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Cultural Fluency: What is Diversity?

Focuses on specific aspects of cultural fluency such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, creed, and socioeconomic status.


Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide.

The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources―because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.”

What is Diversity?

"Diversity, one of the buzzwords of the early twenty-first century, has become a concept that has multiple meanings to different groups of people. ...Social scientists usually talk about diversity in at least four different ways.​

  • Counting diversity refers to empirically enumerating differences within a given population. Using this definition, social scientists take a particular population and simply count the members according to specific criteria, often including race, gender, and ethnicity. In addition, it is possible to take a particular unit within a society like a school, workplace, or government and compare its race, ethnic, or gender distribution to that of the general population.
  • Culture diversity refers to the importance of understanding and appreciating the cultural differences between race, ethnic, and gender groups. Since members of one culture often view others in relation to their own standards, social scientists using the culture diversity definition would argue that it is important to show that differences do not have to be evaluated along a good-bad or moral-immoral scale. With greater tolerance and understanding, the argument goes, different cultural groups can coexist with one another in the same society.
  • Good-for-business diversity refers to the belief that businesses will be more profitable and government agencies and not-for-profit corporations will be more efficient with diverse labor forces.
  • Conflict diversity refers to understanding how different groups exist in a hierarchy of inequality in terms of power, privilege, and wealth."  

From  International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences

Call Number: H40.A2 I5 2008 ebk

“ALA recognizes the critical need for access to library and information resources, services, and technologies by all people, especially those who may experience language or literacy-related barriers; economic distress; cultural or social isolation; physical or attitudinal barriers; racism; discrimination on the basis of appearance, ethnicity, immigrant status, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression; or barriers to equal education, employment, and housing." American Library Association 

"One of the major difficulties in discussions surrounding diversity is its very definition. At its core, diversity means embracing differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, health, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, religion, physical size, education level, job level and function, personality traits, and other human differences.
Yet there is also the paradox of diversity:
We are each unique and like no one else
We are each like some people and unlike other people
We are each like all other people."

Diversity Filters

Graphic showing four layers of diversity

[Source: Gardenswartz & Rowe, Diverse Teams at Work (2nd Edition, SHRM, 2003]

The 'Four Layers of Diversity' wheel shows the complexity of the diversity filters through which we all process stimuli and information. This leads to our assumptions, drives our own behaviors and ultimately impacts others.

"The pioneering research [on the wheel] ... was carried out by Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener (Loden, Marilyn and Rosener, Judy B. Workforce America! Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. McGraw-Hill, 1991). Gardenswartz and Rowe (Gardenswartz, Lee and Rowe, Anita. Managing Diversity: A Complete Desk Reference & Planning Guide, McGraw-Hill, 1998.) built upon the primary and secondary dimensions and added two more layers to the "diversity  wheel" developing the Four Layers of Diversity model for the workplace.  [Goyal, S. (2009, August). Diversity at Workplace. HRM-Review, 36-40.]


Defying Definitions: Exploring Identity, Stereotypes & Diversity

"Defying Definitions: Exploring Identity, Stereotypes & Diversity" by Design IT SolutionMaryland Humanities Council's Practicing Democracy ProgramMaryland Humanities Council in partnership with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Power of Diverse Thought

Diversity Iceberg

Source: Brook Graham

The Race Card Project

Materials Selected

The broad groups selected for this guide are those most frequently listed in works on diversity, cultural competency, and multiculturalism. Most of these are groups identified separately by the U.S. Census Bureau. 

To the extent possible, we chose materials that were written or created by those who identify with the selected group, letting them speak in their own voices to tell their own truths. If you have completed a Diversity Wheel for yourself, you are aware that you identify with many different groups, and that it is this complexity of identities that make you the unique person that you are.  Those whose works are collected under each group, likewise, identify with more than that one group. 

We cannot generalize the experiences of specific individuals within a group to all people in that group.  There may be more diversity within a group than between groups. While the data, stories, and experiences in these works may provide insight into the lives of individuals that we, as outsiders, could not gain access to otherwise, we must remember that the information is affected, to some extent, by the lens of the teller or by the perspective or interpretation of the reporter or editor. 

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