What does a military officer, a performer acting as Santa Claus, and a tech employee in Silicon Valley have in common? They all work in fields where their bodies are intentionally governed by organizational systems intent on shaping them into an idealized image of a worker. Indeed, every single body engaged in work is encouraged to undergo body work in order to be employable in their chosen industries and maintain their roles. However, body work affects different bodies disproportionately. How does organizational body work impact equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace? And how can we improve systems of body work in organizations to create better working conditions?
On the Delve podcast, Professor Rohini Jalan from McGill Desautels Faculty of Management explains the concept of organizational body work as “purposeful efforts to shape bodies, embedded in organizations”. She further explains that workplaces and “its managers, its employees, its organizations have systems that exert efforts intentionally to shape bodies in some form or fashion”. In some industries, body work is explicitly expected and performed, such as the military, sports, and sex work industries. However, in other industries, such as academic institutions, STEM fields, and the creative industry, body work is implicitly carried out on a daily basis.
Body work affects different bodies in the workplace disparately, and we must improve systems of body work in order to create equitable and safe workplaces for all bodies. As highlighted by Professor Jalan, there is a lack of studies concerning bodies in workplaces: “the human body is so ubiquitous in social settings, especially in the workplace, and yet, so little management practice and research actually pays attention to it, and talks about it, and addresses its issues”. Even less attention is paid to organizational body work.
For example, when we think about professors, scientists, and visual artists, we all have an idealized and stereotypical body that comes to mind. Often, organizations further implement these ideals by insisting that certain dress codes, behavioral codes, and speech acts are maintained by employees. Often, when organizations think about the body in a managerial position, “certain bodies tend to be venerated more than others, so, for example, the tall body, or the fit body, or the white body, or the executive looking body”. As a result of these biases and ideals, bodies that don’t conform to expected norms are often overlooked for managerial and executive positions, which further perpetuate a lack of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in workplaces.
Indeed, body work is disproportionately enforced on, and affects, certain bodies more than others. Black and brown bodies, women-identifying bodies, LGBTQ+ identifying bodies, and differently abled bodies have to undergo more body work to be considered manageable and employable. As explained by Professor Jalan in the podcast, women-identifying bodies often have to hide their struggles with menstruation, maternity, and menopause in order to be taken seriously in the workplace. As a result, women-identifying bodies are subjected to more body work, which creates inequitable workplaces where women-identifying bodies are discriminated against.
Undoubtedly, sometimes conversations around body work and the needs of different bodies can be uncomfortable. However, these conversations must take place in order to create lasting change. When asked about how existing disparities in organizations can be improved, Professor Jalan suggests the following: “I think there is value in having a conversation, I think that is a good starting place, value in raising awareness about bodies and body work and how it is disproportionately impacting some groups as opposed to other groups, but I think it needs to go beyond that, there needs to be some concrete action in place to change behaviors”.
For more insights into body work, how it has changed over time, and its growing importance, listen to the Delve podcast episode with Professor Rohini Jalan. You can find further information on organizational body work in Professor
For more insights into body work, how it has changed over time, and its growing importance, listen to the Delve podcast episode with Professor Rohini Jalan. You can find further information on organizational body work in Professor Jalan’s article, co-written alongside her colleagues.
This episode of the Delve podcast is produced by Delve and Robyn Fadden. Original music by Saku Mantere.
Delve is the official thought leadership platform of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Subscribe to the Delve podcast on all major podcast platforms, including Apple podcasts and Spotify, and follow Delve on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.