Diversity and equality are commonly used interchangeably in the workplace. Although they are undoubtedly related, they are not the same. And when people aren’t clear on the terms they’re using, many of us can be perplexed when discussing them, particularly in terms of work. Even without the additional work required to ensure candidates represent a diverse community and adhere to equal employment standards, the recruiting process can be challenging.

Some definitions first:

EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) is an attempt through legislation to ensure that individuals, applicants, candidates, and employees are treated fairly and consistently. Does everyone applying for a position as an engineering leader, for instance, go through the same professional evaluation process? Or are the same company advantages available to all full-time employees?

Diversity management involves recognizing and honoring differences when it comes to employment practices. Do you employ diverse talent from a range of ethnicities? Are there employees of all ages at your business? Do you and the other leaders at your organization give employees tasks and projects regardless of their gender or religious affiliation?

What is the difference between equal employment opportunity (EEO) and diversity management?

As noted above, equal employment opportunity is the belief everyone should be treated fairly during hiring (promotion, termination, etc.). For example, assuming they are qualified for the position, this means that any applicant for a given position at a company should have the same odds of being hired.

According to the legal interpretation of EEO, “same chances” or “same opportunity” refers to the prohibition on employers engaging in prejudice based on certain traits when selecting employees or rejecting job applicants. In many nations, protected traits include:

  • Physical or mental disability
  • Race / color
  • Age
  • National origin / ethnicity
  • Sex/gender/sexual orientation
  • Religion

EEO does not guarantee members of underrepresented groups will be hired. EEO standards are in place to ensure that no one will encounter unlawful discrimination or other issues because they belong to a protected group.

On the other hand, diversity management refers to an organization’s efforts to foster better inclusion of individuals from diverse backgrounds into that organization’s structure through specialized policies and programs. The growth in organizations focusing on diversity management is a response to a more diverse workforce, spanning the world.

Because of technological advancements, businesses may now hire and manage staff from all over the world and in multiple time zones. Companies are establishing particular programs and policies to increase employee inclusion and advancement, and retention of employees who are from different origins and cultures. The initiatives and policies are aimed to create a friendly climate for individuals from underrepresented groups that have historically lacked access to well paid opportunities.

Is diversity the same as affirmative action?

Both affirmative action and diversity efforts try to persuade businesses to hire and promote employees from a variety of backgrounds. And both diversity and affirmative action lay a strong emphasis on eradicating prejudice against women, people with disabilities, and other individuals from underrepresented groups who experience discrimination in the workplace.

However, each effort is carried out in a very different way. Following is a summary of each that discusses the parallels and distinctions between diversity and affirmative action.

Affirmative action

Affirmative action is a set of principles that underlie legislation requiring that everyone have access to equal job opportunities. A legal court may compel affirmative action on a company that has been charged with discrimination, making it a requirement of the law.

Affirmative action is more restricted to some groups who have historically suffered disadvantages, such as women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, and veterans, etc. Affirmative action is primarily intended to prevent legal action for discrimination, and to increase employment of individuals who are underrepresented in the workforce.


Again, diversity is an approach that embraces all people, including underrepresented individuals. For example  women, people with disabilities, veterans, and other individuals, regardless of their beliefs, religions, viewpoints, values, political opinions, sexual orientation, etc.

In short, unlike affirmative action which seeks to set to right years of policies and actions that led to discrimination, diversity efforts are adopted by organizations that seek to take advantage of the benefits of a diverse workforce.

EEO and diversity

The federal laws adopted by the United States Government over the last 50 years are known as anti-discrimination laws.

In terms of legislation that affects hiring, discriminatory practices are prohibited in the areas of recruitment, hiring and firing, compensation, training, promotions and other terms or conditions of hiring, as well as laws covering age, religion, gender, race, national origin, genetic information, retaliation, and disability. Below is a description of each of these federal laws.

The 1963 Equal Pay Act

This law demands equal compensation for equal work, which is determined by job content, for men and women working in the same workplace. This law covers all types of compensation, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus schemes, life insurance, paid time off, and holiday pay.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act

This legislation prohibited major forms of inequity against women, people of color, people of diverse nationalities, and people of religion. It put a stop to racial segregation in workplaces, schools, and public facilities as well as the uneven enforcement of voter registration laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established by Title VII of the act to carry out the law.

The 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act

This law prohibits hiring practices that discriminate against those who are at least 40 years old. Additionally, it expressly forbids unfairness in compensation, hiring, promotion, and layoff decisions.

The 1973 Rehabilitation Act

This is federal legislation that approves the formula grant programs for client assistance, independent living, supported employment, and vocational rehabilitation. Additionally, it permits a range of discretionary payments for service and training that are handled by the Rehabilitation Services Administration. A number of measures pertaining to the rights, advocacy, and safeguards of people with disabilities are also included in the Act.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act

This act is founded on prior legislation that forbade disability-based prejudice and recognizes and defends the civil rights of those with impairments. The ADA covers a wide range of disabilities, including mental illnesses and learning disabilities in addition to physical ailments that impair movement, endurance, sight, hearing, and speech.

The ADA covers equal opportunity (title I), State and local government services (title II), and public accommodations and commercial facilities (title III). Title IV mandates that phone companies offer telecommunications relay services for those with hearing or speech impairments, as well as other directives to federal agencies charged with enforcing the legislation (title V).

The 1991 Civil Rights Act

This was the first attempt to change some of the fundamental procedural and substantive rights provided by federal law in employment discrimination cases after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed; this most recent act established the right to a jury trial on claims and introduced the possibility of emotional distress damages while capping the amount that a jury could award.

“No-FEAR Act”

The acronym “No-Fear Act” stands for the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002, a federal law of the United States that mandates federal agencies to be held accountable for violations of anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws. The Act requires agencies to pay awards for discrimination and retaliation violations out of their own budgets. It also mandates that all Federal agencies post specific statistical data relating to equal employment opportunity complaints in the Federal sector on the agency’s public Web site on a quarterly basis.

The 2008 ADA Amendments Act

The term “disability” is redefined to more widely include impairments that significantly restrict a main living activity. The revised text further specifies that mitigating measures, such as auxiliary aids, accommodations, and medical therapies (except from eyeglasses and contact lenses), are irrelevant for deciding whether a person qualifies for the benefits of the statute. Changes also highlight how impairments like epilepsy or post-traumatic stress disorder, which when present significantly impede a main life activity, are covered. These impairments are episodic or in remission. The changes became effective on January 1, 2009.

The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)

This law makes it illegal to act with prejudice against employees or applicants because of their genetic information. Title II of GINA prohibits the use of this information in making employment decisions, restricts employers and other entities covered by Title II (employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management training and apprenticeship programs) from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits the disclosure of that information.

Act of 2009 known as Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay

This act is referred to as such in honor of Lilly Ledbetter, who discovered that her employer was paying her less than men for the same job. Mrs. Ledbetter and people like her will find it simpler to effectively challenge unfair pay thanks to this statute. A worker’s case will only be taken into consideration if their claim is submitted within 180 days of receiving a discriminatory payment.

How to provide equal opportunity

In summary, the most surefire way to ensure unlawful discrimination, even unintentionally, is to use arbitrary and non-job-related criteria. Consider whether, for instance, a person’s degree from a prominent university genuinely speaks to their suitability for the job you’re searching for while you’re reviewing resumes.