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

Thomas Köllen*, Marja Liisa Kakkuri-Knuuttila, Regine Bendl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: 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. Design/methodology/approach: 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. 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. Originality/value: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-449
Number of pages12
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


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

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