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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 and an interest in trade unions and employment relations, Debbie's research has increasingly focused on equality and diversity in employment and within organisational settings.  Research projects undertaken include an examination of gender, management and employment in China and Taiwan, though more recently, Debbie's research has focused on the experiences of disabled people in the labour market - of the ableist character of workplaces, professions and organisational practices and how forms of representation might address these. She is particularly interested in the intersectional interests of disabled, older and female employees and the ways in which taken-for-granted norms around what is an 'ideal' employee have shaped organisational and career processes, practices and culture.

Supportive of a social model of disability and critical disability studies, Debbie is interested in methodologies and research ethics that facilitate co-produced and emancipatory research.  She has worked with Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs), as well as trade unions nationally, regionally and internationally and with a range of NGOs and Policy Think Tanks.  Debbie has recently (2018) 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. With colleagues at Cardiff University she was involved in an ESRC funded impact initiative on closing the disability employment gap and is currently working on a DRILL Disability Wales funded project with Natasha Hirst and The Lawyers with Disabilities Division of The Law Society, that is examining the career experiences of disabled people working within the legal profession. See:

In 2019 Debbie was awarded a Cardiff Business School Public Value Fellowship and an ESRC Impact grant to extend her work on the 'Legally Disabled' project.

Debbie is Chair of the CARBS Research Ethics Committee and a representative to the University Research Integrity and Ethics Committee (URIEC).  She has been an editor and served on the Editorial and Associate Editorial boards of the BSA international journal Work, Employment and Society.  A member of the Welsh National Advisory Group of DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning), a mentor for Disability Rights UK and is a member of the Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) Research Network Advisory Group.

See publications listed in this profile 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 and numerous books. Grant funding has been secured from the European Union, the Economic and Social Research Council and DRILL.

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.

Education & Qualifications

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

Editorial work

  • 2017: Editorial Board member of the 'Journal of Chinese HRM'
  • 2017: 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'
  • Foster, D and Scott, P (eds.) (2003) Trade Unions in Europe: Meeting the Challenge.
  • Braddon, D and Foster, D. (eds.) (1996) Privatisation: Social Science Themes and Perspectives.

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
  • Policies of privatisation and marketisation and their impact on employment relations

Research Funding

October 2019 - May 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.