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Features of diversity

A general categorization of “diversity” by various features is guided by the legal principles and applicable guidelines against discrimination.

While features of diversity such as age, gender or colour of the skin are often visible, it is above all the features of diversity like socio-economic background, cultural origin, religion/philosophy, family situation or chronic disease that remain invisible.

Implementing equality implies taking a look at the differences and similarities of structural discrimination in order to avoid hierarchies between various features of diversity. This requires a multidimensional understanding of diversity: individual features of diversity are not intrinsically homogeneous, nor do they appear individually only. In addition, there may be interactions between them.

The widely known – but rather static – “Four Layers of Diversity” model by Gardenswartz and Rowe (1994) provides a clear structurization of features of diversity.

Features of diversity in the context of the university

The transfer of the “Four Layers of Diversity” to the context of the university (cf. Leicht-Scholten 2012) can be further specified as follows:



Download of the illustration (pdf)

The dimensions shown in the illustration above can be differentiated as follows:

  • Personality
  • Internal dimension: relatively unchangeable features of diversity such as mental and physical abilities, age, colour of skin, educational background, migration background/experience, nationality (international students, gender, sexual orientation)
  • External dimension: relatively changeable features of diversity such as admission to university, geographic location, taking care of children or relatives, religion/philosophy, socio-economic setting, professional experience, recreational habits, personal habits
  • Organizational dimension: changeable features of diversity that determine the kind of affiliation within the university such as department/institute/academic center/faculty, guest auditor/auditing student from other universities/part-time/complementary studies, degree, doctorate, combination of subjects, study program, student employment  (tutor/mentor/student assistant), module, focus of studies, phase of studies, university/subject-specific semester