The meaning of diversity often gets muddled. It is used so frequently without a thorough explanation, it can appear to be a buzzword without clarity. In simple terms, diversity encompasses the traits that make things (including people) unique. With humans, that includes language, ethnicity, race, gender, age, and so on. When an environment accepts and welcomes these differences, diversity comes with many benefits. What are those benefits? Why should we care about diversity?
In nature, diversity is important to survival
You’ll hear the term “diversity” brought up a lot in a workplace context, but it’s worth examining its role in the natural world first. Diversity in nature – known as biodiversity – is vital to the health of the planet. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand why biodiversity matters. Consider a garden. If there’s a variety of plants growing there, they attract different kinds of pollinators and wildlife. Diverse gardens are also less vulnerable to disease as pathogens have to work harder to find the perfect host. If a plant does get sick, the disease doesn’t spread as easily because of the garden’s variety.
Diversity builds a sustainable network where living things support and protect each other. We know that when one species is threatened, it sets off a chain reaction through the ecosystem. When species go extinct, the ramifications are far-reaching.
Diversity in thought fuels creativity and innovation
We pictured a garden when thinking about biodiversity, but let’s think about a group of people right now. Like a garden with different types of flowers, a group of people with different backgrounds and experiences comes with benefits. Those different backgrounds and experiences mean new perspectives and ideas. Diverse groups are more likely to be creative and innovative whether they’re brainstorming a new project, trying to solve a problem, or discussing a complex topic.
Let’s say the group is trying to come up with a new ice cream flavor. If everyone came from the same background and had similar experiences, their creativity would be limited. They would all be pulling ideas and inspiration from essentially the same hat. However, if there were people in the group who came from different ethnic backgrounds, they could suggest flavors that others hadn’t even considered. The group would stretch its conceptual understanding of what makes an ice cream flavor, becoming more creative and innovative.
Diversity is good for the workplace
In the workplace, diversity is extremely valuable. Research shows that companies with more diversity are more innovative and productive. Companies that value diversity also tend to attract (and retain) better talent. According to a Glassdoor survey, up to ⅔ of people looking for jobs say that diversity is a priority. They’ll be more loyal to a company if it appreciates employees’ unique traits and experiences. Because diversity is important to employees, it should be important for employers.
Let’s look at a specific field where diversity matters: healthcare. Research shows that when healthcare facilities are diverse, there’s better understanding and respect for different cultures; fewer language barriers; and better outcomes for patients. One study showed that gender diversity can increase revenue for a facility. This applied to shifts in both all-male offices and all-female offices. Offices with more racial and ethnic diversity were also better at making decisions.
Diversity can lead to learning and empathy
In diverse environments, individuals must work at understanding others because of their differences. Diversity without understanding or respect creates conflict. This is why workplaces invest so much in diversity-and-inclusion activities and workshops. Facilitated properly, diversity encourages people to learn about different perspectives. When respect is an important piece of that learning, people will also feel empathy. Empathy is critical in every sector of life, whether it’s work or in interpersonal relationships. It allows a person to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, feeling what they feel.
Diversity in children’s books is a good example of how diversity can fuel empathy. When children are young, their view of the world is very limited. They can easily start to develop assumptions and behavior based on stereotypes. When children read books about different perspectives and experiences, they’re encouraged to look outside themselves. They learn about different skin colors, cultures, abilities, and more in a clear, kid-friendly, and positive way. This exercises their empathy muscles. When they encounter people in real life who are different from them, they’re more likely to be empathetic.
Diversity: a goal with obvious benefits
Diversity is not without its challenges. When different cultures or perspectives meet one another, there’s bound to be conflict. In some cases, conflict can have harmful consequences. When diversity is seen as something inherently valuable and worthy of respect, however, there are clear benefits. Just look at the natural world: diversity is essential to survival. It follows that many benefits also extend to the workplace where creativity and innovation boost productivity. Diversity encourages people to consider other views and perspectives. That understanding makes it much easier to feel empathy, a virtue necessary for keeping the peace and resolving conflicts. Without diversity, there would be no growth.