Diversity Management as a tool for intercultural education

Davide Di Palma, Umberto Conte, Department of Sport Sciences and Wellness, Parthenope University, Naples, Italy.

The aim of this paper is to propose an innovative management model of diversity, called Diversity Management, as a useful tool to implement intercultural education also at school. The pedagogical approach of the intercultural education based on the dialogue and the strong interaction between different individuals is to pursue the enhancement of diversity to generate a collective social benefit. In this regard, it is assumed that through Diversity Management, which is a methodological approach able to provide a series of benefits in a business, we will be able to support this educational model by considering, in this way, diversity as a valuable resource for sustainable development over time.  


L’obiettivo del paper è quello di proporre l’innovativo modello gestionale della diversità, definito Diversity Management, quale strumento utile all’implementazione dell’educazione interculturale anche nel contesto scolastico. L’approccio pedagogico dell’educazione interculturale basandosi sul dialogo e la forte interazione tra i vari individui mira a perseguire la valorizzazione della diversità per generare un beneficio sociale collettivo. A tal proposito si ipotizza cha attraverso il Diversity Management, che è un approccio metodologico in grado di apportare una serie di vantaggi a livello aziendale, si riesca a favorire questo modello educativo considerando, così, la diversità quale risorsa preziosa per uno sviluppo sostenibile nel tempo.


The increasing presence of cultural , social, economic, physical, ethnic (and so on) diversities, in any kind of relationship, makes it increasingly important to focus on aspects of interculturalism, diversity management and transfer in all those systems that have educational duties, in particular school.

The latter, in fact, is at the same time the first (in chronological order) and the most important environment where individuals have the opportunity and the need to form relationships with anyone different from themselves for various reasons (Lodge & Lynch, 2004 ). Consequently, it seems appropriate that the school system should adopt an intercultural educational approach able to consider cultural diversity as an opportunity for individual and collective enrichment, which stimulates personal and educational development.

However, the adoption of this pedagogical approach provides for important adaptation measures in different spheres of the education system (the teaching methods, the composition of the classes, up to strategic management decisions) that need to be managed and organized in an optimal way so that the intercultural didactics can provide all its benefits.

To this purpose, a diversity management model able to promote inclusion and  the perspective of interculturalism used in businesses is expected to be adopted also at school. This model is called Diversity Management.

Intercultural education

In the period of formation of national European states, the tendency to conceal the cultural and linguistic differences occurred especially in the setting up and programming of education and training activities (Ambrosini, 2001). A strict monolingualism was introduced and the educational programs aimed at affirming a common cultural heritage and at building up a strong national consciousness. With the emergence of more democratic political-institutional forms the need for expression and defense of one’s own cultural and linguistic identity by the historical minorities and the immigrant communities strengthened. Cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversities were gradually regarded as a value and for their preservation involved some measures such as, for example, the establishment of monocultural schools for members of individual communities, the creation of specific courses and special programs, the formation of separate classes etc. (Lodge & Lynch, 2004). These actions gave start to a process of effective recognition of the importance of cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversities, but there was the risk of creating a multicultural ghettoization, that is, a process that would have led to the coexistence of separate groups among which communications would have been very difficult or even impossible (Sirna Terranova, 1997). The mere acknowledgment of the presence of two or more cultures in a given area, and the study of the related common features and diversities, risk to consider cultures in a rigid and static way and lead to a stratification and hierarchy of groups (Portera, 2006). Unresolved problems in the field of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism and the processes of European integration, migration and globalization, in the Eighties of the last century, gave start to a deep reflection on the limits, contradictions and problems of the Western multicultural and multiethnic democracies (Sciolla 2002). Assuming that diversity and migration are an inescapable reality of today’s society the proposal of intercultural education is developed in the field of pedagogy, which is based on the belief that cultural and linguistic diversity is an opportunity for individual and collective enrichment and personal growth (Maritain, 2001; Miron, et al, 2010). So this is a brand new educational project born from the concrete questions and needs of a multicultural and complex society, and develops through the experimentation and critical reflection on the educational experiences (Banks & Banks, 2009; Giusti, 2012). This innovative pedagogical approach, defined by Portera (2006) as a real Copernican revolution, is based on dialogue, discussion and interaction. Identity and culture are no longer conceived as something static and unchanging, but are seen as dynamic and continuously evolving. The introduction of the intercultural perspective in the educational process is a very complex and ambitious project that aims to establish new didactic and learning approaches, in order to support the consolidation of identity and the ability to see the other as a resource. This is the research and creation of new educational processes, methods, contents and contexts through which students can acquire the skills to deal with different points of view and experiences (Banks & Banks, 2009; Giusti, 2012, Portera, 2006). The realization of educational programs in an intercultural perspective must be carried out by all those who are part of the world of school: teachers, students and parents (Grange Sergi, Nuzzacci, 2007; Resman 2003; Zolletto 2007).

Obviously, the implementation of a pedagogical approach that involves all the stakeholders of the school environment, and which requires the construction of a series of relationships and synergies at structural level, requires an appropriate management both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. In this regard, the adoption of diversity management as a means to achieve this change of course towards intercultural education is expected.

An innovative management model for diversity

Diversity Management has its origins in the early Nineties in America but, considering the current socio-economic environment, is a winning strategy for the inclusion and appreciation of diversity both at the business level and in social contexts.

Without seeking to give a clear and exhaustive definition of Diversity Management, it is possible to affirm that this method of human resources management develops from the awareness of the different circumstances in everyone, and tries to implement a widespread cultural change and to design the management tools that make it possible to accept diversities compatible with the organization (Arredondo, 1996; Bombelli, 2003; Castellucci et al, 2009).

This definition aims to highlight two fundamental aspects for the implementation of Diversity Management policies and strategies:  people with their own values, cultures and behaviors on the one hand, and the organization on the other hand, understood as a social environment in which these persons operate, who may accept or not the various forms of diversity.

In the light of these considerations, it can be argued that the concept of Diversity Management is the result of several reflections between individual psychology, social psychology and organization.

From the individual point of view, everyone has some form of intolerance towards other people’s values ​​and behaviors, which may result from their own stories and  experiences, but also from the assimilation of the behavior of the social group to which he refers, and the Diversity Management approach aims to minimize these intolerances for the benefit of social inclusion (Serio, 2014).

In addition, the organization understood as a particular social sub-group has the opportunity to relatively distance itself from the dominant culture by producing a multicultural environment characterized by a set of different values ​​(Silva, Lorenzo & Chavez, 2015).

Working on two seemingly opposite levels, the concept of equality and the awareness of the difference, Diversity Management makes the same opportunities accessible to any employee, but in different ways. More specifically, everyone has his own rhythms, skills and qualities, and it is up to human resources to enhance them through an effective management, so that the outcome is the same for everyone, both in terms of acknowledgement and performance (Ponzellini & Riva , 2014).

The starting point is that a “multicultural” business or a social context have much more wealth in terms of human potential, compared to those “monocultural” ones. It is about leveraging on each other’s diversities, especially those cultural, to increase the chances of success of the entire organization.

Through this management approach the cultural differences in the company are enhanced for the consolidation of an environment that encourages not only creativity, but also an individual’ sense of belonging, motivation, initiative and responsibility. Diversity Management is a strategy of optimization and adaptation to the resource. Taking into account the different needs, the minuses can become pluses by contributing importantly to the success of the social or business organization (Gilbert, Stead & Ivancevich, 1999; Lauring, 2013).

All the above greatly supports the hypothesis of the research that proposes the adoption of the Diversity Management principles to promote intercultural education in the school context.

Intercultural education through Diversity Management

Several sources in the literature have asserted that the policies of inclusion, including  Diversity Management, have a positive impact on various aspects of business, among which there is the improvement of the overall organization and the skills and performance in areas such as communication, personnel management, identification of objectives and planning (Buemi, Conte & Guazzo, 2016; Serio, 2014).

Specifically, this management approach can generate a number of benefits at business level, which could be instrumental also to promote intercultural education in the school context (Buemi, Conte & Guazzo, 2016; Castellucci et al, 2009; Laurinig, 2013).

In fact, if school district implemented Diversity Management strategies and policies, it would have the opportunity to develop an intercultural education process characterized by a series of benefits, including:

Resource acquisition. Attracting and retaining qualitatively good human resources is an important competitive factor for a business and school. To develop an intercultural approach, in fact, it needs to have a highly qualified staff with a high degree of open-mindedness able to accept diversity and educate students to its enhancement.

Marketing development. In this case it is to be understood as the ability to respond effectively to the cultural preferences of the external environment. Considering the effects of culture on the behavior of civil society, Diversity Management provides for the training of human resources able to understand the behavioral effects of the individuals’ cultural diversity (Ponzellini & Riva, 2014). This promotes an education aimed at grasping cultural heterogeneity in any context.

Development of a greater creativity. Creativity flourishes with diversity and to successfully adapt to its external environment, such as that of school, and it must amalgamate all the varieties in the field in which it operates. Kanter’s researches (1983) show that the most advanced businesses deliberately set up different development teams in order to create an exchange of ideas, recognizing that a plurality of viewpoints is needed to deal with any situation and, like school, there would be an intercultural educational strategy characterized by a teachers staff able to innovatively educate and prepare future skilled human resources with good adaptation abilities. Simply put, a growing cultural diversity within businesses should lead to higher levels of innovation and creativity.

Problem-solving process improvement thanks to a widening of the viewpoints and a comprehensive critical analysis.  Diversity Management is competitive with the strengthening of the decision-making and problem-solving process, because the combination of different genders and personalities seems to have freed the groups from common problem-solution methods (Hoffman & Maier, 1961; Castellucci et al, 2009)) . This encourages the search for new didactic solutions suitable to the multiculturalism of the school system, favoring the fundamental change of the cultural diversity concept from “critical issue” to “resource”.

Achievement of greater organizational flexibility. This benefit concerns the propensity to react better to the multiple needs and evolving environments. (Cox & Blake, 1991). This aspect surely facilitates an intercultural didactics approach that, among its main targets, has that to appreciate the dynamism of cultural situations which seem to be in constant evolution and that, thanks to a management approach  of Diversity Management, could be seized and enhanced.

The adoption of the Diversity Management model in the school environment allows developing a range of benefits and competitive advantages, such as those just analyzed, which foster the implementation and development of intercultural didactics and the consequent benefits for the entire education system.


In the current school context, characterized by multiple social, cultural and physical diversities, it seems appropriate (and probably necessary) to propose an innovative intercultural educational approach.

This approach has shown that not only the acceptance of diversity is promoted, but rather that a different culture is considered a valuable resource for the purposes of a didactic and personal growth.

However, the possibility of using and implementing an intercultural education model cannot be separated from the need for active involvement by all the stakeholders of the education system; this, of course, requires in turn a management of these highly performing human resources both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.

This research has identified the Diversity Management model as the management tool that can coordinate, organize and lead strategically school resources in order to develop intercultural education at school level.

Diversity Management, in fact, is able to produce certain competitive advantages in the school environment, like in a business, which provide the suitable conditions for the implementation of a change of the educational dynamics towards an intercultural dimension, with a consequent benefit for both the system of public instruction and, in perspective, at social level for the whole community.


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Leggi l’articolo su Scienze e Ricerche: Davide Di Palma, Umberto Conte, Diversity Management as a tool for intercultural education, in Scienze e Ricerche n. 46, marzo 2017, pp. 33-36