Diversity FAQ’s No 6: Is Diversity about ‘Minorities’ or ‘the Majority’?

If the scope of diversity fundamentally concerns ‘the individual’ regardless of background, then in effect, it concerns all human beings – and therefore is neither about ‘minorities’ nor the ‘majority’.

The idea of diversity being about a ‘minority specific agenda’ in particular, has arisen due to the attempt to situate diversity squarely within an equal opportunities legislative framework. Equal Opportunities attempts to create representative workforces through positive action and positive discrimination initiatives, which tend to focus on creating opportunities for minority groups, specifically – BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups, the Disabled and Women, etc. But equal representation should not be equal representation for equal representation sake. It must, first and foremost, be about talent (which includes everybody) – a key point missing in an equality driven approach to diversity, the consequence of which has lead to tokenism creeping into the understanding of what diversity stands for – and wrongly so.

Defined as the positive management of difference (or people) toward creative and productive ends, diversity concerns all, transcending all equality categorisations, and reaches into all possible aspects of the human identity.  It is the misinterpretation of the function and scope of equality legislation that has lead some to think that diversity is about managing ‘minority’ issues over-above issues pertaining to the ‘majority’. This is a forced division and is incorrect. Diversity is about people issues, and people issues affect all individuals in organisations, regardless of department or business function.

The idea of a ‘minority/majority divide’ therefore is misleading and constitutes a wrongful interpretation and approach to managing diversity in the workplace.


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4 responses to “Diversity FAQ’s No 6: Is Diversity about ‘Minorities’ or ‘the Majority’?

  1. I very much like your post, which seems to enter ‘the heart of the matter’. In my profession as a trainer, coach and assessor, I teach clients to deal with differences between people. In a concept that I started to call Human Differences Management, I show them how people can be different in terms of temperament, motivation and cognitive and emotional intelligence. Basically we have two ways of dealing with these differences: condemnation or enrichment. We need to be different, but at the same time to big a difference will prevent us from cooperating and coexisting on a successful basis. The better we can deal with our differences, the better we will be able to become more effective and lead a more dignified life. Dealing with differences includes understanding them, not letting natural resentment turn into condemning the other and last but not least building bridges between people that differ to much. The latter issue requires what I would like to call Chains of Wisdom and Dignity. If we connect people that are different but can reach each other because they are alike in a sufficient way, especially in terms of motivation and the level of complexity they can cope with, then we will be able to bridge ‘the’ gap. And if we teach ourselves at the same time about the essence of differences between people, then we will succeed in creating chains made of wisdom that connect people and enable them to ‘hand over’ dignity and cooperate effectively.

    Best wishes,
    Marnix van der Zalm

    • Very interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your theory of ‘Human Differences Management’. It makes a great deal of sense and was also interested in seeing the connection with wisdom and dignity.

      I am interested in how you connect HDM to the theme of creativity, as at the heart of diversity and difference in the workplact context, is finding, building and consistently developing competitive advantage through a positive approach to maximizing difference. I think you are onto something interesting here, and should certainly generate a great deal of interest within the training and coaching space particularly

      Thank you so much for your thoughts…


      • Jude-Martin,

        Thank you for your encouraging response.
        Creating a competitive advantage by maximum use of differences between people, is in itself not about creativity, I think. Sustainable success requires balancing the levels of intelligence and ‘motivation groups’ and choosing the accents that the organization needs in order to respond effectively to the market demands and circumstances. In every organization you need all sorts of people. If you are in a steady market and can rely on a successful concept for another five years while margins are small, you’ll need people who have every level of intelligence required for this product in this market. At the same time these people have to be moderate in terms of temperament and enjoy optimizing processes to the smallest detail as far as motivation is concerned. But if the market after three years shows a sudden change – e.g. as a result of the financial crisis in the world – your organization will probably have to develop new concepts or products. It then and has to make use of people who show a bit more intensity in temperament, like to find new ways and are also capable of dealing with levels of complexity beyond what was necessary so far. If your organization is not balanced (most people are of the same temperament and level of intelligence and are motivated by ‘operational excellence’), you will have to let go of people and hire new ones to cope with the changes. If your organization is balanced, you will find the necessary creativity and motivation to change within your organization and you will be able tot respond far easier and quicker.
        Balance is thus divers in itself and diversity needs balance. That is what Human Differences Management is about, that is what I am working on.

        Marnix van der Zalm

      • Hi Marnix,

        I thoroughly agree that diversity is in fact about creating that balance (between temperaments, motivations, etc) and that where the lack of balance exists, that is the strategic sign for an organisation to develop a strategy for change to engender that balance in line with the rise and fall of the markets. Indeed, this lack of balance is a key reason why many organisations have actually got diversity seen as a strategic facilitator for business sustainability, wrong.

        You will see that from the paper referred on the blog “cognitive diversity and the creative advantage”, that I have given the theme of creativity some further thought since our last conversations. Key to the paper is the thinking that diverse populations are more akin to produce creativity and a competitive advantage which organisations, particularly those situated in diversely populated areas need.

        My overall thinking in addition however, is that as the world has become more globalised, diversity strategy as key to organisational growth and development of a competitive advantage, is not to be dependent on population diversity within particular regions as such, but more about responding to customer and service needs, which ultimately are linked to the ‘global economy’, regardless of region.

        With thanks


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