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Understanding Diversity and Using the Terms Correctly

In our world, diversity is a fundamental and ever-present concept, shaping our daily lives and expectations. While always a reality to our existence, there is now a heightened responsibility to both acknowledge and nurture diversity. Our global community reflects a vibrant mosaic of cultures, perspectives, and experiences, necessitating a deep understanding for collective growth.

Beyond a mere buzzword, diversity is an inherent characteristic of our interconnected world. This article explores how pivotal role language plays in shaping our perceptions within diverse settings. Precision in language serves as the compass guiding us towards environments that not only acknowledge differences but actively promote harmony and inclusivity. Join us in navigating the diverse landscapes of our world, where language becomes a lens through which we better understand, learn, and purposefully support our teams and environments.

Defining Diversity: Diversity, as defined by reputable sources such as Oxford and Merriam-Webster, is the presence of differences among people, places, or things within a specific environment. It involves a variety of elements, showcasing the richness that arises from differing components.

Understanding the Opposite of Diversity: (Merriam-Webster)

  • Similarity - the quality or state of having many qualities in common

  • Sameness - the quality of being the same; lack of variety

  • Likeness - something or someone that strongly resembles another

  • Homogeneity/homogeneousness - the quality or state of being of similar kind; the same of similar kind or nature; uniform structure or composition throughout

Understanding "People" Diversity: The heart of diversity lies in including individuals from a range of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and identities. From demographic characteristics to cognitive experiences, diversity encompasses the myriad ways people contribute to the complexity of our world.

Diversity-Related Terms and Their Distinctions:

  • Minority Groups: These are culturally, ethnically, or racially distinct groups that coexist with, but are smaller in number compared to the majority or a more dominant group. In sociology, the definition has evolved to include considerations of size, rank, position, authority, and control concerning minority groups.

  • Underrepresented Groups: Describing a subset of a population holding a smaller percentage within a significant subgroup than the subset holds in the general population. For instance, the underrepresentation of certain ethnic groups in a workplace compared to their percentage in the broader population.

  • Marginalized Communities: These are groups historically and/or currently affected by a process or condition that has prevented full participation in social, economic, political, and cultural activities. Examples include women, people of color, people with disabilities, faith-based communities, LGBTQIA+, etc.

  • Lawfully Protected Classes: Groups protected from discrimination by law, encompassing aspects such as race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, and more. These protections have emerged as a response to historical marginalization.

Shifting Our Language: Understanding how we use terms related to diversity in relation to people and groups is pivotal in advancing our collective goals. Notably, diversity is only present in comparison or relation to others; an individual alone cannot be "diverse." The context of specific characteristic comparisons within a particular environment or setting is essential.

Intentional Diversity Use: Being intentional about our language is key. For instance:

  • No: "We're looking to hire a diverse candidate."

  • Yes: "We're looking to diversify our candidate pool to help diversify our teams."

  • Yes: "We are looking to expand our opportunities to reach more women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, and other members of underrepresented groups within our organization."

It's crucial to have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)-related practices and language reviewed and approved by HR/legal counsel to ensure alignment with organizational goals.

Intent vs. Impact: While the intent to add diversity may be pure, understanding how language impacts individuals and the larger group is essential. Recognizing that individual people are not "diverse," teams and environments can be. This distinction allows for more clarity, intention, and understanding of the "why" behind our efforts.

Inclusive Language: Inclusive language is a powerful tool that fosters clarity, intention, and understanding. It requires understanding our audiences better and finding ways to create positive impacts for all involved. Inclusion, after all, is the cornerstone of a truly diverse and harmonious environment.

In the journey toward fostering diversity, precision in language is a significant step. Understanding the distinctions between terms like minority groups, underrepresented groups, marginalized communities, and lawfully protected classes is crucial. Shifting our language intentionally and being mindful of the impact of our words can lead to environments that truly embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let us all strive to be agents of positive change, creating spaces where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.


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