Diversity Management Definitions

February 18, 2014 11:20 am


In the United States, advancement of traditionally underrepresented groups, defined by race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age. When companies speak about hiring or promoting for diversity, they generally mean hiring or promoting more women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

Corporate diversity includes all these underrepresented groups and can include consideration of diversity of background, age, class and thought. Corporate diversity efforts have been most accurately measured and assessed for the past 14 years by The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Examples of the types of metrics that are most effective in improving the diversity of demographics, including diversity dashboards for senior leadership and assessing engagement, can be found in this Web Seminar featuring Sodexo (the No. 1 company in the 2013 DiversityInc Top 50) and BASF (No. 31).


An increasingly popular term, both in the United States and globally, defined as including people from all groups. Diversity and inclusion, also often called D&I, have become increasingly used terms in corporate America. The specific inclusion of white men in diversity initiatives is encouraged by these words.

The popular column Ask the White Guy, written by DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, often explores issues of inclusion of white men. Best practices from companies including General Motors (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies), KPMG (No. 23 in the Top 50) and Cox Communications (No. 22) stress clear communications from the top and use of employee resource groups to further inclusion of white men and middle managers.

Affirmative Action

Based on the legal concept introduced in the 1960s to factor “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” in employment, education and business to improve representation of underrepresented groups. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions, but there have been several state and national challenges. The current Supreme Court has remanded a case to a lower court that challenges this decision.

In discussions of affirmative action, corporate leaders sometimes ask whether diversity goals are equivalent to quotas and, thus, potentially illegal. Information on the best practices and valid metrics used to recruit and increase diversity in the talent pipeline—and why they are not quotas—can be found in DiversityInc’s Meeting in a Box on Pipeline Development/Recruitment.

Workplace Diversity

Common term for increased racial/ethnic/gender representation in a company’s entire workforce. Best practices show increased workforce diversity is usually accomplished through demographic goals set by an executive diversity council, strong diversity recruitment efforts, and use of employee resource groups and talent-development initiatives aimed at underrepresented groups.

The DiversityInc Top 50 survey measures workforce diversity by race/ethnicity, gender and age, and assesses progress by comparing the current workforce demographics to new hires and to first promotions into management. The companies on this list emphasize the creation of an inclusive workplace, where new hires are comfortable “bringing their whole selves to work.” As an example, Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of ADP (No. 27 in the Top 50), discussed the critical role of top leadership in enforcing the message of inclusivity throughout the organization.

Diversity Management

Diversity management is the strategy of using best practices with proven results to find and create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Best practices have been measured for 14 years by The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey.

Successful strategies link diversity progress directly to business results. Best practices include effective use of employee resource groups, diversity councils, mentoring and sponsorship, and supplier diversity.

For case studies of how companies have used these best practices to increase the effectiveness of their workforce and their market share, see the Web Seminar on DiversityInc Top 50 Best Practices with EY (No. 4 in the Top 50) and Merck & Co. (No. 12).

Employee Resource Groups

Also known as affinity groups, employee networks and business resource groups, these are company-sponsored groups about underrepresented groups— often women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) employees, employees with disabilities, veterans, and groups based on generations. Best practices are to align them with organizational goals, such as increased recruitment, retention, engagement, promotion, market share, community involvement and supplier diversity.

Starting an effective employee resource group requires structure, senior leadership commitment, an effective executive sponsor and, most importantly, a link to the organization’s business goals. This case study from CVS Caremark (25 Noteworthy Companies) showcases these best practices.


Mentoring as a diversity-management best practice means a formal arrangement organized by the company in which a senior executive gives guidance to a junior person with high potential. Cross-cultural relationships are encouraged to help more people from underrepresented groups improve. DiversityInc Top 50 data show a significant correlation between increased participation in mentoring and promotions of women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

As this case study of Target (No. 20 in the Top 50) illustrates, effective mentoring requires the program to reach the maximum number of managers, have measurable goals, and be part of performance reviews.


Sponsorship means political advocacy of a junior person. Increasingly, companies are requiring their senior executives to sponsor someone from an underrepresented group but letting them choose from a pool of high-potentials.

As these case studies from EY, Deloitte (No. 11 in the Top 50), AT&T (No. 13), Dell (No. 37) and Hilton Worldwide (25 Noteworthy Companies) demonstrate, effective sponsorship requires cultural-competence training for sponsors, a significant pool of high-potentials from underrepresented groups, and metrics to assess success.

Supplier Diversity

Started as a government mandate in the 1960s, supplier diversity encourages the hiring of direct contractor (Tier 1) vendors and subcontractors (Tier 2) owned by certified minorities (Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians), women, LGBT people, people with disabilities and veterans. Corporations increasingly use supplier diversity to connect with communities and to create innovative business solutions by having new perspectives.

The companies on The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for Supplier Diversity use best practices to increase and maintain their spend with these vendors, including mentoring and training the suppliers, providing financial education and assistance, and developing strong relationships with certifying multicultural nonprofits, such as WBENC for women and USBLN for people with disabilities.