Transforming the meaning attached to the word “diversity”

Nudging technique: Reframing


Research shows that people unconsciously attach positive or negative meanings to words. When words with a negative attachment are used in specific contexts, they can create backlash. This was the case for the word “diversity” at Arla foods. Arla Foods recognized the benefits of a diverse workforce to company success, but encountered employee resistance when they set a goal for at least 30% of employees to be from a given diversity target. Employees showed negative attitudes toward minority employees perceived to be hired as “affirmative action” or “token” team members. When Arla Foods reframed the goal to a maximum 70% of team members “from the same gender, generation, national/ethnic background, and educational/professional background,” they no longer encountered resistance from employees. Management used the reframed version in recruitment as well as team structuring and staffing and reported “positive group dynamics and better performance.”

Changing the wording of demographic diversity reframes the objective and nudges attitudes toward embracing gender equality in two ways. First, it reframes the employees as bringing valuable contributions to the team, reducing or eliminating any negative attitudes toward why a woman, for example, may have been hired. Second, combining gender with other diversity criteria means it is not isolated as a sole problem, and women are appreciated for the numerous qualities they bring to the job rather than being a woman hired simply to fulfill a quota.

Where in the policy cycle can this approach be used?












Potential for change

Resistance to certain terms (sometimes seen as “political correctness gone mad”) can be a significant barrier to change. If we can remove this barrier simply by reframing the terminology, we can work around this perception.


Nielsen, T.C. and Kepinski, L. (2015). Complimentary overview: Inclusion Nudges Guidebook: Practical Techniques for changing Behaviour, Culture & Systems to mitigate unconscious Bias and create inclusive Organisations link-out.