Intersectionality at work: The case of Ruth Bates Harris and NASA

Ruel, Stefanie; Mills, Albert J. and Thomas, Janice L. (2018). Intersectionality at work: The case of Ruth Bates Harris and NASA. Ephemera: theory & politics in organizations, 18(1) pp. 17–49.



One challenge we face as diversity and gender scholars is how to apply intersectionality in organizational studies. We present one possible application of intersectionality to demonstrate that it can be put to work beyond the bounds of theorization alone. To achieve this goal, we focused on the organizational experiences of Ruth Bates Harris, the first woman and the first African American hired to a senior management position at the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (U.S. NASA). We recreated Bates Harris retrospectively, via a plausible story, by applying the critical sensemaking (CSM) framework. We then analyzed this story by applying once again the CSM framework with a focus on: (1) intersecting identity (micro) (re)constructions; (2) the rules surrounding NASA occupational roles, vague professional practices, and financial resources, and the influence of these rules on identity reconstructions; and, (3) two dominant social values in the Cold War-Civil Rights era, and their relationship to the marginalization of an individual. The analysis of the plausible story, resulting in the recreation of a complex individual via her range of anchor points and the influence of NASA’s rules, meta-rules and social values on her identities, contributes to our understanding of how to put intersectionality to work.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions