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What Exactly is Diversity?

When we discuss DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), it is common to assume that we are all on the same page as far as what those words mean. Unfortunately, though, there is a surprising amount of confusion about what each of these concepts refer to and how they differ from each other.


So, let’s take the time to break these concepts down, starting with diversity.


The definition of diversity

Diversity is “the presence (and amount) of difference within a given setting,” with our focus being on the setting of the workplace. (Mattingly, 2022).


Diversity does not just mean one identity group or one characteristic. Diversity encompasses a variety of identities, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, and a myriad of other identity markers. It is important to take a broad, inclusive perspective to diversity in your approach to DEI.

Diversity is not something that can occur at the individual level. In other words, you cannot have a diverse individual—by definition, diversity can only occur at the group-level Like a diverse slate of candidates, a diverse work team, a diverse organization.


There is no such thing as a “diverse individual.”

Referring to one person as “diverse” is likely to lead those individuals from marginalized backgrounds to feel tokenized -- the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a marginalized group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly --and, therefore, not included or valued.


How do you measure diversity?

Measuring diversity in your organization is easier in comparison to inclusion and equity but still comes with its challenges.


First and foremost, identities do not exist in isolation. Intersectionality acknowledges how identities overlap and is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” See our blog on intersectionality for more information.


Given the importance of this intersectional approach, organizations should approach data collection by looking at identities in combination with one another in order to choose the best interventions for fostering inclusion and equity (Mattingly, 2022).

Why is diversity important?

Diversity is important for many reasons but often when you are presenting the case to your executives, you can use either or both of two cases: the ethical/moral case or the business case.

  1. The ethical/moral case

  2. Ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table is morally the right thing to do. Diversity is about representation, or “ensuring that your workforce demographics represent the people in your market, industry, and the population in geographic areas your organization operates” (Mattingly, 2022). Increasing representation creates opportunities to uncover otherwise overlooked talent from underrepresented groups. Further, it can correct for the systemic issues that are baked into the modern workplace, that lead these groups to continue to be overlooked.

  3. Diversity is about all of us and ensuring that our organizations are places where we all feel like we belong. Diversity is a crucial component of belonging, along with equity and inclusion. We all deserve to go to work in in a place where we all feel valued, respected, seen, and heard—especially those from historically excluded groups.

  4. The business case

  5. Research has found that more racially, ethnically, and gender-diverse companies tend to outperform those matching the national average (Hunt et al., 2018).

  6. In the most recent report by McKinsey, they found that racially diverse organizations are 36% more profitable than those that are not as racially diverse.

  7. See more about the business case for DEI here.


While the business case is often what is used to convince organizational leadership to invest in DEI, it is important to note that we should not focus exclusively on this case. As mentioned in Inclusalytics, Mattingly’s founders’ book on using data in DEI, considering DEI as a simple business exchange can come across as “cold, compliance-driven, and performative, all of which undermine an organization’s DEI efforts” (Mattingly, 2022).

How is diversity different from equity and inclusion?

One of the most important things to note about diversity is that it only encompasses the various identities people hold. Diversity is only one piece of the puzzle. If an organization is trying to advance DEI by only changing the demographic makeup of their workforce, they are unlikely to succeed in their overall DEI goals. Investments and changes must also be made in the systems and culture to foster both equity and inclusion:

  • Equity is defined as “the fair treatment of all employees regarding the accessibility of information, opportunities, and resources considering the different circumstances each employee faces.”

  • If your organization invests in diversity, but fails to remove the barriers within organizational policies and procedures that prevent individuals from marginalized backgrounds from having success, it will not see the benefits of that diversity.

  • Inclusion is defined as “actions that make others feel valued, respected, seen, and heard. Inclusive behaviors enable members from different identity groups to fully contribute their unique perspectives and contributions to the workplace.”

  • If employees from marginalized backgrounds do not feel that their voice can be heard and respected in your organization, they are not likely to provide their valuable input and your organization will miss out.

Diversity alone will not generate positive outcomes for your organization. That is why we emphasize DEI together above any sole focus on just diversity without bringing along inclusion and equity as well.

Looking to increase your organization’s diversity on the road to stronger DEI? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn how we can partner to advance your DEI goals. Together.

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