The 4 Layers of Diversity [Gardenswartz & Rowe]


As someone who follows the conversation around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) pretty closely, uncovering old and powerful DEI content is always bitter-sweet. Bitter, lamenting the lost knowledge and the wasted time, effort and energy working with a partial knowledge-base which often generates inferior solutions. Sweet, experiencing the joy of rediscovery, coherence, and having a tool that is clearly better than what is being used today. Such was the case with Katz & Miller’s Conscious Actions for Inclusion and such is the case with Gardenswartz & Rowe’s 

4 layers of diversity 

Lee Gardenswartz and Anita Rowe have been doing work in the DEI space for more than 50 years now (since 1977). The model, in its most recent incarnation, was developed in 2003 with older versions tracing back to 1991. It is the most comprehensive model I’ve seen to date which defines the various dimensions of diversity, dividing them into 4 layers: 

  • Level 1: Personality — which I’ll further break down into the big-5: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism
  • Level 2: Internal Dimensions — age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity, race
  • Level 3: External Dimensions — geographic location, income, personal habits, recreational habits, religion, educational background, work experience, appearance, parental status, marital status.  
  • Level 4: Organizational Dimensions — functional level, work content field, division/department/unit/group, seniority, work location, union affiliation, management status. 

The breadth of this model makes it easier to see that the current dialogue around DEI is mostly focused on most of the internal dimensions and a handful of the external dimensions. And intersectionality is viewed as pertaining only to this subset of attributes. 

Yet, discrimination, bias and power dynamics exist, in varying degrees, across all attributes. And the promise of true diversity exists across all of them as well. 

There is another thing that I find compelling in this model: Its universality. I can’t think of a single person who was never in a situation in which they found themselves under-represented (at best) or discriminated against (at worst) in at least one of these attributes. The fight for DEI is a universal fight. We all have a reason to fight it and a role to play in it. 

The 4 Layers of Diversity [Gardenswartz & Rowe]

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