'Diversity' can mean many different things

People think differently when it comes to the meaning of the word diversity, new research has shown. Published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the study found ideologies play an important part in determining what a person classifies as diverse.

Lead author of the investigation Miguel Unzeta of the Anderson School of Management and University of California, Los Angeles, explained the term may be becoming useless as a consequence of individuals employing it in reference to anyone who is perceived as being different in any way.

Dr Unzeta noted the word used to mean inclusiveness toward a group that is historically disadvantaged, but this has changed of late, with the term seemingly becoming more generalised.

"The problem is, we could all be talking about diversity and we could all mean different things. It's a very abstract, euphemistic catch-all," he added.

Dr John Kremer from Queen's University Belfast, a Chartered Psychologist, commented: "What's in a word? The recent debate over the precise meaning and use of the term 'diversity' perhaps tells us less about the lived experience of difference and more about the knots that those immersed in the world of academia can conjure.

"To those of us involved in practically encouraging and supporting organisations, groups and individuals to swim against the tide by genuinely embracing cultures that celebrate our differences, such sophistry is unlikely to cut the mustard.

"Instead, the term is widely used to neatly encapsulate all those feelings, thoughts and actions attaching to a set of values that see the promotion of difference as a positive force. To see just how diversely the word diversity has been used throughout history, have a look at the Brainy Quote site.

"The term itself has no exclusive history, as the author suggests, but has been and can be used inclusively and interchangeably with related words such as difference. True diversity in action!

"What the author seems to be highlighting is a slightly different issue, that is evaluating whether an organisation genuinely embraces diversity is not simply a question of counting heads. By their nature organisations will be partisan, that is they will be created by those who will choose to recreate (through recruitment and promotion) in their own image. This is not in itself malign but the effect may be. It can create an exclusive culture where only one type of person is seen to fit.

"Perversely, the law may reinforce partisanship but now under a cloak of neutrality, where lawful procedures based on merit are applied but the criteria are still weighted to those already 'up there'. (Competency based interviewing where the criteria are based on previous experience can reinforce this.) Organisations that genuinely embrace diversity as a core value recognise that good groups and organisations actually thrive on difference, but that this does not come easily, it has to be worked at."