Numerous U. S. organizations representing different sectors, sizes and geographic locations profess their commitment to diversity. However, depending on the company and how it defines diversity, the demonstration of any dedication can range from lip-service to identified organizational outcomes for which leaders and all employees are held accountable.
What is diversity? This seemingly simple question belies complex, historically and institutionally situated responses. Within higher education, definitions of diversity have gradually expanded in scope to reflect human differences on a variety of identity characteristics, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, national and geographic origin, language use, socioeconomic status, first-generation college status, veteran and military status and political ideology (Cuyjet, Howard-Hamilton, & Cooper, 2001; Smith, 2009; Stulberg & Weinberg, 2011; Worthington, 2012).
To ensure an appropriate understanding and approach to diversity at DU, during 2013-2015 a research project was undertaken by Drs. Keri Dutkiewicz and Rhae-Ann Booker, and they are working on publishing an article detailing their results. In this case study, the researchers considered qualitative survey results of employee diversity definitions submitted during our all-employee DEI level 1 training held 2012-2013. From the 626 training participants, 454 definitions were received and coded. Significant themes emerging from the definitions of diversity include perceptions of diversity as:
- action or non-actionable “fact” of existence,
- “Valuing differences/building understanding and accepting many people”
- “Respect of the fact that all are created equal and that no one is more important or superior to another”
- a workplace initiative, which may or may not be part of an individuals’ perspective outside of work,
- “Acknowledging the workforce includes others very different than oneself and to be productive we must explore those differences and embrace them with regard and respect”
- something apart from me, and/or
- “Understanding the experience of other groups. I.E. race, gender, sex, etc.”
- common, learned metaphors—salad bowl, melting pot.
- “A melting pot of everyone’s backgrounds, characteristics, behaviors, cultures, etc.”
Overall, the results reveal largely positive attitudes towards diversity within broad, inclusive definitions referencing multiple diversity dimensions. Significantly, most of our definitions do not directly mention race, ethnicity, gender and/or sexual orientation. Researchers question the extent to which broad individual and institutional definitions of diversity may enable a culture of inaction around historical, systemic inequities. Broad definitions of diversity may be a necessary first step in building a culture of inclusion; however, additional work is required to ensure that these definitions do not overshadow the investment needed to create inclusion.
If our goal at DU is action, then our focus on definitions matters not for the precise terminology chosen. What matters is the individual attitude towards diversity. What do you think can be done to inspire everyone to do their part to build inclusion within and beyond their DU workplace, which will allow us to more effectively leverage the diversity that exists?
Cuyjet, M. J., Howard-Hamilton, M. F., & Cooper, D. L. (2011). Introduction. In M. J. Cuyjet, M. F. Howard-Hamilton,
& D. L. Cooper (Eds.), Multiculturalism on campus: Theory, models, and practices for understanding diversity and creating inclusion. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Smith, D. (2009). Diversity’s promise for higher education: Making it work. Baltimore, MD: John’s Hopkins University Press.
Stulberg, L. and Weinberg S. Eds. (2011). Diversity in American higher education: Toward a more comprehensive approach. New York: NY: Routledge.
Worthington, R. L. (2012). Advancing scholarship for the diversity imperative in higher education: An editorial. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(1), 1-7.