An indisputable “holy trinity”? On the moral value of equality, diversity, and inclusion

Köllen, Thomas; Kakkuri-Knuuttila, Marja-Liisa; Bendl, Regine (2018). An indisputable “holy trinity”? On the moral value of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Equality, diversity and inclusion : an international journal, 37(5), pp. 438-449. Emerald 10.1108/EDI-04-2018-0072

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There seems to exist a widespread, unquestioned and unquestionable consent, both in research and practice, that there is a moral value inherent in equality and related initiatives toward diversity and inclusion. However, this consent is primarily based on political convictions and emotional reasons, and is without any strong ethical grounding. Whilst a considerable volume of research has been carried out into different facets of the economic value of initiatives toward equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), comparatively little research has been undertaken into its moral value. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to structure the moral perspectives on EDI more precisely and more critically.

After discussing the interrelation of the three concepts equality, diversity and inclusion, the authors discuss the way in which initiatives toward diversity and inclusion are justified morally in literature. The authors point out the crucial position of equality, and then, subsequently, outline how different approaches to equality try to achieve moral legitimacy. Being an important group of initiatives in this debate, the authors subsequently reflect upon the moral (il)legitimacy of affirmative action (AA). The concluding section of this paper provides a brief summary of the findings.

The moral evaluation of equality, diversity and inclusion remains an under-theorized field. Within the discourse on equality, diversity and inclusion, the term “justice” is largely used in an intuitive way, rather than being rooted in a specific moral philosophy. As there are several conceivable, differing moral perspectives on EDI, one cannot expect an indisputable answer to the question as to whether a given approach toward equality, diversity and inclusion is morally praiseworthy or just. However, the widespread assumption that equality is morally praiseworthy per se, and that striving for equality morally justifies any initiative toward diversity and inclusion, is untenable.

This paper addresses the lack of theorizing on the moral value of initiatives toward equality, diversity, and inclusion, such as diversity management, AA or various equal opportunity approaches. Future research could enrich the discourse on the moral evaluation of diversity management, inclusion programs and organizational equality approaches with new philosophical facets and perspectives, perspectives that might differ from those taken in the predominantly American discourse.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Department of Business Management > Institute of Organization and Human Resource Management > Human Resource Management

UniBE Contributor:

Köllen, Thomas


100 Philosophy > 170 Ethics
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 330 Economics
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 360 Social problems & social services
600 Technology > 650 Management & public relations








Thomas Köllen

Date Deposited:

13 Aug 2018 08:43

Last Modified:

01 Sep 2020 19:32

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Moral value, Diversity management, Morality, Equality, Affirmative action, Reverse discrimination




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