What Is the Difference Between Diversity and Equality?

Equality refers to fairness, and in particular to universal access (to employment or health care, for instance), whereas diversity is about recognizing and embracing differences within an institution, workforce or society. In this respect, the two concepts are somewhat at odds with each other, with one stressing homogeneity (sameness) and the other highlighting heterogeneity (difference). Even so, equality and diversity are very often used together, sometimes even interchangeably.

Often, people will speak of ensuring equality by recognizing diversity. While this may seem a contradiction at first, the ethnic, religious and sexual diversity of contemporary societies demands such a holistic approach. In order to treat individuals with equal respect, care and attention, their diverse, individual needs must be taken into account.

Those people who strive for diversity in organizations emphasize the value of difference. A diverse workforce, for instance, will be much better equipped to meet the needs of their diverse customers or clients. Furthermore, the more valued each member of a workforce feels, the more productive they are likely to be.

Ethnicity (or race), religion and sexuality are not the only factors to consider. Societies are also divided into groups of varying wealth (or class), age, physical ability or mental health and of course gender. While equality is often backed by anti-discrimination laws, in practice, it requires an ongoing commitment to diversity.