A short treatise on the language of diversity

I had reason to go back over some of my old MBA notes the other day, and I came across a couple of really nice definitions that are worth sharing…

  • Equality = sameness (when we treat people the same, we ignore differences)
  • Equity = fairness (when we treat people equitably, we respect differences)

Before you dismiss this as pure semantics, just pause for a second and consider the first thought that comes into your head when you hear the word diversity.

For a lot of people, it still conjures up ideas of political correctness and affirmative action – synonymous with “equality for some” (a focus on minorities), rather than “equity for all” (a focus on talent).

The latter is what it should be about. There’s a huge body of evidence to suggest that well-led, diverse teams significantly outperform homogenous ones – by 15% according to Katzenbach & Smith’s “Wisdom of Teams”.

The business case for diversity is ready-made, yet many HR departments fail to get the point across because their language promotes the perception of diversity as an end in itself, rather than what it is – a means to improve business performance.

Want to engage people in your diversity programme? Then stop calling it your diversity programme! Diversity is the delivery mechanism not the outcome.


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