PURPOSE : The purpose of this paper is to trace the genealogy of ethnic (white) privilege in US
organizations and its continuing significance in organizations today.
DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH : The paper relies upon the historical literature on work, culture,
and society found primarily in the fields of labor history and sociology. It also references contemporary
organization studies and sociological literature to illustrate the continuing significance of ethnic
(white) privilege in the workplace.
FINDINGS : There is an inexorable link between European global expansion and colonization,
industrialization, and the racialization/ethnicization of nineteenth and twentieth century US
organizations. Furthermore, the particular manifestations of ethnic (white) privilege today must be
understood within its historical development and the new meanings whiteness has acquired
within the workplace if scholars and practitioners are to be successful in creating inclusive
RESEARCH LIMITATIONS/IMPLICATIONS : The focus in this paper is on the USA and ethnic (white)
privilege to the exclusion of other forms of difference and contexts. Suggestions for future research are
provided along with managerial implications.
ORIGINALITY/VALUE : This paper provides historical insight into the formation of white privilege in
organizations and constitutes a prelude to fully understanding its contemporary manifestations in the
workplace. These insights suggest ways to disrupt inequality and create inclusive organizations that
do not privilege one ethnic or racial group over another.