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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.