Defining Diversity

When I was living in a nationally diverse neighborhood in a metropolitan city, I learned the value of diverse experiences. I heard languages I couldn’t identify while on a bus or a train. I’d welcome the experience because I have the opportunity to learn something new, try something new, experience something new. You could say it was a new beginning. (Read more about my “word of the year” in the Beginnings post from February 2019.)

This is part one of a multi-part blog series on diversity, based on some papers written while I was in school. In this first blog post, we’ll look at diversity, and what it actually means. Later, we’ll look at the differences between a leader and a manager, leading in diverse contexts, and the concept of followership. Diversity can affect leadership and should be understood to build the best teams.

Preface: I’m not an expert, I’m usually part of the majority culture, and I’m not advocating one position or another. But perhaps by learning from experts, we can all open up to a new beginning.

Defining Diversity

Before looking at this further, it is important to define diversity. Defining diversity is hard (Adelman, 1997; Levine, 1991) because experts do not agree on a definition. A leader who must lead a team where no one is alike (Adelman, 1997; Levine, 1991) should consider how to define diversity to overcome the potential offensiveness by excluding a specific group. Experts use different frameworks for understanding the term “diversity.” Wilson (2014) defines diversity as “variety” (p. 83). Adelman (1997) uses the term “common-sense equity” (p. 37) to help readers overcome the alienation the term diversity brings. For this series, the framework to define diversity is creating “greater inclusion of all individuals” (Gilbert, Stead, & Ivancevich, 1999, p. 61). Using this framework allows the reader to understand why leaders should include all individuals within their teams, and what value including team members might bring. By using the terminology “inclusion” (Gilbert et al., 1999, p. 61), the characteristics of a leader will reveal how a person leads in contexts of diversity.

Research shows that a leader’s traits, behaviors, cultural backgrounds and situational factors can influence a leader’s effectiveness where diversity is present (Bueno, Antolin, & Tubbs, 2004; Sanchez-Runde, Nardon, & Steers, 2011). If the people following a leader are different in their culture, race, religion, or other characteristics from the leader, the leader may have a different response (Begeç, 2013; Crossman & Crossman, 2011; Kearney & Gebert, 2009; Morrison, 1992; Ragins, 1997; Waters, 1992).

A leader has experiences that cultivate his or her perspective on diversity and how he or she leads. Some leaders may not recognize a follower’s differences. If the leader does not comprehend another person’s diversity, it limits the leader because he or she does not understand the need for all types of opinion and experiences (Gilbert et al., 1999; Waters, 1992). A leader can recognize his or her own characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and situations. If a leader recognizes his or her own diversity, a leader might be more cognizant of diversity in others. Leaders who have a respect for diversity and followers of diverse backgrounds can be better leaders (Gilbert et al., 1999).

Next week we’ll look at how this definition fits into the practice of leadership (as opposed to a manager).


Adelman, C. (1997). Diversity: Walk the walk, and drop the talk.Change, 29, 34-45.

Begeç, S. (2013). Effective diversity management initiatives.International Review of Management and Marketing, 3(2), 63.

Bueno, C. M., Antolin, G., & Tubbs, S. I. (2004). Identifying global leadership competencies: An exploratory study. Journal of American Academy of Business, 5(1/2), 80-85.

Crossman, B., & Crossman, J. (2011). Conceptualising followership – a review of the literature. Leadership, 7, 481-497.

Kearney, E., & Gebert, D. (2009). Managing diversity and enhancing team outcomes: The promise of transformational leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 77-89.

Levine, A. (1991). The meaning of diversity.Change, 23, 4.

Morrison, A. M. (1992). New solutions to the same old glass ceiling.Women in Management Review, 7(4), 15.

Ragins, B.R. (1997). Diversified mentoring relationships in organizations: A power perspective.Academy of Management The Academy of Management Review, 22(2), 482-521.

Sanchez-Runde, C., Nardon, L., & Steers, R. M. (2011). Looking beyond western leadership models: Implications for global managers. Organizational Dynamics, 40, 207-213.

Waters Jr., H. (1992). Minority leadership problems. Journal of Education for Business, 68(1), 15.

Wilson, E., M.A. (2014). Diversity, culture and the glass ceiling. Journal of Cultural Diversity, 21(3), 83-89.

© 2020, Mollie Bond

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