What is diversity about?

Diversity means differences and commonalities of people and groups that can be linked to privileges and discrimination in the specific university context. They can be examined on an individual, institutional or structural level and affect all people, not just certain groups. The Affirmative Action Plan (for the advancement of women) and Equality Plan, as well as the Federal Equal Opportunities Act are the basis for the strategic handling of diversity at the University of Vienna.

In view of its effective graphic representation, the 4 Layers of Diversity model based on Gardenswartz and Rowe (2003) provides a widely used method of identifying dimensions in diversity in organisations. The model correlates roughly with the legally protected areas of discrimination. The mentioned dimensions of diversity are not to be read as an exhaustive list. The shapes that diversity and discrimination take can vary according to context and change with time. 

At the level of organisational dimensions, the model was adapted to the university context, and at the level of internal dimensions the dimension of social origin was added, which is of key importance for the University of Vienna.

Graphic showing the model


Source: 4 Layers of Diversity after Gardenswartz, L. and Rowe, A. (2003): Diverse Teams at Work. Society for Human Resource Management; courtesy of the authors. The adaptation of the organisational dimensions for the University of Vienna and addition of social origin to the internal dimensions was carried out by K. Iber and N. Pauser.

PERSONALITY (innermost circle)

Personality, the dimension at the centre of the model, encompasses all aspects of a person that can be described as personal style.



The internal dimensions or core dimensions are understood to be relatively unalterable by the individual and are also acknowledged in the relevant equal opportunities legislation.

  • age
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • physical ability
  • ethnicity
  • race
  • social origin

According to the 4 Layers of Diversity model created by Gardenswartz and Rowe (2003), social origin does not belong to the so-called internal dimensions of diversity. However, it constitutes an important element of the understanding of diversity held by the University of Vienna. A person's social origin can be described - among other things - by means of economic or education-related features. For example, factors such as the level of education or the income of a person's parents can influence their access - or lack of access - to material and immaterial resources (e.g. their type of access to education, the extent of their financial means, etc.).



The external dimensions are distinguished by their variability. Religion is an exception to this. This category could be included in the internal dimensions for two reasons: religion and belief cannot always be freely chosen and it is also illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their religion. The following areas belong to the external dimensions according to Gardenswartz and Rowe (2003):

  • geographic location
  • income
  • personal habits
  • recreational habits
  • religion
  • educational background
  • work experience
  • appearance
  • parental status
  • marital status



The organisational dimensions are determined by the type of affiliation within an institution or organisation. The organisational dimensions of the 4 Layers of Diversity model based on Gardenswartz and Rowe (2003) have been adapted to the context of the University of Vienna:

  • functional level/classification
  • work content/field
  • faculty/centre/department/degree programme/service unit
  • seniority/duration of study
  • work location/study location
  • research content/field
  • type of employment