More on this word, diversity.


yin yang

One of the tendencies that I increasingly see among organizations and leaders in their definitions of diversity is to lump it together with commonality. Not a small number of times I have heard or read the statement “diversity is the sum total of our differences and similarities…

I think that you should stop doing that.

The word diversity means difference and difference has very different dynamics than similarity or affinity. They are both important, and conversations about inclusion need to explore both, they are the yin and the yang of human interaction. But they are different things, different ingredients, they impact us in different ways. If we are going to move this work forward, we have to be much more precise and logical with our language…and we desperately need a strong foundational grasp on the impact that real and perceived difference has on human interaction.

This work is littered with warm, fuzzy and incredibly vague language that is useful for parading our intentions in front of others but not useful for informing action.

Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are all mathematical functions, they exist in the same context, but they are different things. They manipulate numbers and process information in different ways. If we lumped them together we would have a mess and the clear, consistent, and common language of basic mathematics would no longer exist. If we simply said that addition is the adding and / or subtracting of numbers, we would actually be making a thing into a different thing and that new thing would come with significantly less clarity.

One of the things that I hear most frequently after a workshop or a presentation is this- “I thought I got it, but I didn’t and now I see that.” I cannot emphasize enough the need for clear, concise and consistent language. Diversity and inclusion remain, in 2016, some of the most poorly understood and commonly misunderstood issues in the workplace.

Clarity is the ultimate power tool. If language is not your first intervention, there is likely an expiration date on your efforts.

Diversity and affinity are both things that exist between all human beings and we need to understand them both, but they are different things. Our conversation about both of them suffers if we lump them together.

Be good to each other.

  1. Nick

    Hi Joe,

    I think it’s great that you’re increasing awareness on diversity and how it impacts us all. I think in many industries we, as people, are ignorant of the lack of diversity – not at our own faults, just what we are used to, but I’d like to see how this could change in the future.

    I recently published an article around diversity in the entertainment industry, more specifically how Netflix’s own programs are actually using much more diverse casting than we are usually used to. If you get a chance I’d love it if you could take a look and give me your opinion.


  2. Duncan - Vetter

    Great reminder Joe! Diversity and affinity are words used almost on a daily basis, but few actually understand or wish to acknowledge what they truly need. It is mandatory to focus on them if we really want to implement change.

  3. Brian Langston QPM

    Hi Joe

    Just wanted to send you my best wishes for what you are doing to promote what diversity really means. Because it has its origins in race relations and equal opportunities is is often equated with compliance and legislation, when nothing could be further from the truth.

    I’m not sure whether you use the term ‘Six Strands of Diversity’ in the US, but in the UK it has been seen as the Holy Grail and yet only represents a fraction of the diversity that we would recognise, namely ‘Identity’ diversity. The police on both sides of the pond have been criticised for decades of their inability to represent the community they serve, and yet the focus has been solely on ‘Identity’ rather than ‘Cognitive’ Diversity. I was a cop for 30 years and retired as the most senior ethnic minority cop in the UK and so spent virtually the whole of my service living, breathing and promoting ‘true’ diversity- not the tokenism we so often see.(I also recognise all the quadrants on your quite brilliant ‘Uniqueness/Belongingness model!) I’m afraid I will have to steal it…(with acknowledgement of course!)

    I am now trying to re-shape the thinking in the police service on diversity. Cops are reactions to diversity are typically boredom or fear, because they don’t understand it and have only ever been challenged on the basis of ‘Identity’. I think there is real potential to raise the profile of emotional intelligence within the police service to increase ‘Cognitive’ diversity and provide a better service to our communities.

    I’ll stop wittering on now but if you want to read an article I have written recently on the subject called the Futile Quest, you can find it below. in the meantime keep up the good work and I love your style!

    Best wishes


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