What is diversity? - Introduction and background information

People reflecting on diversity mostly initially think of "ethnic diversity" - partly because the term "diversity" is often used in connection with integration policy. However, diversity is not only about intercultural diversity in the sense of the multi-ethnic composition of our society. Rather, diversity refers essentially to the six characteristics considered in the German law on equal treatment of people (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz – AGG): age, disability, ethnic origin, gender, religion/world view and sexual identity.

Diversity is more than ethnicity

Diversity is more than a description of the state of social diversity.

Diversity is also...

  • a human rights-oriented understanding of diversity that aims for equal rights and takes into account the diversity and complexity of people and their circumstances;
  • a change in perspective from a problem-centered to a resource-oriented understanding of different groups;
  • an organizational and personnel development instrument that leads to greater efficiency and creativity in work processes, better customer orientation and greater social justice.

Every human being is diverse

No one is only "woman", "Muslim", "Jewish", "old" or "disabled." Instead, we are all at some age, are healthy or live with health problems, see ourselves as part of one gender or not, have hetero or homosexual partnerships, are religious or not, have different world views and have roots in different countries. In addition to these characteristics – often referred to as the primary dimensions of diversity – there are secondary dimensions such as occupations and training, marital status, parenthood, geographical location, etc. This means that every person already has a colorful set of diversity dimensions within him or herself. These do not exist separately, but overlap, are intertwined and influence our roles in society.

All people are equal

The problem, however, is that the different manifestations of these diversity dimensions are usually not regarded and treated as equivalent in our society. Thus, it is mostly young, male, heterosexual, healthy people without a migration background with Christian/Western influences, who enjoy respect and esteem and have the best chances of achieving social standing and professional success. Due to these historically based conditions and structures, a prevailing culture of normality has developed in society, business and also in local government, which often fails to see people who are supposedly "different," or else excludes them. Diversity, on the other hand, aims to create a culture that recognizes, respects and values each human being in his or her individual situation and grants everyone equal rights.

From a problem-oriented to a resource-oriented understanding of diversity

Many administrative policy measures have been and are being developed on the basis of a problem-oriented view of groups. These groups were (and are) often reduced to supposed deficits. The central question is: What can we do for this or that group so that they integrate better into our society? The main issue here is that people integrate themselves into the prevailing culture of normality or subordinate themselves to it. Diversity moves away from this problem-centered view of target groups and emphasizes a resource-oriented understanding of differences: What potential does the diversity of people create for our society? What do we have to do to really open up equal chances and options for everyone to participate in society? Diversity does not mean being tolerant of people who are supposedly "different." Instead, diversity means critically questioning one's own ideas of "normality," revising (obsolete) patterns of behavior, and using the diversity of our society as an opportunity for development, competence and social justice.

Source: Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency - "Diversity-Prozesse in und durch Verwaltungen anstoßen" ("Initiating Diversity Processes in and by Local authorities")