Skip to main content
Professor Deborah Foster

Professor Deborah Foster

Professor of Employment Relations and Diversity

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


Debbie Foster is Professor of Employment Relations and Diversity at Cardiff Business School and is currently Co-Chair of the Welsh Government Disability Equality Task Force with Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice.  The Task Force was established by the First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, in response to the publication in 2021 of 'Locked out: liberating disabled people's lives and rights in Wales beyond COVID-19' by Welsh Government, which Debbie authored and helped to coproduce with disabled people in Wales: (,)

Debbie has a disciplinary background in Sociology (B.A Lancaster; PhD Bath).  Her research interests within the Sociology of Work & Employment have focused on employment relations, trade union representation and workplace equality and diversity, with a particular focus on disability and employment. 

Past research projects have examined the impact of marketisation on public service trade unions and industrial relations; gender and management in China and Taiwan; the negotiation of disability adjustments in the UK workplace by disabled people and trade union representatives (ESRC funded) and, the role of social partners in promoting work accommodations for disabled & older people in Estonia, Hungary & Poland (EU funded).

Current research 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 'ideal' 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 particularly interested in using co-production as a methodology in research with disabled people and Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs).  Since 2018 (with Dr Natasha Hirst) and The Lawyers with Disabilities Division of the Law Society (LDD) she has coproduced research findings, recommendations and impact with the Law Society of England and Wales, through a project called "Legally Disabled?  The Career Experiences of Disabled People Working in the Legal Profession".

Funded by a consortium of Disabled People's Organisations called DRILL (Disability Research for Independent Living and Learning), Legally Disabled? has subsequently attracted ESRC funding to develop a significant range of engagment & impact activities.  A follow-up research project was also conducted with The Law Society to evaluate the effects of COVID 19 on working practices of disabled people in law.  See the project web site for further information:

Within the University: until 2021 Debbie was Chair of the Cardiff Business School Research Ethics Committee and a representative to the Business School Research Committee.  She also represented the college of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) on the University's Open Research Integrity and Ethics Committee (ORIEC) and was 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 a new journal based at Leeds University, the International Journal of Disability and Social Justice.

Externally: Debbie continues to work with The Law Society of England & Wales, regularly gives talks to law firms both in the UK and U.S. about improving disability inclusion in the legal workplace and has given advice to the Solicitor's Regulatory Authority, Bar Standards Board and Legal Services Board based on her research.  She has also worked with Wales TUC, Business Wales, Disability Wales, the Welsh National Advisory Group of DRILL and has been a mentor for Disability Rights UK and served on the advisory group of 'Equally Ours'.

Current PhD Students: 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.

Recent news items (November 2020):

  • A survey by the Law Society and Cardiff University’s ‘Legally Disabled’ team found that working from home during lockdown enabled the majority of respondents to manage their disability more effectively, with 70% preferring to continue working remotely in the long-term. (New Law Journal; The Law Society Gazette; Practice Source; WIPR; Law 360; My Science; Mirage News)
  • Research by Cardiff Business School found that over half of disabled solicitors and paralegals surveyed believed their career and promotion prospects were inferior to those of their non-disabled colleagues. (The Law Society Gazette)
  • A recent survey showed that the suspension of office working under lockdown has helped improve the mental and physical health of disabled lawyers, and in a Law Society webinar Professor Debbie Foster of Cardiff University Business School noted that homeworking was the most common reasonable adjustment requested of employers by disabled lawyers and the most frequently refused. (Legal Futures)
  • Disabled solicitors need the freedom to continue to work from home, a comment piece by a Cardiff University academic argues. Debbie Foster writing with David Greene, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said the pandemic has led to improvements in the legal profession but “open conversations” about disability are needed to ensure a more inclusive approach (The Times).


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.