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Professor Deborah Foster

Professor Deborah Foster

Professor of Employment Relations and Diversity

Cardiff Business School

+44 (0)29 2087 5358
E25c, Aberconway Building, Colum Road, Cathays, Cardiff, CF10 3EU


With a disciplinary background in Sociology (B.A Lancaster; PhD Bath) Professor Foster's research encompasses employment relations, employee representation and equalility and diversity in the workplace.  Research projects have examined the impact of privatisation and marketisation on public sector trade unions and industrial relations; gender and management in China and Taiwan and the negotiation of disability adjustments in the workplace by disabled people and trade union representatives.

Current research increasingly focuses on the labour market experiences of disabled people: on revealing how the negotiation of workplace adjustments is a significant employment relations process; identifying the ways in which job design and organisations are constructed around unchallenged ableist norms and practices; and on the careers of disabled people as a marginalised group in professional occupations.

Supportive of a social model of disability, Debbie is interested in inclusive methodologies and research ethics that facilitate co-produced and emancipatory research.  In 2018, she completed an EU funded project with colleagues and social partners in Estonia, Hungary and Poland aimed at co-producing industrial relations strategies to improve the employment of disabled and older workers.  In 2018- 2020, she led a project with Natasha Hirst, partnered with the Lawyers with Disabilities Divison of The Law Society of England and Wales, entitled "Legally Disabled?  The Career Experiences of Disabled People Working in the Legal Profession".  Chosen for funding by Disability Wales, this research was funded by a consortium of Disabled People's Organisations called DRILL (Disability Research for Independent Living and Learning).  Subsequent impact work is being funded by the ESRC and research is currently being undertaken with The Law Society to evaluate the effects of COVID 19 on working the practices of disabled people in law.  See our project web site for further information:

Within the University, Debbie is Chair of the Cardiff Business School Research Ethics Committee and a representative to the Business School Research Committee.  A former Senate member, she also represents the college of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) on the University's Open Research Integrity and Ethics Committee (ORIEC) and is a member of the University's multi-disciplinary COVID Opening up human participant research task & finish group.

Editorial Activities: A past editor of the 'Debates & Controversies' section of the British Sociological Association Journal, Work, Employment & Society and member of the Editorial and Associate Editorial boards, Debbie is currently a member of the editorial board of Social Inclusion and a new journal based at Leeds University, the International Journal of Disability and Social Justice.

Externally, Professor Foster has recently accepted an invitation to Chair an investigation into the impact of COVID 19 on disabled people in Wales, by the Equality & Diversity Forum of the Welsh Government.  She has previously worked with The Law Society of England & Wales, Wales TUC, Disability Wales, the Welsh National Advisory Group of DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) and has been a mentor for Disability Rights UK and is a member of the Research Network Advisory Group 'Equally Ours'.

Publications listed in this profile appear in the journals Sociology, Work, Employment and Society, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Economic and Industrial Democracy, Industrial Relations Journal, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Journal of Industrial Relations and TRANSFER. Grant funding has been secured from the European Union, the Economic and Social Research Council and DRILL.

Current PhD Students: Leanne Greening (ESRC collaborative studentship: examining the changing experiences of volunteers). Cunquiang (Felix) Shi: examining disability and employment in China.  Ruth Nortey (ESRC Collaborative studentship with Disability Wales: examining causes and solutions to address the disability employment gap in Wales).

Prospective areas of PhD supervision include:  all aspects of disability and employment; diversity in organisations; intersectionality and employment (particularly gender, disability and age); the representation and advocacy of diverse groups in trade unions and within organisations; disability and diversity in professional work.


Education & Qualifications

  • PhD, Sociology,University of Bath
  • BA (Hons) Sociology, University of Lancaster
  • Postgraduate Certificate of Teaching in Higher Education, Oxford Polytechnic

Editorial work

  • 2020 - invited to serve on the editorial board of the International Journal of Disability and Social Justice.
  • 2017: Editorial Board member of the 'Journal of Chinese HRM'
  • 2017- 2020: Editorial Board member of the journal 'Social Inclusion'
  • 2013-16 Elected to Associate Editorial Board of Work, Employment & Society
  • 1997-2000 Editor of 'Notes and Issues' for the journal 'Work, Employment & Society'

Professional memberships

  • Member of the British Sociological Association since 1985
  • Member of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA)

Committees and reviewing

Cardiff Business School representative to University Senate

School committees

Chair of the School Research Ethics Committee (SREC)

SREC Representative to Research Committee

External Committees

Member of the Wales National Advisory Board for DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning).

Member of the Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) Research Network Advisory Group
























Teaching commitments

  • Module co-ordinator for the MBA module BST542 Management of Change.

Additional teaching

I annually supervise students on the MSc HRM and the MBA. I am also an experienced PhD supervisor and welcome enquiries from prospective postgraduate students who are interested in conducting postgraduate research in the following areas:

  • Equality & diversity in the workplace (particularly gender, disability and work-family conflict)
  • Public services, trade unionism and industrial relations
  • Work and employment in Europe & Asia
  • Managing Change in Organisations

Research interests

Current Research: Legally Disabled? The Career Experiences of Disabled People in the Legal Profession

  • Experiences of disability and ableism in employment, professional work, organisations, HRM and trade union representation.
  • Gender and employment and the intersections of gender with disability and age.
  • Trade union representation of diverse groups in the workplace
  • Marketisation policiesand their impact on employment relations

Research Funding

October 2019 - Dec. 2020: £24,700 'Disability Equality and Inclusion in the legal profession: co-producing strategies for change'.  ESRC Impact Grant.

May 2017- May 2019: £88,077 from DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) National Lottery Funded grants, for a project entitled 'Legally Disabled? Career experiences and futures of disabled people in the legal profession in England and Wales.

April 2016 - March 2018: 206,277 Euros from the European Union [VP/2015/004] for a grant entitled ‘Improving expertise in the field of industrial relations for Older and Disabled Workers’. D. Foster (co-applicant), principal applicant PRAXIS, Estonia. This action research is working with social partners in Estonia, Hungary and Poland, to develop industrial relations strategies to integrate workplace accommodations for older and disabled workers into employer and trade union agendas.

March-July 2016: An award of £4,462 from the CARBS Public Value Engagement Project fund to establish a new research cluster: Cardiff University Research on Employment & Disability (CRED).  D. Foster (P.A), co-applicants Ralph Fevre (SOCSI) and Natasha Hirst.

October 2016 – September 2017: An award of £24,233 from the ESRC/IAA Accelerator fund for an impact project entitled, Disabled Employment Evidence-based Partnerships (DEEPEN).    R. Fevre (P.A), D. Foster, M. Jones and V. Wass (Co-applicants). Main partners: Macmillan Cancer Support, Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales. Additional partners: Irwin Mitchell, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, College of Occupational Therapists, TUC.

July 2016 – December 2017: An award of £3,344 from CARBS seed-corn budget to undertake a scoping study.

Oct. 2014-Oct. 2015: An award of £15,000 for a Cardiff University Research Fellowship.  £3,000 was also awarded for travel.

2004-2006 – ESRC small grant - Award Reference Number: RES-000-22-0722 for a project entitled "Gender, Disability and Representation in the workplace" (Dr. D. Foster – principal applicant). Examined employee experiences of negotiating workplace adjustments and the representation they received during this process.

1995-1996 - £4,000 awarded by the Severnside District Benefits Agency, Bristol to P. Hoggett and D. Foster for research entitled: “An investigation of ‘quality initiatives’ in the re-structured Social Security Benefits Agency”.

1997-2000 - £120,000 awarded from Non-Formula Funding, UWE to D. Foster (P.I) and G. Taylor (co-applicant) for research entitled:  “A comparative Study of the Implications of the European Monetary Union on Public Services and Public Service Trade Unionism”.


Current Supervision

2016 - Leanne Greening ESRC Type 2 studentship

2018 - Cunquing Shi (Felix)

2019 - Ruth Nortey ESRC Collaborative Studentship with Disability Wales.

PhD supervision research interests

Enquiries regarding PhD supervision are particularly welcome from students wishing to pursue further research into all aspects of diversity and employment, but in particular from students wishing to develop proposals relating to disability and health, gender, ageing and employment.  With a research interest in the following: trade union representation, industrial relations, marketization, professional work and the voluntary sector, it would also be possible to combine proposals about diversity and employment with these contexts.  I have experience of data collection in the following countries: the UK, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, China, Taiwan.