Policy Futures in Education, Volume 4, Number 2, 2006 doi:10.2304/pfie.2006.4.2.96
SARA AHMED & ELAINE SWAN
The challenge of diversity is much more than a change in terminology from categories like
gender, ethnicity, age and class to the more encompassing and concealing term ‘diversity’. In
contrast to gender and other categories of identity, which are often represented as sources of
social inequality in organisations, ‘diversity’ does not so powerfully appeal to our sense of
social justice. (Benschop, 2001, p. 1166)
This quote from feminist management academic Yvonne Benschop epitomises a central critique of
how the term ‘diversity’ operates within organisations. In relation to this special issue, it raises a
number of important questions: for example, if diversity does not necessarily appeal to our sense of
social injustice, what then is its appeal? To what are we appealing, when we appeal to diversity? In
this special issue, we aim to offer a wide range of perspectives on how the term ‘diversity’ is being
used within schools, colleges and universities to define their social and educational missions, as well
as their employment practices. The ‘turn’ to diversity has led to the term ‘diversity’ being used on
its own or with the term ‘equality’, such that people increasingly talk about doing ‘E & D’ work.
The politics of this turn has been much debated within critical race and post-colonial studies,
feminist studies, as well as critical management studies (Ang & Stratton, 1994; Bhabha, 1994;
Kandola & Fullerton, 1994; Deem & Ozga, 1997; Prasad & Mills, 1997; Kirton & Greene, 2000;
Lorbiecki, 2001; Gunew, 2004; Konrad et al, 2006; Lorbiecki & Jack, 2000). This shift has meant that
other kinds of vocabularies are no longer used, or at least are no longer central to policy debates,
including terms such as ‘equal opportunities’, ‘social justice’, ‘anti-racism’ and ‘multiculturalism’.
These terms have complex histories, which are bound up with the history of different political
movements, including the women’s movement as well as the anti-racist movement. When the
terms disappear from policy talk, a concern is that such histories might also disappear. It is striking,
for instance, that there is little reference made within current policy discussions on equality and
diversity to earlier debates on anti-racism versus multiculturalism within education (see Sarup,
1991; Rattansi, 1992). One of our aims in this special issue is to situate diversity work in relation to
these longer histories of political activism.
If the language of diversity is taking the place of other kinds of language, then it is extremely
important that we ask what this word actually does, in the sense of what are its effects. What
difference does diversity make? Why is there such a desire for diversity? In the critiques mentioned
above, diversity has been viewed as problematic because it individuates difference, conceals
inequalities and neutralises histories of antagonism and struggle. This special issue aims to extend
such important critiques by exploring how diversity gets ‘done’ within specific educational
contexts. These contexts include schools, adult and community learning, further education and
higher education. Together, the authors ask some open and exploratory questions about how
diversity works in these contexts, as well as what counts as diversity, who does diversity work, and
who is seen to embody diversity. In other words, rather than trying to ask ‘what is diversity?’, we
aim to track some of the uneven, complex and unstable effects of how the term is being or not
being ‘integrated’ into educational organisations.
Articles in this special issue draw on a range of methodologies to investigate ‘doing diversity’.
These range from ethnographic studies, interview-based research, documentary and textual
analysis, theoretical and conceptual engagement and personal reflection. In so doing, the issue
shows how diversity operates as a set of practices across the educational sectors, as well as how
diversity affects the situation, position and lived experiences of different staff in specific
organisations. We have chosen articles that reflect on a wide range of forms of educational
provision, including schools (Osler), adult and community learning (Hunter), further education
(Turner), diversity training in the public sector (Crawley) and higher education (Deem & Morley,
Jones, Mirza). Education has long been seen as a crucible for equality work by policy makers,
parents and activists. A key concern is to show how diversity work is shaped by specific
institutional histories, and by the different constituencies embodied by each sector, in terms of both
students and staff.
All of the articles examine diversity work in education within the United Kingdom. The
specificity of this national dimension matters. Many of the articles engage with what we can call
‘the equality regimes’ in the UK: the new legislative frameworks that have reimagined equality as a
‘positive duty’ for public organisations. Recent legislation, in particular, the Race Relations
Amendment Act (RAAA) (2000) hence provides a key background to this special issue. The RRAA
makes promoting race equality a ‘positive duty’ under law. As such, the Act represents a significant
cultural as well as political shift: no longer does the law only work negatively (by making
discrimination unlawful), but it also entails a positive duty to promoting race equality. In actual
terms, ‘promoting race equality’ has meant that all public bodies must have a race equality policy
and action plan. In order to comply with the new law, organisations first had to write their race
equality policies. The RRAA has hence generated a considerable amount of documentation. Such
documents typically involve statements of commitment to diversity. It is important that we address
how these ‘diversity documents’ are written, who writes them, and whether or not they get taken
up. Indeed, one concern about the RRAA is whether the labour of doing the document gets in the
way of other forms of doing (Ahmed, forthcoming).
Many of the articles in this special issue also suggest that these new equality regimes are part of
a wider cultural shift, where diversity and equality are becoming part of performance and audit
culture (Power, 1994; Strathern, 2004). In other words, diversity and equality are not only
documented, they are being transformed into documents that can be evaluated by an agreed set of
measures. For instance, in higher education, the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) ranked the race
equality policies of all universities in England and Wales. Although they did not produce a league
table on diversity and equality performances, they did publish a list of 34 higher education
institutions (HEIs) that had been given an ‘exemplar’ ranking. Although the ECU stresses that this
process was an ‘evaluation of the written policies and action plans only’ and not ‘an assessment in
practice’ (2003), it is striking that a number of HEIs make reference to their exemplar rank in the
race equality reports, and do so using the language of pride. For instance, one HEI mentions this
rank in their 2005 annual report, and then states: ‘we aim for excellence in everything we do, and
our approach to race equality should be just as professional and rigorous as all our other activities
... is very much part of our mission to maintain and develop our position as a world-class
university’. Documents that document racism become usable as measures of good performance.
This can lead to what Prasad & Mills (1997) call the ‘showcasing’ of diversity ‘successes’, of which
one technique is the ‘showcasing of exemplars’.
We could describe this shift towards documentation and measurement as involving the
bureaucratisation of diversity (see Mirza, 2005, p. 15). Articles in this special issue consider how
diversity is being ‘done’ through technologies of audit, inspection and monitoring, and raise
questions about how measuring diversity might affect the distribution of power within
organisations (see Turner, Mirza). What is being measured, we could ask, when we measure such
documents? If diversity becomes a matter of tick boxes and paper trails (or even becomes the paper
in the trail), then it would no longer be about challenging inequalities, or could even function as a
technology of concealment, where inequality is hidden by the very measurements of ‘good’
performance. As such, diversity might not only involve a depoliticisation of the equalities, as
Rosemary Deem & Louise Morley suggest in their contribution to the special issue, but also that
the equalities agenda could ‘even’ function as a mechanism for the reproduction of inequalities.
Sara Ahmed & Elaine Swan
Being good at diversity and race equality can become a form of organisational pride, which might
even block the recognition of inequalities within organisations. As such, diversity and equality
become forms of capital within organisations, which circulate through the distribution of
documents and ‘good feelings’ (Ahmed, forthcoming). Technologies of ‘show casing’ can lead to an
economy of affect in which pride, celebration, and upbeat performances hide the frustrations,
anger, tensions and disappointment of living with the effects of diversity work (Prasad & Mills,
In a way, not only is diversity becoming a performance indicator in the United Kingdom, but it
is also something organisations are increasingly performing. We do not have to look far to ‘see’
how diversity has been taken up. Diversity is increasingly used as a marketing device, or even as an
organisational brand – a ‘glossification’ of diversity (Gewirtz, 1995 cited in Lingard et al, 2003). One
further education college in the United Kingdom, for instance, suggests ‘celebrating diversity is
second nature to us’. Such statements are typically accompanied by visual images of happy
‘colourful’ faces, as a visual translation of the diversity metaphor of the multicultural mosaic
(Kandola & Fullerton, 1994) By implication, the college becomes diverse when racialised others
‘arrive’, as Lewis Turner explores in his article on governors in further education. Diversity
becomes something that can be added to the faces on the board. Indeed, as Puwar argues, ‘In policy
terms, diversity has overwhelmingly to mean the inclusion of people who look different’ (2004,
p. 1). In so far as diversity is seen to be embodied by others, it then allows the whiteness of such
organisations to be concealed.
Crucially, a number of the articles in this special issue explore the effects of diversity on those
who are considered to embody this term: Black and Minority Ethnic staff. How does being seen as
the embodiment of diversity effect Black and Minority Ethnic staff? Articles in this special issue
explore how Black and Minority Ethnic staff feel hyper-visible and exposed in white organisations.
One of the effects of the culture of diversity, then, might be how Black staff are continually
interpellated not only as signs of diversity, but also as responsible for it, as Heidi Mirza and Cecily
Jones both explore in their articles. Being asked to be the caretakers for diversity is one way that
Black and minority staff are continually repositioned as ‘outsiders within’, to use a term that Shona
Hunter draws on in her article. It is by making certain bodies responsible for diversity that other
bodies, and indeed the organisation itself, are let off or even discharged from doing this work.
Given that diversity work is given less value than other kinds of work within organisations, being
stuck ‘with’ diversity could become a way in which Black and Minority Ethnic staff get stuck in
organisations, spending their time doing work that is undervalued and underresourced in terms of
pay, power, time, financing, and commitment, and can lead to increased stress and few promotion
One of the primary defences of the language of diversity is that it is more ‘inclusive’, precisely
because it does not name a specific social category (such as gender, race and class). But what are the
terms of this inclusion? Who is included by the term? One concern is that the inclusiveness of the
term might conceal how social categories such as gender and race work. Rosemary Crawley, Heidi
Mirza and Cecily Jones explore the ways in which diversity may work to negate the specificity of
the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic women. Black and minority women often disappear
in the equality agenda, precisely given how race and gender get taken up separately, or because
‘diversity’ itself is seen to be, in the words of one influential North American diversity consultant,
‘beyond race and gender’, or even about ‘everyone’ (Thomas, 1991). One of aims in this special
issue was to provide a space to articulate a Black feminist standpoint on the messy, complex and
often painful ways in which Black and Minority Ethnic women negotiate cultures of racism and
sexism in education as students, teachers, managers, equality practitioners and activists.
Focusing on the effects of diversity means tracking how diversity gets used within organisations
by being attached to specific bodies, units or agencies. We need to consider the effects of such
‘diversity attachments’ on individuals as well as organisations. We also need to differentiate
between how diversity gets used to redescribe or reimagine educational organisations through
official documents (and ‘who’ gets to embody diversity at this level), and how diversity gets talked
about within organisations. Rosemary Deem & Louise Morley, for instance, present findings from
their large-scale qualitative study of six universities, which involved talking to a wide range of staff
about how they perceive diversity, including academics, administrators, porters and cleaners.
Focusing on perception allows us to explore how diversity might have different associations for
staff within organisations (see also Konrad et al, 2006).
Diversity work also covers a range of different practices for these different staff. Articles in this
special issue hence consider different actors and what they do with diversity: including diversity
trainers, equality practitioners, leaders and governors. Our aim is to show the complexity of
diversity as a set of practices and start to ask what this might mean for the politics of diversity
within educational sites. For instance, Osler and Hunter both consider the role of leadership in
diversity work, defined as ‘leadership for diversity’ (Osler) or as ‘alternative imaginings of
educational leadership’ (Hunter). They also ask what kinds of knowledge and expertise ‘leadership
for diversity’ draws upon and who is imagined to have access to this expertise. Crawley considers
how diversity training can work to open spaces in which racism and sexism can be talked about.
Sanjay Sharma examines how diversity works in teaching practices. His article opens up the critical
question of how differences can matter in ways that challenge how differences are assumed to
reside in specific bodies or texts. How do we teach diversity, or teach beyond diversity? What does
it mean to train people in diversity? What role do governors and trainers have in promoting
diversity? And to what extent does this work actually work to challenge the histories of inequality
and injustice that still shape institutional worlds?
Indeed, what all the articles share is a concern with exploring how such histories continue to
matter; how much they are a point of inheritance. It is because colonialism, racism and gender
hierarchies continue to shape educational as well as social spaces that diversity matters. In other
words, diversity matters not as a description of such spaces (of what they are, or what they have),
but as a sign of what they are not. In this way, organisations need to diversify only when racialised
others remain the strangers, as ‘bodies out of place’ (Ahmed, 2000; Puwar, 2004). Ironically, the
hope for diversity lies in the aspiration that this term will keep these associations with such
racialised others, however problematic these associations may be. The aim would not be to
constitute Black and ethnic minority staff as the origin of diversity, as adding colour to the white
face of the university or college. Rather, in so far as diversity signifies the arrival of Black and
Minority Ethnic staff into educational spaces as head teachers, equality practitioners, lecturers,
managers, principals, then it might point also to how organisations are orientated around
whiteness, around those who are ‘already in place’. The happy smiling face of diversity would not
then simply rebrand organisations, but would point instead to what gets concealed by this very
image: the inequalities that are behind it, and which give it its surface appeal. In other words, if the
appeal of diversity is that it conceals inequalities, then we can expose such inequalities by exploring
the terms of its appeal.
Diversity work means working with problematic terms. But what we do when we do diversity
is also a question of how we use the terms available to us. Prasad & Mills criticise managerialist
diversity work for making diversity seem too easily ‘doable’ (1997, p. 11). These articles show how
the politics of diversity within educational policy and colleges, universities and workplaces is
complex, contextual and ambivalent; how undoable diversity work can be. However, we may need
to keep doing diversity work. We cannot always know what diversity work does but we need to
challenge the terms of this work. This special issue aims to be part of the challenge.
Ahmed, Sara (forthcoming) You End up Doing the Document Rather than Doing the Doing: race equality,
diversity and the politics of documentation, Ethnic and Racial Studies.
Ahmed, Sara (2000) Strange Encounters: embodied others in post-coloniality. London: Routledge.
Ang, I. & Stratton, J. (1994) Multicultural Imagined Communities: cultural difference and national identity in
Australia and the USA, Continuum: Australian Journal of Media and Culture, 9(2), pp. 124-158.
Bhabha, H. (1994) The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
Benschop, Y. (2001) Pride, Prejudice and Performance, International Journal of Human Resources Management,
12(7), pp. 1166-1181. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585190110068377
Deem, R. & Ozga, J. (1997) Women Managing Diversity in a Postmodern World, in: C. Marshall (Ed.)
Feminist Critical Policy Analysis. London: Falmer.
Sara Ahmed & Elaine Swan
Equality Challenge Unit (2002) Exemplar Race Equality Policies and Action Plans.
Gunew, S. (2004) Haunted Nations: the colonial dimensions of multiculturalism. London: Routledge.
Kandola, B. & Fullerton, J. (1994) Managing the Mosaic: diversity in action. London: Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development.
Kirton, J. & Greene, A-M. (2000) The Dynamics of Managing Diversity. London: Heinemann.
Konrad, A.M., Prasad P. & Pringle, J.K. (Eds) (2006) Handbook of Workplace Diversity. London: Sage.
Lingard, B., Hayes, D., Mills, M. & Christie, P. (2003) Leading Learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Lorbiecki, A. (2001) Changing Views on Diversity Management, Management Studies, 32(3), pp. 345-361.
Lorbiecki, A. & Jack, G. (2000) Critical Turns in the Evolution of Diversity Management, British Journal of
Management, 11, Special Issue, pp. 17-31. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8551.11.s1.3
Mirza, H. (2005) Race, Gender and Educational Desire, Inaugural Lecture, 17 May.
Power, M. (1994) The Audit Explosion. London: Demos.
Prasad, P. & Mills, A.J. (1997) From Showcase to Shadow: understanding the dilemmas of managing
workplace diversity, in P. Prasad, A.J. Mills, M. Elemes & A. Prasad (Eds) Managing the Organizational
Melting Pot – dilemmas of workplace diversity. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Puwar, N. (2004) Space Invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place. Oxford: Berg.
Rattansi, A. (1992) Changing the Subject? Racism, Culture and Education, in J. Donald & A. Rattansi (Eds)
Race, Culture and Difference, pp. 11–48. London: Sage.
Sarup, M. (1991) Education and the Ideologies of Racism. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.
Strathern, M. (2004) Common Borderlands: working papers on interdisciplinarity, accountability and the flow of
knowledge. Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing.
Thomas, R.R. (1991) Beyond Race and Gender: unleashing the power of your total workforce by managing diversity.
New York: American Management Association.
SARA AHMED is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College and was Co-
Director with Elaine Swan of the project, Integrating Diversity: Gender, Race and Leadership in the
Learning and Skills Sector (CEL). Her publications include Differences That Matter: feminist theory and
postmodernism (1998); Strange Encounters: embodied others in post-coloniality (2000); The Cultural Politics
of Emotion (2000) and Queer Phenomenology: orientations, objects, others (2006). Correspondence:
Professor Sara Ahmed, Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College,
University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, United Kingdom (email@example.com).
ELAINE SWAN is a Senior Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University Management School. She has
recently completed co-directing two research projects funded by CEL: one with Sara Ahmed on
Integrating Diversity: Gender, Race and Leadership and the other with John Burgoyne on
Leadership Development Practices. Her research interests in the interface between therapeutic
cultures and the workplace and diversity training. She is currently completing a short book on
diversity with Caroline Gatrell for management students. Correspondence: Dr Elaine Swan,
Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster LA1 4YX, United Kingdom