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Line managers' perceptions of diversity management: insights from a social exchange theory perspective

Stefanos Nachmias (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Fotios Mitsakis (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Eleni Aravopoulou (University of Sunderland, Sunderland, UK)
Christopher J. Rees (Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Amairisa Kouki (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 31 August 2021




Drawing on the social exchange theory, this study aims to explore line managers' perceptions of diversity management, as well as their perceptions of their role and responsibilities in shaping and implementing diversity practices. The senior management's leadership support, as it is perceived by line managers, in assisting them to manage diversity successfully is also examined.


Semi-structured interviews with 51 line managers across different sectors in the UK were conducted to address the following three research questions. First, how do line managers perceive diversity management? Second, what are the actual roles and responsibilities of line managers in shaping diversity practices' implementation? Third, how do leadership interactions within the organisation influence line managers' perceptions of diversity practices?


Line managers present high levels of personal determination and commitment towards diversity supplemented by a consensus on the strategic role of leadership in relation to diversity management. In addition, poor levels of organisational support, leadership values and style are identified; all highly related to their ability to deliver results and, most importantly, to form effective relationships in the workplace.

Research limitations/implications

Data included line managers' views but not senior managers' perspectives, thus limiting the study in identifying the holistic impact of social exchanges in shaping effective relations. In addition, quantitative research could test and enhance the generalisability of existing findings.

Practical implications

Investing in social relationships can positively influence line managers' ability to deliver results. Action is required at the organisational level by senior management to support and recognise line managers' critical roles to enable them to apply and promote diversity management.


These findings address a theoretical gap relating to the evaluation of the critical role played by line managers in the delivery of diversity practices. The study further demonstrates how social exchange relationships can influence line managers' perceptions of diversity management, an unexplored area within the diversity literature.



Nachmias, S., Mitsakis, F., Aravopoulou, E., Rees, C.J. and Kouki, A. (2021), "Line managers' perceptions of diversity management: insights from a social exchange theory perspective", Employee Relations, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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