Benevolent Discrimination: How HR Managers Reproduce Ethnic Discrimination with Diversity Initiative

Laurence Romani, Lotte Holck, Annette Risberg

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


This case study illustrates how the voluntary engagement of the HR personnel into diversity initiatives targeting migrants inscribe their actions into an act of benevolence that re-establishes a social hierarchical relationship between natives and migrants. Through diversity initiatives, HR practitioners create an ambiguous social relationship blending solidarity towards migrants with a clear social order in which their existing value system prevails. This hierarchical order is materialized in the case study company's structural discrimination, producing an inequality regime based on ethnicity and class. In addition, the initiation of HR personnel relationship with migrants is performed as a generous (benevolent) act, implicitly seen as a form of gift. HR professionals see themselves as giving migrants a chance, an opportunity, to enter the labor market. This implicit framing as a gift blurs the view of the social domination taking place and explains why HR professionals have difficulties in seeing their role in the discrimination of migrants taking place in their organization. Our study introduces the notion of benevolent discrimination. Benevolent discrimination articulates the well-meaning dimension of acceptance with the construction of the others as deficient and vulnerable, and therefore, in need of an act of benevolence for their empowerment. However, this empowerment is defined and limited by the initiator of benevolence into the existing naturalized order.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2018: Improving Lives - Chicago, United States
Duration: 10 Aug 201814 Aug 2018
Conference number: 78


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2018
CountryUnited States
Internet address

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