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Leading cultural diversity ethically

What is going on? Inquiries into the contradictions of leading cultural diversity

Leading cultural differences and diversity in large organizations is quite a successful theme today and rests on well-established theoretical and empirical tools and models to leverage this cultural diversity. Yet, some researchers have recently advanced evidence that the management of differences is not as successful as it seems, despite scholars and practitioners’ best intensions. These researchers are preoccupied with understanding power structures in organizations and processes of social change, in the spirit of ‘critical management studies’. They point to empirical evidences and theoretical considerations indicating that the definition and management of differences are done in ways that can reproduce power inequalities and thus undermine the entire purpose of diversity and cross-cultural management. This means that the way cultural diversity management addresses its own fundamental questions and endeavor is said to undermine its raison d’être. Worse, some argue that cross-cultural and diversity management are dehumanizing employees and thus, are unethical.

How is this possible? We aim to investigate this state of affairs, this interconnection between an active leadership of cultural diversity and the alleged reproduction of inequalities and unethical practices. How can cultural diversity management theories and practices be said to contribute to something which so opposite to their endeavor? We aim at an in-depth (ethnographic) investigation of current practices of ‘diversity management’ in order to better understand ‘what is going on’ and to contribute to the further development of ethical inclusive leadership.  

Read research findings 

Project leader:

Laurence Romani

Project team:

Laurence Romani, Katharina Pilhofer, Lotte Holck and Julie Lorenzen (CASL), Charlotte Holgersson (KTH & CASL), Sara Louise Muhr and Annette Risberg (Copenhagen Business School and CASL)


Barmeyer, C. Romani, L and Pilhofer, K. (2016), Welche Impulse liefert interkulturelles Management für Diversity Management? , in Petia Genkova and Tobias Ringeisen (Eds), Handbuch Diversity Kompetenz: Gegenstandsbereiche, Spinger.

Bleijenbergh, I., C. Holgersson, & I. Ryan (2016) Diversity, diversity management and identity in organizations. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 35(1).

Christensen, J. and Muhr, S. (2018) Failed diversity and symptomatic anxiety: Theorising organizational diversity as Lacanian lack, Culture and Organization, 24:2, 114-133, DOI: 10.1080/14759551.2017.1407764

Essed, P. and Muhr, S. (2018) Entitlement Racism and its intersections: An interview with Philomena Essed, social justice scholar, Ephemera, 18(1): 183-20. Open access.

Holck, L. and Muhr, S.L. (2020): White bodies doing post-colonial research: Intersectionalities in the Greenlandic police force. In Just, S., Risberg, S. and Villesèche, F. (eds.), Routledge Companion to Organizational Diversity Research MethodsRoutledge.

Holck, L. and Muhr, S.L. (2019) From institutionalized othering to disruptive collaboration: A postcolonial analysis of the police force in Greenland. Equality, Diversity & Inclusion – An International Journalhttps://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-01-2018-0018

Holck, L. and Muhr, S. (2018) Joanne Martin and organizational culture, in A. Pullen and R. Mc Murrey (eds.) Women Writers in Organisation Theory: Rethinking Culture, Organisation & Management. Routledge.

Holck, L. Muhr, S. and Villesèche, F. (2018) Managing Diverse Talent. In I. Tarique (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Talent Management. Routledge.

Holck, L.; Muhr, S. and Villesèche, F. (2016) ‘Identity, diversity and diversity management: On theoretical connections, assumptions and implications for practice’, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, 35(1), 48 – 64. Open access

Holgersson, C. and Romani, L. (forthcoming 2021) Mångfaldsarbete på arbetsplatsen – Lärdomar från sex engagerade företag, in Boréus, L, Sohl, L and Neergaard, A (Eds) Ojämlika arbetsplatser: Hierarkier, diskriminering och strategier för jämlikhet, Bokförlag? Lund: Nordic Academic Press. Open access

Holgersson, C. and Romani, L. (2020) Tokenism revisited: when organizational culture challenges masculine norms, the experience of token is transformed, European Management Review, DOI: 10.1111/emre.12385

Hunger, E. Morillas, M. Romani, L and Mohsen, M. (2020), Unequal integration: skilled migrants conditional inclusion along the lines of Swedishness, class and ethnicity, in Madadevan, Primecz & Romani, Cases in Critical Cross-Cultural Management: an intersectional approach to culture, London, Routledge.

Kirkegaard, L. and Muhr, S. (2018) Uniform bodies/embodied uniforms: An affect analysis of body possibilities in the military, in A. Pullenand and M. Fotaki (eds) Diversity, Discourse, Affect and Materiality. London: Routledge.

Mahadevan, J. Primecz, H. and Romani, L. (2020), Cases in Critical Cross-Cultural Management: An Intersectional Approach to Culture, Routledge.

Murh, S. and Ashcraft  K. (2017) Coding military command as a promiscuous practice? Unsettling the gender binaries of leadership metaphors, Human Relations, 71 (2): 206-228. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726717709080

Muhr, S. and Sløk-Andersen, B. (2017) Exclusion and inclusion in the Danish military: A historical analysis of the construction and consequences of a gendered organizational narrative, Journal of Organizational Change Management, 30(3): 367-379. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JOCM-10-2016-0195/full/html

Omamovic, V., Tarim, E. and Holck, L. (forthcoming 2021): Practices of organizing migrants’ integration into the European labour market’ (editorial), Special issue in European Management Review.

Pilhofer, K. & C. Holgersson (2015) Review. Diversity at work: The practice of inclusion (book review), Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 453-454. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095652211730043X?via%3Dihub

Primecz, H., Mahadevan, J. & Romani, L. (2016), Why is Cross-Cultural Management blind to power relations? Investigating ethnicity, language, gender and religion, International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, 16(2), 127-136.  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1470595816666154

Risberg, A. & Pilhofer, K. (2018) Diversity and difference research: a reflection on categories and categorization, Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization. 8(1): 131-148. Open access

Risberg, A and Romani, L. (2021) Underemploying highly skilled migrants: An organizational logic protecting corporate ‘normality’, Human Relations, online first https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0018726721992854

Romani, L., Barmeyer, C; Pilhofer, K.; Primecz, H. (2018) Cross-cultural management studies: state of the field in the four research paradigms, International Studies of Management and Organization. 43(3) Open access.

Romani, L. and Binswanger, C. (2019) Critical perspectives on Diversity Management, in E. Hanappi-Egger and H. Mensi-Klarbach (Eds) Diversity in Organizations: concepts and practices. Houndmills, Palgrave.

Romani, L. Boussebaa, M. and Jackson, T. (2020) Critical perspectives on Cross-Cultural Management, in B. Szkudlarek, L. Romani, J. Osland and D. Caprar, The Sage Handbook of Contemporary Cross-Cultural Management, London: Sage. Pp. 51-65.

Romani, L and Frame, A. (2020) Les études critiques en gestion interculturelle. Communication et Organisation, 58:25-40. https://www.cairn.info/revue-communication-et-organisation-2020-2-page-25.htm

Romani, L. Holck, L. Holgersson, C and Muhr, S.L (2017), Diversity Management and the Scandinavian Model: Illustrations from Denmark and Sweden, in M. Özbilgin and J.F Chanlat (Eds.) Management and Diversity: Perspectives from National Context, Volume 3, London: Emerald. Pp. 261-280.

Romani, L. Holck, L. and Risberg, A. (2019) Benevolent discrimination: explaining how Human Resources professionals can be blind to the harm of diversity initiatives. Organization, 26(3):371 –390. Open access

Romani, L. and Holgersson, C., (2020a) Inclusive leadership for the ethical management of cultural diversity, in L. Zander (Ed.) Research Handbook of Global Leadership: Making a difference, Edward Elgar, UK.

Romani, L. and Holgersson, C. (2020b) Global Diversity Management: when diversity and cross-cultural management meet, in B. Szkudlarek, J. Osland, D. Caprar and L. Romani, The Sage Handbook of Contemporary Cross-Cultural Management, London: Sage.

Romani, L., Mahadevan, J., Primecz, H., (2018) Critical Cross-Cultural Management, International Studies of Management and Organization.48(4) 403-408. Open access

Romani, L. Mahadevan, J. and Primecz, H (2020) Methods for Critical Management Research, in B. Szkudlarek, J. Osland, D. Caprar and L. Romani, The Sage Handbook of Contemporary Cross-Cultural Management, London: Sage.

Romani, L.; Zanoni, P. and Holck, L (2020) Radicalizing diversity (research): Time to resume talking about class, Gender Work and Organization, online first DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12593. 


Selected conference contributions that have not yet resulted in publications

Dobusch, L., Holck, L., and Muhr, S.L. (2017) Towards fragmented inclusion: Diverse organizing in Greenland Police. Paper presented at the workshop on diverse organizing/organizing diversity. CBS, Copenhagen, May 2017.

Holck, L., and Muhr, S.L. (2017) The socio-materiality of intercultural encounters: An analysis of flesh, skin, bullet proof vests and other objects in Greenland Police. Paper presented at SCOS, Rome, July, 2017.

Muhr, S. (2014): ‘Creating women initiatives without explicit diversity management practices: Thoughts from a participatory study’. Paper presented at the 30th EGOS conference, Rotterdam, July 2014.

Muhr, S. and Ashcraft, K. (2014): ‘Military, Metaphors and Masculinity: The Construction of Gendered Practice in Leadership Studies. Paper presented at the 13th Studying Leadership Conference, Copenhagen, December 2014.

Romani, L.; Lorenzen, J.; Holck, L. and Muhr, S. (2016) Expatriate’s and Host Country National’s professional learning in adverse conditions: a case study of Danish police officers stationed in Greenland, Paper presented to EGOS annual symposium, Napoli, Italy, July 2016.



Financed by the Ragnar Söderberg foundation 2014-2019