No zoo : ethnic civility and its cultural regulation among the staff of a Finnish high-tech company

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (monograph) | Defence date: 2010-04-10
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Organisaatiot ja johtaminen
Organization and Management
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187 s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis, A, 359
Workplaces in the present interconnected world face the challenge of increasingly multiethnic personnel. Managerial reactions to this situation have shifted from the anti-discrimination of the North American affirmative action campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s to diversity management initiatives promising profitability and a better fit to the economic megadiscourse prevailing so far. However, the realisation of the promised gains in terms of both profit and equality remains ambiguous. Furthermore, critical organisational studies have pointed out problems with the outcomes of diversity campaigns, ranging from the essentialising of identities and masking control, to displacing the goal from equality to economic profit. Although critical research has gained some visibility in recent years, it still remains scarce compared to the mainstream, and is often dismissed as a form of cynical complaint. Meanwhile, diversity campaigns have progressed from North America to all sites of globally linked production, and from the business to the public sector. Ethnography as cultural critique offers an escape from such impasses by allowing a reconceptualisation of the issue. By contrasting alternative/dissident notions and practices to the understandings that presently prevail, the latter can be re-instituted in their artificial, nonself- evident status, and opened up to dialogue so that practitioners can better resist them, and have better chances to create their own approaches. The study takes the form of a workplace ethnography in a Finnish organisation, where the members appeared to be remarkably content in their transnational environment and enjoy good relations with colleagues. Their notions of ethnicity were the first target of attention, to uncover why they treated each other with civility despite the fact that no diversity campaigns had taken place in their organisation. I conducted research among the full-heartedly cosmopolitan, but passionately anti-diversity-minded employees of a Finnish-based high-tech company in its Helsinki headquarters and the somewhat less easy-doing employees in a sales office in San Jose (CA), through a period of boom and downturn of 1999-2004. I found that the main alternative to diversity management was organisational democracy. An exceptionally participatory management style offered the employees avenues to defend their rights and develop a ‘voice’ in the organisation, rendering any specific diversity programmes mostly unnecessary. Yet there were issues to deal with. ‘Normal’ pragmatism and several uncritically upheld iconic ideas about Finnishness need to be reconsidered to avoid the possible marginalisation of non-Finnish staff. This probably also holds in other Finnish organisations. The cultural critique now produced suggests vocabulary and interpretations as material for such reconsideration.
Supervising professor
Räsänen, Keijo, professor
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