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Ethics and intercultural communication in diversity management

Eila Isotalus (Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Marja-Liisa Kakkuri-Knuuttila (Department of Management Studies, Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 18 June 2018




The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that creating shared meanings in dialogical communication is a “must” for diversity management if it wants to fulfill the double promise of promoting both business and ethical goals. By way of meeting this challenge, the authors introduce the negotiating reality theory and education program developed by Victor Friedman and Ariane Berthoin Antal, and examine its ethical underpinnings.


The paper is a theoretical exploration which combines ethical and intercultural communication perspectives in the context of diversity management. Excerpts from ethnographic research data are used to illustrate the deficiency of intuitive processes in negotiating reality in practice.


The negotiating reality program, originally developed for international business, is equally relevant to diversity management, as it serves to deconstruct value hierarchies embedded in diversity categorizations, and hence enhances seamless and productive cooperation. Learning such communication skills involves personal emotional-cognitive growth, which can be analyzed in terms of Aristotle’s notion of virtue. The authors also argue for the interconnected nature of performance and ethical goals in diversity management.

Research limitations/implications

Since this is a theoretical paper, empirical research is needed to investigate the pedagogical and rhetorical means which inspire people to develop their intercultural communication skills in various diversity contexts.

Practical implications

This paper challenges managers to introduce means to develop negotiating reality skills and practices for the benefit of the staff and the whole organization.


This paper suggests that the focus of diversity management should shift to meanings and intercultural communication, and that ethical considerations are an important part of that.



The authors would like to thank for valuable comments and support to Kai Alhanen, Regine Bendl, Sara Heinämaa, Elina Henttonen, Thomas Köllen, Leena Lahti, Linda L. Putnam, Pirkko Pohjoisaho-Aarti and an anonymous referee.


Isotalus, E. and Kakkuri-Knuuttila, M.-L. (2018), "Ethics and intercultural communication in diversity management", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 450-469.



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