Core Diversity

38 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2010 Last revised: 21 Oct 2010

See all articles by Rebecca K. Lee

Rebecca K. Lee

Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Date Written: August 30, 2010


This Article develops a theory of workplace reform by arguing that organizations need to embrace a meaningful conception of diversity: what it calls "core diversity." Core diversity aims to address embedded discriminatory norms in the workplace and to bring about substantive gender and racial equity. Supporting diversity at work is an involved task, yet the diversity approaches taken by most businesses are misguided, and hence ineffective. Employers currently implement models of diversity that promote only what this Article calls "surface diversity" and "marginal diversity," both of which focus on diversifying the organization's ranks rather than on valuing diversity in full form. Furthermore, these narrow conceptions of diversity contribute to ongoing discrimination at work.

The Article argues that, in order to move toward meaningful equality, market institutions need to reconceptualize the purpose and value of diversity by pursuing core diversity. Under the core diversity paradigm, organizations would rethink and remake the way they do their central work by incorporating the perspectives of socially subordinated groups. The Article also argues that core diversity will not flourish without dedicated and empathetic leadership.

This core diversity project is informed in part by the law, but because it is unlikely, as a practical matter, to be embraced by legal rulemakers in the very near future and may not even be best advanced in this way, this project looks to private market actors rather than to legal actors to generate equality-producing norms. Although the Article notes reservations about seeking to advance substantive equity by relying mostly on a market-based regime, it is still worthwhile to explore ways in which businesses and other employers can become partners in the antidiscrimination movement by considering economic arguments for their participation. Indeed, the Article asserts that market demand for a new understanding of diversity can be cultivated by building on the current societal interest in diversity and by demonstrating the compatibility between core diversity and business concerns.

Keywords: diversity, core diversity, equality, discrimination, employment, cultural norms, leadership, employment, subordination, surface diversity, marginal diversity, racial equality, gender equality

JEL Classification: K10, D2

Suggested Citation

Lee, Rebecca K., Core Diversity (August 30, 2010). Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 477, 2010; Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 1668107. Available at SSRN:

Rebecca K. Lee (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

1155 Island Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4268 (Phone)

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