups. Even as the organization seeks to implement a far-reaching form of inclusion, minority DEI workers are assigned the task of managing internal and external organizational boundaries.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2027-05-26.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Eyal, Gil
Khan, Shamus
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 1, 2022