Defining diversity in groupwork: A relational exploration


  • Melissa Popiel Researcher
  • Dr. Sarah LaRoque
  • Dr. David Nicholas University of Calgary, Central and Northern Alberta Region
  • Christopher Kilmer University of Calgary, Central and Northern Alberta Region
  • Dr. David Este University of Calgary
  • Dr. William Pelech University of Calgary



grounded theory, mixed methods, groupwork, direct practice, intersectionality, relationality, diversity, macro practice, group work


One of the basic assumptions underlying all traditional definitions is that diversity is a characteristic of an individual or a group, which is a problematic to groupwork. This paper explores Phases 1 and 2 of a multi-method research project exploring groupworkers’ understandings of diversity and how their perceptions impact their approach to group processes, with implications for group practice advancement. The project consists of sequential phases following a mixed-methods design. In the initial phase, in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted individually with 24 groupworkers. While the second phase (phase two) consisted of 4 focus groups involving theoretical and criterion sampling strategies to interview experienced therapeutically-oriented groupworkers in Western and Eastern Canada. The analysis was guided by Glaser and Strauss’s (1967) constant comparative method involving open-coding, followed by axial coding, and concluded with selective coding.

Groupworkers reported feeling overwhelmed and, in some cases, “paralyzed” by the complex diversity present in their groups. These findings suggest attention to group diversity renders it potentially more relevant and salient. We also found the levels and complexity of diversity increased as the reflection by groupworkers deepened. In keeping with the traditional aims of groupwork, attending to diversity goes beyond the group to include responses to diversity in the organizational and community contexts. Dialogue and change in organizational responses to diversity is important in the areas of organizational climate, allocation of resources, and agency policy and procedures. Accordingly, offering groupworkers and members tools to attend and navigate diversity in situ is a first step towards recognizing its presence and importance. A critical step in moving forward is to examine the nuances of diversity and move beyond thinking of diversity in terms of demographic variables.

Author Biographies

Dr. Sarah LaRoque

Private Practice

Dr. David Nicholas, University of Calgary, Central and Northern Alberta Region

Professor, Faculty of Social Work

Dr. David Este, University of Calgary


Dr. William Pelech, University of Calgary

Emeritus Professor



2021-12-03 — Updated on 2021-12-10


How to Cite

Popiel, M., LaRoque, S., Nicholas, D. ., Kilmer, C., Este, D., & Pelech, W. . (2021). Defining diversity in groupwork: A relational exploration . Groupwork, 30(1), 88-113. (Original work published December 3, 2021)



Groupwork and Research