Categorization, the process of placing or separating into classes or groups, is a socially meaningful process and has been studied across a variety of disciplines, including the organizational studies field. Organizational scholars have focused on implications of social categorization (classification of another person as part of a group in organizational life), self-categorization (identifying the self as part of a group or category), and, increasingly, categorization systems (the norms and structures shaping and legitimizing the categories themselves) for individuals, group functioning, and organizational outcomes. All three elements are interconnected, as how one categorizes the self is linked to how one is socially categorized by others in organizational life, while categorization systems used in organizations provide the context for this process.
Categorization, in its various forms, plays a key role in diversity and inclusion dynamics within organizations, as it can have positive and negative consequences. Among the most discussed negative outcomes is the potential for categorization to serve as a precursor to interpersonal or systemic forms of bias in organizations. Once categorized, a person may experience stigmatization or work discrimination based on the category assigned. Categorization is associated with unique forms of bias; for instance, if one is perceived to be a-prototypical for a category (e.g., a poor fit), the person may resultingly experience social penalties or work-based negative consequences for not exemplifying the group’s core qualities well enough. In turn, this can generate negative personal and interpersonal effects at work and undermine organizational efforts to build inclusion. For instance, if one does not fit a “leader” prototype well enough, they may have a more difficult time claiming the role of leader. However, categorization also allows for the individual and organizational creation of meaning and understanding of the social world, group cohesion, interpersonal congruence, and ultimately the coordination and structuring of institutional diversity and inclusion efforts.
There are many avenues for advancing understandings of categorization and its effects. In particular, opportunities are rich for studies that explore implications of a growing number of people with intersected, multiple, and/or non-normative categories at work and in organizations. The growth of more complex categories has implications at multiple levels of analysis—for people, group functioning, and organizations seeking to build a more inclusive workplace. Also, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and computerization, categories drawn upon and the processes of categorization, and their implications, are intimately linked to nonhuman forces. There are ample opportunities for organizational research in this domain, a chance to explore and understand the subject beyond the bounds of traditional computing disciplines.