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Changes in the Definition of Diversity


Diversity in terms of promoting individual differences in organizations can be discussed as typical for many companies today. Diversity in organizations is usually viewed as a positive phenomenon, but the managers’ approaches to addressing diversity can be various and rather ineffective while depending on the global tendencies in this area. Even though the importance of diversity is admitted in many organizations, the researchers’ debates on the aspects of the concept are still developing, and this literature review aims to discuss the recent researches in the field as well as different scholars’ visions regarding the issue. Much attention is paid to analyzing the evolution of the definition of diversity; to summarizing the researchers’ ideas on such factors as inclusion and exclusion; to specify the connection between diversity and access as well as the connection between diversity and discrimination. Finally, the recommendations for future research in the field are provided.

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Diversity of Literature Review

Diversity is often discussed as a positive feature of the organization. However, the increased focus on diversity does not guarantee positive changes in the organizational cultures because of the approaches to managing diversity and because of shifts in the global tendencies to managing the workforce (Carr-Ruffino, 2012, p. 152; Harvey & Allard, 2015). As a result, to explain the current discussion of diversity in organizations, it is necessary to examine the scholarly literature on the changes in the definition of the concept, to discuss diversity in terms of inclusion and exclusion factors, to analyze the connections between diversity and such notions as access and discrimination, and to provide recommendations for the future research in the field. Although the importance of diversity is admitted in many organizations today, the researchers’ debates on the concept’s aspects are still developing, and they need to be discussed in detail.

Changes in the Definition of Diversity

Researchers focus on the problem of defining diversity in the society and organizations to understand what phenomena can be associated with this notion and what actions need to be taken to address possible challenges (Ghorashi & Sabelis, 2012; Podsiadlowski, Groschke, Kogler, Springer, & Zee, 2013). During the past decades, diversity was usually defined with references to such specific criteria as age, gender, and race or ethnicity (Podsiadlowski et al., 2013). This approach is mainly followed today. From this point, according to Ely and Thomas, diversity can be viewed and discussed as “a characteristic of groups of two or more people and [it] typically refers to demographic differences of one sort or another among group members” (as cited in Podsiadlowski et al., 2013, p. 160). Kapoor notes that the past and the current focus on only these three main dimensions was a result of developing the affirmative action policies with their narrow definition of diversity in organizations (Kapoor, 2011, p. 286). However, the narrow definition cannot cover all the aspects of the social phenomenon, and organizations are focused on adopting the broader definition of diversity while also accentuating differences in education, the social background, and work status.

According to Kapoor, the widely used present definition of diversity can be discussed as “more inclusive” in comparison with the previous description, and it includes the variety of individual characteristics according to which people can differ, like age, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, and work status and experience (Kapoor, 2011, p. 284). Scholars point at the fact that the present definition of diversity has been broadened recently because it was important to avoid concentrating on only ethnic and demographic differences, and it was also necessary to refer to social differences (Lucas & Baxter, 2012; Stone & Tetrick, 2013). Ghorashi and Sabelis (2012) note that in the future, the definition of diversity can become even broader because of the necessity to maximize the profits in the business environment while focusing on the potential of diverse employees. Thus, it is possible to expect the inclusion of any aspect of the personality in the definition of diversity to avoid stereotyping.

Diversity in Terms of Inclusion and Exclusion

Discussing different aspects of diversity, scholars are also inclined to exclude certain groups of the population from as well as to include them in the definition of diversity depending on its narrow or broad character. For the period of the 1970s-1990s, it was typical to include the limited number of groups in the definition. According to Podsiadlowski et al. (2013), the main focus was on including women and ethnic minorities in diversity programs. In this context, the largest group of excluded persons was white males. However, Stone and Tetrick (2013) have found that such groups of the population as people aged over 40 years, veterans, and persons with disabilities were also excluded from the definition. Kapoor (2011) claims that the situation changed in the late 1990s when these people became included in the diversity programs of organizations because of the leaders’ focus on avoiding discrimination.

Scholars also note that one more significant shift in the inclusion and exclusion criteria was observed in the 2000s when the importance of such dimensions as the education, work status, work style, and the learning style became also accentuated (Berry & Bell, 2012; Lucas & Baxter, 2012). However, Berry and Bell also state that the problem is in the fact that the increase in the number of included groups leads to weaknesses in the anti-discrimination policies in the context when diversity programs are not developed effectively (Berry & Bell, 2012, p. 237). Also, Ghorashi and Sabelis note that diversity in organizations can also be viewed as the “endlessly unfolding processes of inclusion and exclusion that are forever infused with power and politics” (Ghorashi & Sabelis, 2012, p. 79). In this context, the decisions of employers depend on the changes in the political situation in the country and on the promoted anti-discrimination policies. Moreover, diversity is viewed in terms of the opposition between “sameness” and “difference”, and businesses refer to expanding inclusion criteria to maximize their profits while balancing “sameness” and “difference” in their organizations (Ghorashi & Sabelis, 2012, p. 79). From this point, there is no single opinion regarding the inclusion of certain social groups in the definition of diversity and the exclusion of others.

Connections between Diversity and Access, Discrimination

Researchers directly connect the concept of diversity with the notions of access to benefits and discrimination while discussing the modern situation in organizations. Kapoor points at the fact that the increased access of the previously discriminated groups to business projects and diversity programs is closely connected with the employers’ economic interests because the managed diverse workforce is viewed today as leading to higher performance, productivity, and competitive advantage (Kapoor, 2011, p. 286). One more aspect associated with the increased access is the necessity to address the needs of people who are discriminated because of their sexual orientation or religion without focusing on the quality of their work, problem-solving skills, and competencies (Ghorashi & Sabelis, 2012, p. 79; Kapoor, 2011, p. 288). Researchers agree that the expanded access to corporate benefits is the more frequently used strategy today than the hidden discrimination.

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In this context, Stone and Tetrick (2013) are inclined to state that diversity programs developed in many organizations are responses of leaders to the necessity of overcoming discrimination in companies. The researchers focused on the age discrimination, and they have found that the unfair discrimination observed in organizations make leaders address this problem while proposing effective diversity programs (Stone & Tetrick, 2013, p. 726). In their research, Lucas and Baxter indicate that age, gender, and race favoritism are still issues in many companies in terms of the access to leading positions and discrimination according to the demographic characteristics (Lucas & Baxter, 2012, p. 50). Therefore, diversity in organizations is directly connected with the issues of access and discrimination because maintaining diversity, leaders are inclined to meet the interests of disadvantaged groups (Podsiadlowski et al., 2013; Stone & Tetrick, 2013).

Recommendations for the Future Research

To research the issue of diversity in organizations in detail, it is also necessary to focus on the further examination of the role of a broad definition for affecting the organizational practices. Such researchers as Berry and Bell (2012) are rather critical about broadening the diversity definition because the increased inclusivity can result in misunderstanding the problem of discrimination in the sphere of employment. This point is rather controversial, and it requires further discussion. It is also necessary to focus on examining the effectiveness of the managerial practices to address the issue of discrimination and promote diversity in organizations and then to conclude the modern changes in the sphere. Kapoor expressed an interesting idea that the focus on diversity in companies can result only in manipulating the employees’ perceptions of this factor, but the real changes in the organizational culture or practices are not often made or observed (Kapoor, 2011, p. 289). Therefore, this aspect should be researched further to answer the question about the managerial approach to coping with diversity in companies.


The review of the existing literature on the issue of diversity in organizations demonstrates that many researchers are concerned regarding the broadness of the definition and regarding the inclusion or exclusion criteria. It is found with the focus on the examined researches that there are tendencies for including more groups of the population into the categories covered with diversity programs. Also, these programs are not only linked with the companies’ strategic goals, but they are also developed to address the issue of discrimination in organizations. As a result, the promotion of diversity in companies is viewed by many researchers in the context of decreasing the cases of discrimination by providing expanded access to corporate benefits. From this point, the recent literature on diversity can be discussed as covering the main issues associated with the concept and its evolution in the field.


Berry, D., & Bell, M. (2012). Inequality in organizations: Stereotyping, discrimination, and labor law exclusions. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31(3), 236-248.

Carr-Ruffino, N. (2012). Managing diversity (9th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Pearson Learning Solutions.

Ghorashi, H., & Sabelis, I. (2012). Juggling difference and sameness: Rethinking strategies for diversity in organizations. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 29(1), 78-85.

Harvey, C. P., & Allard, M. J. (2015). Understanding and managing diversity: Readings, cases and exercises (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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Kapoor, C. (2011). Defining diversity: The evolution of diversity. Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, 3(4), 284-293.

Lucas, J., & Baxter, A. (2012). Power, influence, and diversity in organizations. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 639(1), 49-70.

Podsiadlowski, A., Groschke, D., Kogler, M., Springer, C., & Zee, K. (2013). Managing a culturally diverse workforce: Diversity perspectives in organizations. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 37(2), 159-175.

Stone, D., & Tetrick, L. (2013). Understanding and facilitating age diversity in organizations. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28(8), 725-728.

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