The Ambiguity of “Diversity”

In the New York Times Magazine article, “Has Diversity Lost its Meaning”, Anna Holmes parses the multiple meanings of diversity depending on which agents are speaking and for what reasons.

Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 firms have been under fire for the low number of diversity hires in their workforce. However, the lack of inclusion exists in most other sectors; for example, Publishers Weekly survey of book-publishing employees found that there was no “real” change despite increased talk of diversity and inclusion, and the same is true in Hollywood as well.  The companies that do have a handful of women and minorities in their workforces are used as evidence of diversity and change.

The term diversity has accrued various meanings depending on the setting and research shows that different groups understand the term differently than others. For example, demographer at the University of Michigan Reynolds Farley studied the attitudes of people in Detroit regarding the racial composition of residential areas in 1976, 1992, and 2004:

“Most African-Americans considered ‘integrated’ to be a 50/50 mix of white and black, while a majority of whites considered such a ratio much too high for their comfort each time the study was conducted”.

Attitudes such as these are pervasive in all aspects of the workplace. If the default in America is white and male, then ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding the term “diversity” and its real-life implications are sure to follow.

There seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric of progress many companies spout and the actual strides taken towards creating a diverse workforce. This ticking-of-the-box approach obscures the possibilities of a culture of inclusion, one that could leverage unique and different experiences and mindsets.

How diverse is your industry? What about your organization? How do you define diversity? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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