Cultural Diversity in Business: A Critical Reflection on the Ideology of Tolerance

J. Félix Lozano;Teresa Escrich
Journal of Business Ethics

Cultural diversity is an increasingly important phenomenon that affects not only social and political harmony but also the cohesion and efficiency of organisations. The problems that firms have with regard to managing cultural diversity have been abundantly studied in recent decades from the perspectives of management theory and moral philosophy, but there are still open questions that require deeper reflection and broader empirical analysis. Managing cultural diversity in organisations is of prime importance because it involves harmonising different values, beliefs, credos and customs, and, in essence, human identity. Taking into consideration these cultural differences and harmonising them is a human rights issue (UNDP, Cultural liberty in today’s diverse world, 2004) and a central dimension of corporate social responsibility. Here we are going to focus on theoretical reflection about the ideas that lie behind corporate policies and organisational initiatives that deal with cultural diversity. The aim of our paper is twofold: to present a critical reflection on the ideology of tolerance, and propose an ideology of respect for dealing with cultural diversity. We start by presenting the plurality of interpretations of the concept of ideology, and justify its applicability to the field of cultural diversity. We then reflect on the differences between “tolerance” and “respect” and identifying the practical implications for managing cultural diversity. And finally, we propose a culture of respect that goes beyond tolerance and complements and legitimizes the “business case” perspective for managing cultural diversity in companies. The ideology of respect is based on the Kantian tradition and on the discursive approach where rational dialogue and argumentation are considered the legitimate process for creating a culture of intercultural respect. From this theoretical discussion of the key philosophical concepts we can suggest some general principles for managing cultural diversity in organisations.