What is actuallymeant by "diversity"?

An introduction with reference to the Swiss higher education landscape

The following explanations come from the Swiss-wide toolbox "Doing Diversity", which offers a compilation of the best practices from Swiss universities on the topics of diversity, equal opportunities and inclusion.

"Diversity" designates and recognises the visible and invisible plurality of people, their living conditions and social affiliations. The aim of diversity politics is to draw attention to exclusion and discrimination, to reduce it and to respect the individuality of each person. To this end, it is essential to create structures that enable and promote plurality in the first place.

At higher education institutions, which are influenced by academic trends such as internationalisation, mobility and the promotion of excellence, diversity represents an explicit or implicit challenge. The debate about diversity focuses on the question: Who learns, teaches and does research under what conditions - and who does not?

How diversity can become an effective tool for university development is a complex matter, especially because the involved actors have different understandings of terms, levels of knowledge and motivation. In addition to ethical and legal arguments, there are economic arguments in favour of dealing with and guaranteeing diversity. Furthermore, “cultural diversity" is defined as a main objective in the context of sustainable development.

Swiss higher education institutions agree that diversity policies should not only make visible and value the diversity that already exists, but should also identify and combat existing exclusions and discrimination. In university practice, however, diversity management poses its very own challenges: Should equality between women and men be integrated into diversity work, or is the coexistence of the two approaches more effective? Is diversity part of sustainable university development? Does the establishment of a diversity office require an additional service or are the existing structures sufficient?

Diversity research has produced various models with different "diversity dimensions". In Switzerland, most higher education institutions are oriented towards the following dimensions: Age, disability, gender, health, class, LGBTIQ* (LesbianGayBisexualTransInterQueer*), migration, race, religion and world-view, work-life-balance, intersectionality and institutionalisation. Further information can be found in the toolbox "Doing Diversity" from Gender Campus.