Organisational identity
: Everyday experiences of subtle (non)belonging in organisations

  • Rosslyn Kerr

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents two case studies exploring the ways in which organisations may communicate who really belongs and is valued. Despite discrimination being illegal and organisations making explicit statements in support of inclusion, minority group members often report experiences of exclusion. In the first case study, I explore minority group members’ understandings of their experiences of belonging and non-belonging within the context of a university. In particular, I consider their understandings of various organisational practices and processes and what these say about the degree to which minority group members’ interests and concerns are recognised and valued. In the second case study, I explore how an organisation can make a conscious effort to adapt organisational working practices and processes in order to become a more welcoming and inclusive environment for multiple groups. Specifically, I analyse the efforts undertaken by those working in public libraries to welcome a greater diversity of marginalised communities into this public space.

The first case study involved interviews with members of university staff who identified in terms of belonging to various minority groups – namely gender, BME, LGBT+, and disability. The analysis was completed following an internship in which I developed an in-depth understanding of the Scottish Fair Work Framework (which is designed to identify good organisational and employment practices) and I used certain dimensions of this Framework as the organising structure for my analysis. The analysis revealed the challenges that minority group members face in making sense of their experiences. Specifically, my analyses highlighted participants’ experiences of uncertainty when faced with a variety of organisational practices. My findings illustrate the importance of exploring employees’ sense-making activities and their implications for employees’ sense of belonging within the organisation. In addition, the analysis revealed complexities concerning the Fair Work Framework and the ways in which it captures minorities’ experiences.

In the second case study, interviews were conducted with members of library staff working in public libraries. Public libraries represent an organisation which has gone through a period of change over recent years as they have adapted to changing internal and external demands. Within the specific research context of Dundee, this has resulted in an organisational identity definition which centres on information provision through the increasing range of types and sources of information in order to meet the increasingly diverse needs of communities. This identity definition also means that the library desires to increase the range of groups who would feel comfortable in using library facilities. This produced new challenges with regards to the management of various groups of library users to ensure a welcoming organisational culture for groups which may have experienced historic or stereotypical exclusion from library spaces. Importantly, my analysis in Case Study 2 demonstrates the cyclical and iterative process of reflection library staff engage with in order to develop and communicate the inclusion associated with the developing organisational identity.

Together, the case studies show how organisations looking to develop inclusion must consider ‘who we are’. This places an emphasis on ensuring a higher-level superordinate group categorisation with group boundaries that are inclusive and welcoming to multiple

subgroups. Without this explicit consideration and self-critical reflection, an organisation may unintentionally engage in practices that are read as signalling that some minority identities are considered of lesser value and are more marginal. Moreover, such exclusion may arise because the very actions intended to convey inclusion are interpreted differently than anticipated. As such, this thesis offers observations concerning the need to consider how organisational practices intended for inclusion are understood by diverse groups.

These studies also show that the process of organisational change to build a sense of social inclusion must be negotiated with caution. First, as noted above, changes may be received differently by diverse groups. Second, organisations must ensure that changes for inclusion are congruent with established and accepted understandings of organisational identity and promote the continuity of that identity. Third, organisations must work to balance the (potentially competing) needs and demands of different groups to encourage all groups not only to feel welcome within the organisation but to be welcoming of each other.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorNick Hopkins (Supervisor) & Lynne Duncan (Supervisor)

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