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Managing diversity or diversifying management?

Christina Schwabenland (London Metropolitan Business School, London Metropolitan University, London, UK)
Frances Tomlinson (London Metropolitan Business School, London Metropolitan University, London, UK)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 2 May 2008




The purpose of this paper is to draw on postcolonial theorising on hybridity as a heuristic to explore current tensions described by managers in voluntary organisations engaging with diversity issues. Voluntary organisations are particularly valued for their innovative services developed in response to the needs of their constituents. However, managers describe increasing tension between their organisation's mission on behalf of marginalised and excluded groups and the increasing expectation that these organisations act as contractors to the state and as providers of professionally managed services.


The paper draws on interviews with a range of key informants, including chief executives, specialist diversity managers and project workers, working in UK‐based voluntary organisations; the interviews explored diversity issues in a broad sense including campaigning and advocacy work as well as service provision.


Evidence was revealed of innovative ways of working that respond to the needs of particular communities and constituencies – thereby supporting the rationale behind the “business case” for diversity. Also found was evidence of pressures from regulators and funders to standardise that make such innovation less likely; involving processes of undermining the efforts of organisations to manage and organise themselves independently, and of essentialising – fixing the subjects of diversity in an identity of difference and inferiority. The findings suggest that “managing diversity” is inherently problematic.


There is little academic research that applies a critical perspective to voluntary organisations and less using postcolonial theory as a heuristic. However, voluntary organisations are central to both national and international anti‐poverty initiatives and programmes designed to facilitate community renewal.



Schwabenland, C. and Tomlinson, F. (2008), "Managing diversity or diversifying management?", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 4 No. 2/3, pp. 320-333.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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