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This article draws on 68 interviews with “diversity managers” at major French companies to explore whether and if so how they manage to adopt critical positions or positions “oriented toward values” in their work. Do they think of this atypical job at the interface between the company and society at large as a place for defending legal principles, political convictions, or ethical values, above and beyond working for the company itself? We expose the variety of ways that this set of managers invest their job, distinguishing three ideal-typical stances: distanced experts (or project managers), who are careful to hold at bay anything that might make them appear even a specialist of diversity, let alone an activist for it; critical experts (or professional activists), whose mission is to reform the company on the grounds of legal and political principles; and invested experts (or professional “virtue performers”), who attach great value to the civic dimension of the job while being extremely careful to distance themselves from the political dimension and the conflict and critique it implies. Drawing on contributions from both literature on intra-organization activism and studies of the professional ethos of managers whose jobs are associated with corporate social responsibility, the article brings to light a range of ways of combining managerial rationality with other value spheres in the business world.


  • Companies
  • Managers
  • Diversity management
  • Expertise
  • Activism
  • Corporate social responsibility
Laure Bereni
Dorothée Prud’Homme
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