Justice in the Culturally Diverse Workplace: Problems of Over-Emphasis and Under-Emphasis of Cultural Differences

By Kwok LeungSteven K. SuMichael W. Morris
2000| Working Paper No. 1658

We examine two broad, opposite approaches that often guide managers in managing diversity issues. One approach, the universalist approach, emphasizes similarity as the basis of justice, as embodied in the often-heard managerial motto that fairness is maintained by treating everyone exactly the same. In contrast to this is the particularist approach, which emphasizes accommodation to cultural differences: fairness is maintained by being aware of and taking into account cultural differences in managerial decisions. We examine the problems of simplistic espousal of either of these extremes. First, we explore whether cultural differences should be emphasized as a way of understanding the causes of other people’s behavior. Second, we explore whether the existence of different cultural groups should be emphasized when organizations allocate resources and rewards. And finally, we explore the extent to which cultural differences should be emphasized in managing the career development of subordinates.