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Diversity and Equality


Disciplines > Human Resources > Articles > Diversity and Equality

Diversity | Equality | Bias | Togetherness | Legality | Tips | See also


Diversity and equality are terms that are often talked about together and in HR departments it is not uncommon for one person to cover both areas, yet they have fundamental differences.


We are all different in many ways, as well as each being human, with all the power and frailty that this entails. Being different means we will think differently about things. We will also believe different things are good or bad, useful or useless, interesting or boring. This can lead to conflict and, if we do not appreciate or value difference, destructively so.

On the other hand, if we respect others and can appreciate that we each have our truths and perceptions that may see things in interestingly different lights, then we can have a much richer experience together, building far more than an individual can do alone.

A diverse workforce that works together can be much more creative. They can bring understanding to products and services of diverse customer bases. They can create an organization that is greater than the sum of its parts.


Equality is build into the basic laws of many countries and the principles of many organizations. The basic idea is that we all have equal rights, at least for a number of subjects.

The problem is that we are a tribal species and we tend to move towards people who are like us in some way and away from people who are 'not like us'. We treat our friends in preferential ways and those in outgroups with less regard, often stereotyping them.

Yet we also value fairness and often struggle with inner conflicts that tell us both to help our friends and also be equitable with others.


As indicated above, we are naturally unequal and tend to show bias in may different ways, from the jokes we tell to how we 'forget' to include diverse people in conversation. When we mentally put people in out-groups, we may cognitively put them far away, so they all look distant and the same, so we can say they  are 'all like that'. In such ways, we objectify rejected others, turning them 'things' that can we can justify to ourselves as being outside of values that suggest fair play and acceptance of other people.

On the other hand, experiments in bias correction have shown that when we try to stop showing bias toward people in out-groups, we can easily over-compensate and end up acting in a biased way against in-group people, which itself can have a divisive and troublesome effect.


A question that is often asked in societies is the degree to which people should integrate and accept common values and beliefs, or be allowed to live differently and within their own communities.

This is a question that is particularly asked about immigrants, who arrive to live in a country that may have quite different social norms and general beliefs from the country from which they have arrived. If I emigrate to France, for example, should I seek to become French, or is it ok to build a 'Little Britain' with other 'ex-pats', importing British beer and attending Anglican services.

Some countries are happy with a multicultural society, arguing that beliefs are personal as long as individuals do not break national laws. Other countries expect immigrants to embrace local values, learn the language and salute the flag. A similar pattern appears in business, with the added twist of whether people with different professional skills should sit in separate functional departments or cohabit in adjacent process teams.

A known principle is that familiarity breeds respect and liking far more than occasionally leading to contempt. Studies have shown that people who live nearby and who work together very largely learn to get on and appreciate differences.


Despite the potential advantages and general acceptance of the principles of equality and fairness, bias still exists. As a result, a number of laws have been passed to protect victims and encourage fair play.

In the UK there are six 'strands' that are covered by equality legislation: Gender, Race, Disability, Religion/Belief, Sexual orientation and Age. In Europe, broader 'human rights' are described and the European Court of Human Rights is the highest court in this area, with countries of the European Community accepting its rulings.

There are a number of words that are commonly used as outlined here (please check local legislation for exact definitions).

Harassment is tormenting or otherwise causing embarrassment or discomfort to a person through showing bias towards them.

Harassment is a form of direct bias that may also include any form of overt or deliberate action that transgresses equality laws, for example where a job is advertised for 'men only'. An exception is genuine occupational requirements, for example where a woman may be hired to work in bra-fitting in a lingerie shop (where women customers might be reasonably embarrassed by being fitted for a bra by a man).

Indirect bias is typically due to accidental lack of consideration, for example where interviews for a job are held in a building where there is inadequate access for disabled people.

It is perhaps noteworthy that transgression is to do with how the target of bias feels, not the intent of perpetrator. Subconscious bias can be so subtle, people may not realize they are acting in a biased way.

Victimization is, in law, specifically about showing bias towards people who have made a complaint under the equality legislation. This is an important point that helps enable and encourage raising complaints and 'whistleblowing'.

Equality tips

In order to develop the benefits of diversity and keep on the right side of things, here are a few tips:

  • Respect: If you basically respect all people, they you won't go far wrong. Much bias is based in contempt and lack of respect.
  • Self-monitor: Watch your own thoughts. Many of us were programmed at a young age with various unfair biases. Yet we also have free will and may sometimes need to self-censor what we say and do.
  • Ask: If you are not sure what to say or do in an uncertain situation, try asking. Ask if a disabled person needs help. Ask what descriptive terms are acceptable to a person of a different heritage to you. When you are not sure, ask.
  • Apologize. If you get it wrong, say sorry. Might this be legal acceptance of wrong-doing? Perhaps. But it may also put things right that would otherwise result in legal action. A small apology can go a long way towards restoring a sense of fair play.
  • Act: If a person is being harassed or victimized in some way, intervene to protect the person that is being hurt. Also act to help the perpetrator understand what they are doing and to apologize. If needed (though apology and reconciliation is always better) you can also act as a witness and to support the victim enact a formal complaint.

See also

Culture, Gender, Identity


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