Thomas Donaldson and Diana C. Robertson
Serious research into corporate ethics is nearly half a century old. Two approaches have dominated research; one is normative, the other empirical. The former, the normative approach, develops theories and norms that are prescriptive, that is, ones that are designed to guide corporate behavior. The latter, the empirical approach, investigates the character and causes of corporate behavior by examining corporate governance structures, policies, corporate relationships, and managerial behavior with the aim of explaining and predicting corporate behavior. Normative research has been led by scholars in the fields of moral philosophy, theology and legal theory. Empirical research has been led by scholars in the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, marketing, finance, and management.
While utilizing distinct methods, the two approaches are symbiotic. Ethical and legal theory are irrelevant without factual context. Similarly, empirical theories are sterile unless translated into corporate guidance. The following description of the history of research in corporate ethics demonstrates that normative research methods are indispensable tools for empirical inquiry, even as empirical methods are indispensable tools for normative inquiry.
Intersectionality is a critical framework that provides us with the mindset and language for examining interconnections and interdependencies between social categories and systems. Intersectionality is relevant for researchers and for practitioners because it enhances analytical sophistication and offers theoretical explanations of the ways in which heterogeneous members of specific groups (such as women) might experience the workplace differently depending on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or class and other social locations. Sensitivity to such differences enhances insight into issues of social justice and inequality in organizations and other institutions, thus maximizing the chance of social change.
The concept of intersectional locations emerged from the racialized experiences of minority ethnic women in the United States. Intersectional thinking has gained increased prominence in business and management studies, particularly in critical organization studies. A predominant focus in this field is on individual subjectivities at intersectional locations (such as examining the occupational identities of minority ethnic women). This emphasis on individuals’ experiences and within-group differences has been described variously as “content specialization” or an “intracategorical approach.” An alternate focus in business and management studies is on highlighting systematic dynamics of power. This encompasses a focus on “systemic intersectionality” and an “intercategorical approach.” Here, scholars examine multiple between-group differences, charting shifting configurations of inequality along various dimensions.
As a critical theory, intersectionality conceptualizes knowledge as situated, contextual, relational, and reflective of political and economic power. Intersectionality tends to be associated with qualitative research methods due to the central role of giving voice, elicited through focus groups, narrative interviews, action research, and observations. Intersectionality is also utilized as a methodological tool for conducting qualitative research, such as by researchers adopting an intersectional reflexivity mindset. Intersectionality is also increasingly associated with quantitative and statistical methods, which contribute to intersectionality by helping us understand and interpret the individual, combined (additive or multiplicative) effects of various categories (privileged and disadvantaged) in a given context. Future considerations for intersectionality theory and practice include managing its broad applicability while attending to its sociopolitical and emancipatory aims, and theoretically advancing understanding of the simultaneous forces of privilege and penalty in the workplace.