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Leading Cultural Diversity Ethically

Organizations are today dealing with a diverse workforce, their employees having multiple cultural backgrounds and international experiences. This has led to an increased focus on Diversity management. This project examines how Swedish organizations work with Diversity Management and what inherent challenges are associated to this management.

Background and research questions:

Diversity Management is both acclaimed for the benefits it brings to organizations, and simultaneously, critiqued for its potential reproduction of inequalities within organization. Indeed, when diversity management’ raison d’être is the respect and promotion of differences, multiple studies show how instead, it can lead to repeat the very same discriminations as the ones found in society between, for example, men and women or various ethnic groups.

The project therefore asks the following questions:

  • What practices are carried out under the label "Diversity Management" in organizations today, and what form of status quo do they reproduce?
  • How can the management of diversity (for example with inclusive leadership) be done in a way that is ethical, in other words, in a way that relates to and respects the one who is seen as (e.g. culturally) other?

Research approach:

These questions have been studied through interviews and observations in both private and public organizations, for and not for profit. Many such organizations actively worked for the integration of migrants in their workforce or the Swedish labor market. HR managers and diversity managers in Swedish organizations (and in some Danish organizations) have been interviewed, line managers, employees and interns, about how they do and experience diversity management.

Key findings:

  • For a successful diversity management to be implemented, support from top management must be coupled with knowledge on inequalities and discrimination at the level of line managers and Human Resource professional (Holgersson & Romani, forthcoming, 2020)
  • Having good intensions for the integration of minority employees can lead to blindness to the actual discrimination that one might be doing. We call it benevolent discrimination.
    Read more in this journal article.
  • Organizational culture, if inclusive, can be stronger than the negative effects linked to being a minority employee. Read more in this journal article.
  • The way differences are understood at work (e.g. ethic or cultural differences) are always at the intersection of multiple power inequalities. ‘Cultural differences’ reflect foremost the power differences between encounters. Read more in this journal article.

Further information:

The project has been funded by the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.

A more thorough presentation of the project and project outcomes is available here.