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  • Writer's pictureTamara Makoni

Let's decode... diversity

Diversity. You know it exists and that it's important. But what exactly is it?

Diversity is...

  • More diverse than you think

Culture is often compared to an iceberg: when you look at it a good chunk may be visible above the surface, but there’s a lot more going on underneath. People and situations are the same. For example, you can often get a rough sense of someone’s age just by looking at them. Their values and interests? Unlikely.

The waterline distinguishes traits that are typically visible from those that are usually more hidden. The line isn’t fixed; wearing a yarmulke, for instance, makes religious affiliation visible. Another example is language: one of my close friends speaks English with such fluency that I was surprised to learn it’s not her native language. In fact it’s her third, after German and Dutch.

So while we take in a person’s visible cultural identifiers, be conscious that there are several invisible ones to become aware of too. And don’t forget, what’s above the waterline isn’t always what it seems!

  • Representation across a range of differences

This image makes its point loud and clear. Simply substituting an all-male leadership team for an all-female leadership team isn’t, in itself, a win for diversity. True diversity is when many different voices are represented.


Please note I’m not saying all-female leadership teams are bad. Far from it. My point is that if you do, know that it will only be diverse if within that group of women there is representation of different cultures, experiences and points of view. Homogeneity is homogeneity, even when it wears a skirt.

Diversity is not...

  • Inclusion

Diversity means difference. The iceberg image gives many examples of ways in which we can differ from each other, and the list isn’t exhaustive.

Inclusion means bringing something in: when you are inclusive, you provide access to people across the spectrum of differences. No matter who they are, they have equal right to participate and enjoy the same resources.

A Black able-bodied woman. A gay Buddhist man. A Mexican university-educated transwoman. These personas highlight elements of cultural diversity.

Unisex bathrooms? That’s inclusion. Any of the personas can use it because the space is designed to accommodate everyone, no matter which gender they identify with.

Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. But they’re definitely not the same thing.

  • Tokenism

This image, posted recently by a friend on LinkedIn, sums it up nicely.

[Credit: Suzanne Doyle-Morris]

On the surface, all looks jolly. One of our company’s executives is from [insert underrepresented community] so we must be doing okay, right?

Let’s dig deeper. Why is there only one (or just a handful)? Perhaps there’s an invisible barrier in your organisation that prevents members of underrepresented groups from progressing - or being hired in the first place. Perhaps they don’t even apply. And let’s not forget the toll that being the unofficial diversity champion can take on that one person/group. Like the woman in the image, they’re probably tired of single handedly bearing responsibility for flying the diversity flag for your company to prove to the world everything’s good.

With tokenism, you appear to embrace diversity and change without actually doing it. Diversity means taking the plunge, figuring out what’s really going on, and doing something about it.


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