Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Applied Communication Research 40:4 (November 2012), pp. 384–402.



Copyright © 2012 National Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


The business case for diversity—the practice of connecting human differences to an organization’s bottom line—has been critiqued for its compromised treatment of human difference. Through a grounded in action discursive analysis of 19 interviews with diversity consultants, this research identifies three occupational demands that prompted consultants to use the business case: organizational access, motivation, and emotion work. The analysis also identifies strategies consultants used that met these demands without relying on the business case: connecting to mission statements, connecting to individual tasks, appealing to personal experience, sequencing, combining, balancing discourses of emotion and business, drawing on spiritual grounding, and using humor. By identifying these alternatives, this analysis seeks to decrease consultants’ dependence on the business case when meeting occupational demands and consequently mitigate the negative effects that scholars have attributed to its common use and consequent discursive dominance in diversity work. Additionally, the conclusions suggest that diversity professionals and scholars might more explicitly use the notion of “discursive merger” to advocate for social change in organizations.