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Understanding Multicultural Individuals as Ethical Global Leaders

Advances in Global Leadership

ISBN: 978-1-78635-138-8, eISBN: 978-1-78635-137-1

ISSN: 1535-1203

Publication date: 9 August 2016


Multicultural individuals are those who identify with two or more cultures, such as Chinese-Canadians, Turkish-Germans, or Arab-Americans. They are more likely to see multiple sides of an ethical dilemma than monocultural individuals, who identify with one culture. This tendency toward ethical relativism – where ethics are seen to be relative to the context – could help multicultural individuals excel as ethical global leaders. Global leaders must manage the ethical tensions inherent in their multinational operations by understanding multiple ethical perspectives. Multiculturals’ inclination toward relativism may be driven by the structure or content of their cultural identities. The identity structure argument is based on the patterns in which individuals mentally organize their cultural identities, while the identity content argument is based on the degree to which individuals endorse relativism as a result of having internalized cultural schemas with relativist norms. We offer an exploratory test of these dual hypotheses, and find evidence to support the identity structure, but not the identity content argument. Specifically, multicultural individuals who separate their cultures are more likely to exhibit relativism in decision-making than those who integrate them. This indicates that identity patterns can drive relativism. In contrast, individuals who identify with high relativism cultures are not more likely to endorse relativism than those who identify with low relativism cultures, indicating a lack of evidence for identity content driving relativism. These findings have implications for hiring or placement managers who seek global leaders who are likely to see more than one side of an ethical issue.



Hrenyk, J., Szymanski, M., Kar, A. and Fitzsimmons, S.R. (2016), "Understanding Multicultural Individuals as Ethical Global Leaders", Advances in Global Leadership (Advances in Global Leadership, Vol. 9), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 57-78.



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