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What exactly does ‘diversity’ refer to?

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

A reader asked the blog “Grammarphobia” this question earlier this year:

“I am helping promulgate the criteria for recruiting new members of a board of directors. At issue is ‘diversity.’ I say it is now a code word for nonwhite or nonmale. That is, a white male, no matter how diverse his experience, doesn’t provide diversity. Others say ‘diversity,’ without elaboration, could refer to experience. What do you think?”

Bloggers and English language experts Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman checked with eight standard dictionaries and found no restriction on the usage of “diversity” beyond race or gender.

“All the dictionaries define ‘diversity’ in general terms, such as a range of different things or the state of being varied,” they wrote in reply. “A few include additional definitions or examples that refer to racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, or social differences.”

O’Conner and Kellerman also checked legal dictionaries and found no legal definition for “diversity.”

Their advice to the reader was to be concise, using the word “diversity” by itself and leaving off the list of qualities such as race or gender. By not defining the word in the reader’s recruitment message, the message is left open to a broader interpretation.

— Adapted from “How diverse is diversity?” Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, Grammarphobia.

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