The Diversity Diamond — a Developmental Approach to Equality


The year 2000 marked the thirtieth anniversary since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, and twenty-five years since it came into force. In that time organisations have tried, to differing extents, to work towards equality. Equality officers have been appointed (under a number of titles), policies have been written, procedures changed, training carried out, and various other steps taken to promote equality in organisations.

Despite this, figures show that equality in pay and power has yet to be achieved, and suggest that in some respects the rate of progress is slowing. In terms of pay, overall women's hourly pay had only risen to 80% of men's pay by 1996, and the gap only closed by 1% between 1992 and 1996 (Equal Opportunities Commission 1997). There is still occupational segregation and men's jobs tend to be higher paid (Equal Opportunities Commission 1997). Only one fifth of management jobs in the UK are now held by women, and less than 5% of company directors are women (MacLachlan 1998).

This article addresses this issue and shows:-

It reports research recently carried out by Maine-Stream, an organisation carrying out organisational development work on equality and diversity, which investigated: What does equality between men and women in organisations mean and what can be done to bring equality about in organisations? For the research, people in a bank, a probation service and a media organisation were interviewed. The research used a case study methodology combined with critical theory.

The research explored gender equality in management, rather than at the lower levels of organisations. It did not include other inequalities such as race, class, physical ability, sexual orientation or age. Whilst there may be some similarities between these inequalities and what can be done to eliminate them, the research and therefore this article concentrates on gender equality. The research was informed by knowledge and experience of personal and organisational change, and its aim was to produce practical ways forward that can move organisations towards equality.


Motivating Organisations to Pursue Equality

One important issue emerging from the study was why organisations are pursuing equality. These 'motivators' mentioned by interviewees were:-

To sum up, it appears that organisations' motivations for pursuing equality are not to do with social justice, and only minimally concerned with the legal requirements. The organisations now pursue equality in order to increase the effectiveness of the organisation.


Bringing about Equality in Organisations

The Diversity Diamond Model – A Developmental Approach to Diversity

If these are the motivations to try and bring about equality, how can this then be achieved? From this research was developed the Diversity Diamond model (see Fig. 1). This brings together a number of practical ways of bringing about equality in organisations, and contrasts 'procedural' or process-based approaches with 'structural' or 'systemic' approaches. It further contrasts personal and organisational change. This article will look at each of these approaches in turn.

Four-quadrant diagram of organisational change and personal change and their drivers

Figure 1: The Diversity Diamond

Copyright © March 1999 Colin Heyman, Maine-Stream


Organisational processes

This approach, represented in the top left-hand corner of the Diversity Diamond, is most familiar to equality practitioners. It covers areas such as:-

These are changes to processes and procedures. These initiatives are drivers in bringing about equality in organisations. However, there are also shortcomings in these interventions. Attitudes and individual behaviour that go against the systems can subvert them. They take little account of power issues and of the fact that some people start from a disadvantaged position. Structural issues are not addressed. As a result change brought about by this approach is limited.


Whole Organisation Approaches

Contrasting with organisational processes are whole organisation approaches, the top right-hand quarter of the Diversity Diamond. These take a systemic (Senge 1990) view of organisations, and address issues such as power, culture and organisational structure. Such issues are fundamental to organisations, and can block and render ineffective procedural equality initiatives. The research highlighted many instances of this. Two examples are:-

On the other hand, if a change in culture were achieved so that behaviour, attitudes, rituals, values and norms within the organisation were supporting changes towards equality, then women and men would be valued equally, behaviour would change in line with this and processes would be brought into line. Similarly structures and power relationships need to be taken into account and set up in order to support equality. Otherwise they will undermine attempts to bring about equality.


Personal Processes

So far, change at the organisational level has been discussed. However, equality is enacted at a personal level, in the day to day relationships between people. Bringing about individual change is crucial to achieving equality in organisations.

Here again change can take place at a procedural or at a whole person level. Often equality initiatives address personal awareness, knowledge and skills, the bottom left quarter of the Diversity Diamond. For example:-

Such initiatives again have an effect but often this is limited. For example, the Metropolitan Police have had a great deal of equality awareness training but this did not help in the Stephen Lawrence case. Another classic example of the limitations of this approach were pointed out by an interviewee:-

“all those instruments of recruitment are useful but if somebody's perceiving women to be less professional or less experienced or less committed ... if they have that basic perception in their head then that colours the way they mark people and hear what they're saying ... so what they end up with is the fact that all the men have a better interview than all the women”

So whilst these approaches can bring about limited change, they can be undermined by entrenched attitudes and feelings about men and women.


Whole People Approaches

Part of the reason training to increase knowledge, awareness, or skills has only limited effect is that underlying what people think, feel and do about equality is a lifetime of feelings and attitudes from our workplaces, from society and from the people we grew up with. Transformative change is more likely to happen when such issues are addressed.

This can be done by methods that raise self-awareness and facilitate self-development. For example, Maine-Stream has run action learning sets (McGill & Beaty 1995) with both men and women which take a whole person approach to address issues of equality and gender. This made it possible to:-

  1. Connect equality issues with current workplace concerns of participants and their organisations, and bring benefits to the organisation through addressing and bringing about change related to those concerns.
  2. Be client-centred, and so start from the ideas, feelings and attitudes of the participants.
  3. Facilitate personal development for the participants. The sets take place over several months and can have a very powerful influence on participants' careers, what they do in their organisations, and how they think and feel in their work and personal lives.
  4. Raise participants' self-awareness in relation to equality and help them reflect on what they can do differently, through a mixture of challenge and support. They can then go back to the workplace, try out these actions, and use the set to reflect on what happened and make new plans.

The outcome has been that participants have changed, and have been able to put those changes into practice in the workplace, both in relation to equality and current concerns. They have come to see how equality can be fully integrated with their working lives rather than seeing it as an add-on, in the same way that the Whole Organisation Approach enables equality to be integrated into the culture and structure of the organisation, rather than being just an optional extra.


Top-down or Bottom-up?

The third contrast in the Diversity Diamond model is between organisational change (whether structural or non-structural) as top-down, and personal change as bottom-up. Commitment from the top is crucial in bringing about change in organisations. This is especially so in trying to bring about equality because of the issues of power and culture discussed above. However, individuals lower down the organisation can either block top-down change or be drivers for change. Examples of both of these were found in the research, as illustrated in the following comments:-

“There's lot of imposition, and it's driven into the organisation to a point, and then it just fizzles out... My own personal view on that is that the initiatives that are driven down within the organisation, get to a level within the organisation where you have a lot of very intelligent, very articulate people, who do not understand or agree with what is going on. And then think, why should we play with this, because we don't understand what's going on.”

“I think that some women within the organisation are also drivers for this, because there are enough reasonably assertive, certainly very intelligent, women around, to be able to say what is and isn't acceptable to them.”

However, these approaches are not mutually exclusive. Binney and Williams (1995) have produced a model, called "Leaning into the Future", that combines top-down and bottom-up approaches, which reflects both a view of organisations as a machine and a view of organisations as a living system (Fig. 2).

This shows that vision, drive and commitment from the top can be combined with – indeed, is complementary to – a facilitative, listening and learning approach that involves people lower down the organisation. Such a combined approach is vital to be successful in bringing about equality in a way that benefits the organisation.

Leader as hero Forthright and listening leadership Leader as facilitator
Vision Seeing clearly Awareness
Drive Working with the grain Release
'They' are the problem All change 'We' need to change
Doing Learning while doing Reflection

Figure 2: Leaning into the Future – Changing the way people change organisations – Binney and Williams (1995)



The research showed some of the reasons that there has been so little progress on gender equality in the quarter of a century or more since work in this area began. Often initiatives have not taken a Whole Organisation or Whole Person approach and their success has therefore been limited. As we move into a new millennium, we need to develop new approaches.

To be transformative, these will include changes that result in cultures, structures and power relations in organisations that support equality. They will also include personal development of people in organisations that increases self-awareness, addresses attitudes and feelings about equality, and enables people to integrate equality thinking into their working lives.

The Diversity Diamond model can be used by organisations as a diagnostic tool, to assess where they are in relation to equality, and in relation to the approaches outlined above. It can provide a starting point for producing ideas for a range of activities that will help them move towards equality in a way that also helps them achieve their organisational goals.

The model shows that transformative change in organisations in relation to equality (and many other issues) is more likely when:-

  1. The organisation commits itself to a whole organisation approach
  2. A whole person approach is taken
  3. Change is developed from the top down, but there is also room for change initiated from the bottom up.

Then equality can be integrated into the work of the organisation and its people in a more systemic way. It ceases to be an add-on or an afterthought, and becomes part of the way of doing business.

For more information, contact Colin Heyman, Maine-Stream. Tel: 0777 557 5358.


For more information


Binney G and Williams C (1995), "Leaning into the Future", London, Nicholas Brearley

Coyle A (1995), "Women and Organisational Change", EOC Research Discussion series No. 14, Manchester, Equal Opportunities Commission

Equal Opportunities Commission (1997), "Briefings on men and women in Britain", Manchester, Equal Opportunities Commission

MacLachlan R (ed.) (1998), People Management, Vol 4, 22, London, Personnel Publications

McGill & Beaty (1995), "Action Learning", London, Kogan Page

Senge P (1990), "The Fifth Discipline", London, Century Business