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Diversity is the presence of a wide range of variation in the qualities or attributes under discussion.

Cultural diversity

Amongst humans, particularly in a social context, the term diversity refers to the presence in one population of a (wide) variety of

Possible attitudes to this situation are discussed in the Politics section.

At the international level, diversity refers to the existence of many peoples contributing their unique experiences to humanity's culture. The preservation of our planet's formidable linguistic and cultural diversity in the context of world-wide economic integration is the object of great concern to many people at the turn of the 21st century.

Main article: Cultural diversity

Diversity and clinical psychology

Diversity in educational psychology

Diversity in organizational psychology

In a business context, diversity is approached as a strategy for improving employee retention and increasing consumer confidence. The "business case for diversity", as it is often phrased, is that in a global and diverse marketplace, a company whose makeup mirrors the makeup of the marketplace it serves is better equipped to thrive in that marketplace than a company whose makeup is homogeneous. Another part of the business case is how well a company utilizes its diversity. This is often referred to as inclusion. If a company is diverse in makeup, but all the decision makers are of one primary group, diversity does not add much value. Business diversity consultants and diversity trainers often treat the social consequences of diversity as secondary; their primary focus is to enable the company to function in a heterogeneous or global economy. Diversity issues change over time, depending on local historical conditions. For example, "transgender" issues are now coming to the fore in the U.S., though it is far from the radar screen in many countries. (See, for example, Transgender Workplace Diversity blog) Companies with diversity programs are usually national or international in scope, or are composed of large groups of workers who come from differing backgrounds.

Different kinds of diversity exist, e.g. superficial diversity (e.g. differences in gender, ethnicity, nationality) and deep-level diversity (e.g. differences in knowledge and differences in values) (Harrison et al, 2001 or 2002; Jehn et al 1999). Increasing amounts of interaction between individuals reduce the importance of superficial diversity and increase the importance of deep-level diversity. With regard to superficial diversity: its negative effects are stronger to the extent that a faultline develops, separating a group into clear subgroups. This occurs when observable characteristics of individuals in a group correlate, e.g. all the marketeers in a group are young and female, whereas the engineers are old and male (Lau and Murnighan, 1998, 2005). With regard to deep level diversity, informational diversity (differences in knowledge base) has been found to have positive impact on performance, but value diversity (differences in what individuals find important) has been found to have negative impact (Jehn et al 1999).

Certain processes in groups help to get the benefits of informational diversity. First, it is essential that individuals with diverse sources of knowledge share their unique perspectives with others. This does not always occur as groups tend to preferably discuss not unique information, but common information, i.e. information held by multiple group members (Stasser et al 1992). To increase the odds that unique perspectives are shared it is important to create an awareness in the group about who has access to what knowledge (see work on transactive memory systems). Second, apart from information sharing it is important to foster debate: critically challenging and defending the unique perspectives of group members. With such deep information processing positive performance consequences are more likely to result (see Simons, Pelled et al 1999). Source: academic papers in Academy of Management Journal and Administrative Science Quarterly 1998-2005.

The term is also used in the context of investing. Experts universally agree that investors should diversify their portfolios, meaning that they should invest in multiple companies, industries, and mediums (eg. stocks, bonds) so as to reduce the risk of a financial disaster wrought by the significant decline in value of a specific investment.

Ecological context

Biodiversity describes the structure of ecological communities. This does not only involve the number of species, but also the number of individuals of each species. Several diversity indices have been established, amongst which the Shannon-Weaver diversity index is frequently used.

Evolutionary computation

Variation between individuals in the population; typically, diversity refers to genetic variation. In bit string genetic algorithms, diversity may be measured by Hamming distance (i.e. counting the number of bits that are different) between bit strings. Genetic programming defines variety in the population by the number of unique programs it contains, but this measure takes no notice of the fact that the behaviour of genetically different programs can be very similar or even identical (Foundations of Genetic Programming). Recently, research papers have suggested more sophisticated ways of measuring diversity.


The term "diversity" has no fixed definition upon which sociologists can agree. The term was used by the Supreme Court in the original decision regarding Affirmative Action in the 1970s. Thus, it has been tied to Affirmative Action, and could be considered a legal term, but in recent years has been used more broadly in relation to Globalism. It has also replaced "multiculturalism" on college campuses in the US and assumed much of the same meaning.

Recently diversity has been used to justify recruiting international students or employees. In this context it could be more like eugenics, which is quite different and potentially the opposite of Affirmative Action. In Biology a natural ecosystem needs a diversity of life forms in part to support Evolution and the idea is extended to modern society. (Interestingly, many recent college Biology books use the word Diversity in their title.) This mixing of science and racial issues was common during the era when Eugenics was popular, and it appears to be making a come back. Like Affirmative Action the word Diversity appears to be non-controversial but is highly controversial, particularly if it is made to mean Eugenics. (Eugenics is associated with Nazism.) Of course, diversity has different meanings in other parts of the world where it does not have the same political history.

The term "diversity" is often used in conjunction with the term "tolerance" in liberal political creeds which support the idea that both are valuable and desirable. Many critics of diversity claim that in the political arena, diversity is a code word for forcing people to tolerate or approve people and practices with which they might not otherwise voluntarily associate. Other critics point out that diversity programs in education and business inherently emphasize some minority groups (e.g. blacks, Hispanics, and homosexuals) and do not give equal time to groups (e.g. Jewish immigrants, Filipinos, Asian-Americans, and European immigrants) which lack the "disadvantaged" label. These critics claim that "pluralism" is a more accurate term for the presence of variation, and that, under the banner of "diversity," groups actually forbid criticism of groups that are, in essence, privileged by their minority status. Many politicians, such as Tony Blair, José Luis Zapatero and Gerhard Schröder have praised the ambiguous concept of diversity.

Supporters of the contention that "diversity" is a social goal worth sacrificing for hold that cultural diversity may aid communication between people of different backgrounds and lifestyles, leading to greater knowledge, understanding, and peaceful coexistence. However, modern critics of diversity counter that bringing people together in a forced way often results in some breakdown of social cohesion, especially when the perception exists that diversity goals take precedence over quality in hiring, contracting, and/or academic admissions.

"Diversity" is a confusing term in American politics since no single ethnic group can claim majority status in the United States. When the "Caucasian" label is broken down into its component parts, dramatic differences can be seen between those of Arab (including Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian), Celtic, Dutch, Armenian, German, Persian, Hebrew, and Eastern European descent, all of whom share the overly broad label of "Caucasian."

In this political context, the word diversity is often differently understood outside of North America: for example in the UK and most parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the US concept of diversity does not wholly exist as there are few US-styled affirmative action programs. This is not to say that others are not supportive of the underlying agenda of US diversity, but it is usually described in different words, such as the terms "respect", "tolerance" and "multi-culturalism." "Respect for Diversity" is one of the six principles of the Global Greens Charter, a manifesto of Green parties from all over the world subscribed to.

In the US, diversity may be a euphemism for the inclusion of individuals or groups thereof who are not of European descent. For example, the National Football League's "Diversity Committee" has imposed a mandate overtly favoring African Americans by fining organizations who do not interview enough African Americans for positions which have been historically dominated by whites. There is no such policy imposed for failure to ethnically diversify positions, such as wide receiver, running back, and defensive back, which are traditionally dominated by blacks. In other words, the "diversity committee" is concerned with coaches and coordinators, but not with positions that are nearly 100% black.

This use of "diversity" as a buzzword also extends to American academia, wherein an attempt to create a "diverse student body" typically supports the recruitment of African-American and Latino students, as well as women in such historically underrepresented fields as the sciences.

Recently the term "diversity" has been used to encompass a much wider range of criteria than merely racial or ethnic classifications. The term is now used to express dimensions of diversity such as age, gender, religion, philosophy, and politics.

See also


Key texts – Books

  • Blaine, B.E. (2007). Understanding the Psychology of Diversity. Sage
  • Kagitcibasi, C. (1996). Family and human development across cultures: A view from the other side. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Trickett, E. J., Watts, R. J., & Birman, D. (Eds.) (1994). Human diversity: Perspectives on people in context. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Additional material – Books

Key texts – Papers

  • James, S., & Prilleltensky, I. (2002). Cultural diversity and mental health: Towards integrative practice. Clinical Psychology Review, 22(8), 1133-1154.
  • Mulvey, A. (1988). Community psychology and feminism: Tensions and commonalities. Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 70-83.
  • Prilleltensky, I., & Nelson, G. (2002). Doing Psychology Critically: Making a Difference in Diverse Settings. Macmillan Press.
  • Tharp, R.G., (1994). Research knowledge and policy issues in cultural diversity and education. In B. McLeod (Ed.), Language and learning: Educating linguistically diverse students (pp. 129-167). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Trickett, E. J. (1996). A future for community psychology: The contexts of diversity and the diversity of contexts. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 209-234.

Additional material - Papers

External links

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