Social Diversity and Social Progress

Learning Outcomes

  • Differentiate between social diversity and social progress

Let’s start with the basics. What is diversity? Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Quickly jot down how you would define diversity. What’s the first thing that came to mind? Take a minute to write your response and then continue reading.

When students from UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health were asked to define diversity, they each recorded their response. You can check out their responses here. Take a minute to compare your answers to theirs. Chances are, there were similar themes between your answers and theirs, but your response did not identically match any of the others. This is the perfect way to define diversity!

decorative imageEach of us are different. Everyone comes with different backgrounds and experiences. Diversity cannot be simply defined by a variety of ethnicities or races. It can also not be simply described as people from different countries or cultures. Instead, diversity encompasses all of these things and more. Diversity includes but is not limited to language, religion, marital status, gender, age, socioeconomic status, geography, politics—and the list goes on and on! Just like organizational behavior, diversity incorporates a wide variety of genres and ideas but has developed into its own unique field.

Now that we have reviewed diversity, we need to discuss social diversity. You’re probably wondering how the two are different. According to Dania Santana, a multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion expert, social diversity is defined as a successful community which includes individuals from diverse backgrounds who all contribute to the success of the community by practicing understanding and respect of different ideas and perspectives. Santana explains that successful socially diverse communities are able to work together to achieve common goals.[1]

While the two terms have a lot of similarities, diversity is defined by a variety of differences between individuals[2] whereas social diversity describes how a community, society, or organization utilizes their members’ diversity to work towards a common goal. Lastly, we need to define and discuss social progress.

Harvard Business School’s Social Progress Index defines social progress as, “the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.”[3] Whew! That’s a pretty lengthy definition. Let’s try to break it down to better understand the many aspects of social progress.

There are many lenses in which to view social progress. For the purpose of this section, we will specifically focus on social progress in the workplace. Let’s focus on the last part of the definition, “to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.” Simply put, social progress is the idea of giving people from all backgrounds the opportunity and environment to work towards their goals and success. Now, how is social progress different from social diversity? Social progress should be constantly evolving and changing to ensure people can reach their full potential whereas social diversity is a term that evaluates where a community or organization is currently operating at.

PRactice Question

You can review the chart below to make sure you understand the differences between the three terms we discussed.

Term Definition
Diversity “The condition of having or being composed of differing elements”[4]
Social Diversity “A successful community in which individuals of different race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, language, geographical origin, gender and/or sexual orientation bring their different knowledge, background, experience and interest for the benefit of their diverse community.”[5]
Social Progress “The capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.”[6]

The rest of this module will examine diversity, social diversity, and social progress. We will review how each of these terms impact the workplace, and how the workplace influences them.

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  1. Santana, Dania. "What Is Diversity And How I Define It In The Social Context." Embracing Diversity. April 24, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2019. http://embracingdiversity.us/what-is-diversity-define-social-diversity/.
  2. Merriam Webster Dictionary
  3. "Social Progress Index." Institute For Strategy & Competitiveness. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.isc.hbs.edu/research-areas/Pages/social-progress-index.aspx.
  4. Merriam Webster Dictionary
  5. Santana, Dania. "What Is Diversity And How I Define It In The Social Context."
  6. "Social Progress Index." Institute For Strategy & Competitiveness.