Defining Diversity

There are many definitions of Diversity. At the very core of each definition is the importance of valuing and respecting differences in all the citizens of the world. According to the American Psychological Association, diversity generally refers to the ways that people in organizations differ. That sounds simple, but defining it more specifically is a challenge because people in organizations differ in many ways—race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, and more. There is also the fact that diversity not only involves how people think of others and how this affects their interaction but how they conceive of themselves.

Reflect on the following definitions:

"Diversity is “otherness,” or those human qualities that are different from our own and outside the groups to which we belong, yet are present in other individuals and groups."

-University of Maryland

"Diversity is understanding and respecting differences, acknowledging similarities, broadening our horizons, embracing and enhancing cultural literacy."

-Santa Fe Office of Diversity

"The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual."

-University of Oregon

“There are three things that men and women should honor, they should honor their Parents, they should honor their History, and they should honor Education.”

-Chinese Proverb

Terms Associated with Diversity:

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION : Any action taken or required to correct effects of past discrimination, to eliminate present discrimination, or to prevent discrimination in the future.

ASSIMILATION : The process whereby a group gradually adopts the characteristics of another culture.

BIAS : An inclination of preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment

BICULTURAL : A person who is bicultural has the ability to function effectively and appropriately and can select appropriate behaviors, values and attitudes within either culture.

BIGOTRY : Prejudice carried to the extreme of overt hatred, often carried to the point of violence.

CLASSISM : Any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition.

CROSS DRESSER : A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender. The older term “transvestite” is considered derogatory by many in the United States.

CULTURAL COMPETENCE : The ability to function effectively in a society of culture variation.

CULTURAL CONDITIONING : The unconscious process by which we are socialized to adopt the way of thinking of our own group.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY : Developing organizational processes that are inclusionary rather than exclusionary for cultural conformity.

CULTURE : The integration pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of a race, ethnic, religious or social group.

DEAF CULTURE: Deaf culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values, and shared institutions of communities that are affected by deafness and which use sign languages as the main means of communication.

DISCRIMINATION : Making decisions in prejudicial manner that may exclude or deny opportunity; making distinctions based on racial, ethnic, or distinguishing features such as usage of language, religious identification or disability.

  • Combination of prejudice (superiority/inferiority belief system) and institutional power, the power to impose that system on others
  • Without power, we all have about the same ability to be prejudiced
  • Destructive "isms" (racism, sexism, ageism, ethnocentrism, handicapism, homophobism, etc.)
  • Use of institutional power to reinforce biased belief systems and to disadvantage others.

DIVERSITY : A point or respect in which things differ.

ETHNICITY : Refers to belonging to a group with unique language, ancestral, often religious and physical characteristics.

ETHNOCENTRISM : The emotional attitude that one’s own race, nation, or culture is superior to all others.

GAY : A common and acceptable word for male homosexuals but used for both genders.

GLASS CEILING : Barriers, either real or perceived, that affect the promotion or hiring of protected group members.

GENDER IDENTITY: An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

GENDER EXPRESSION: How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics.

HARASSMENT (ETHNIC AND RACIAL) : Words or conduct communicated with malice and with the intent to intimidate or harass another person in a way that is associated with that person’s race, ethnicity, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin.

HARASSMENT (MALICIOUS) : Intentional intimidation associated with a person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap that causes physical injury to another person; or by words or conduct places another person in reasonable fear of harm.

HARASSMENT (SEXUAL) See Sexual Harassment.

HOMOPHOBIA (Homo-hatred) : The irrational fear of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior, belief, or attitude of self or others, which doesn’t conform to rigid sex-role stereotypes. It is the fear that enforces sexism and heterosexism. The extreme behavior of homophobia is violence.

HOMOSEXUAL : A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of the same sex.

IMAM: The traditional role of an Imam (Arabic word, meaning ‘stand in front of’) is to lead a group in prayer, guide in the matters of worship, and perform services like marriage or funeral rites etc. They may also provide spiritual support or guidance.

INCLUSIVENESS : The act of encouraging belonging.

ISM : Power plus prejudice.

INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION : The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to oppression: accept and live out the inaccurate myths and stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.

LESBIAN : A common and acceptable word for female homosexuals only.

MANAGING DIVERSITY : This is a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees. This process takes into account the need to change organization systems to sustain the organization’s ability to get from all employees everything they have to offer. It means approaching diversity at all three levels: Individual, team or department and organizational. It deals with the way managers do their jobs. It requires a fundamental change in the culture and the way things are done. It is a change in the corporate way of life.

MELTING POT : A place where immigrants of different ethnicity or culture form an integrated and homogenous society.

MULTICULTURAL : A person who is multicultural has the ability to function effectively and appropriately and can select appropriate behaviors, values and attitudes of other cultures.

MUSLIM CULTURE: The term ‘Muslim culture’ is used broadly to represent many diverse Muslim cultural groups: the Asian Muslims, the Middle Eastern, the African, the European and the American Muslims, each with their own variations on customs and traditions.

MYTH : An ill-founded belief, usually based on limited experience, given uncritical acceptance by members of a group, especially in support of existing or traditional practices and institutions.

PERSONS OF COLOR : People of non-European ancestry. All persons identifying themselves according to the general categories of Black or African-American; Hispanic, Latino or Chicano; Asian or Pacific Islander; American Indian or Alaskan Native.

PLURALISM : A condition in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain their traditional cultures or special interests within a common (shared) culture.

PREJUDICE : Preconceived judgment or opinion.

  • Judgments about others that reinforce superiority/inferiority belief systems.
  • Exaggerate value/worth of a particular group while diminishing worth of other group(s).

QUEER: A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender, people. Some use queer as an alternative to “gay” in an effort to be more inclusive. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.

QUOTA : A court-ordered measure of redress after legally-proven discrimination. Not to be confused or used interchangeably with GOAL.

RACE : As a biological concept, it defines groups of human beings based on a set of genetically transmitted characteristics, i.e., physical characteristics, including color. The concept of race as a sociocultural concept is being replaced by the more appropriate concept of ethnicity.

RACISM : An attitude, action or institutional structure, which subordinates a person or group because of their color. Racism involves having the power to carry out systematic discriminatory practices.

  • Individual Racism – Expressed by attitudes and behaviors of individuals.
  • Institutional Racism – Those established laws, customs, and practices, which systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in society . . . no matter what individual intentions are.

SEXISM : A system of beliefs or attitudes, which relegates women to limited roles and/or options because of their sex.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT : Unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors (quid pro quo) and other verbal or physical conducts of a sexual nature when:

  • submission to such conduct is made either implicitly or explicitly a condition of employment;
  • submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment
  • decisions affecting such individual; or
  • such conduct has the purpose of effect of unreasonably interfacing with an individual’s work
  • performance or creating an intimidating, hostile working environment. (This definition is according to EEOC guidelines.)

STEREOTYPE : A mental picture developed as a result of a myth. It is a characteristic or series of characteristics that grow out of a myth and are placed on people.

TRANSGENDER: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful.)

TRANSGENDER MAN: A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man (see also “FTM”).

TRANSGENDER WOMAN: A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman (see also “MTF”).

TRANSSEXUAL : An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seeks to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical.

UNDERUTILIZATION : The condition of having fewer protected group members in a particular job classification than would be reasonably expected by their availability in the labor force.


  • This term originated in Digital Equipment Corporation ( Maynard, Massachusetts).
  • It refers to systemic, organizational and personal development work (not a Program).
  • The focus is on all employees, clients, customers, and investors feeling valued (not just tolerated).


Please forward diversity terms that we may not have included to: