Why Diversity Matters (and Ignorance isn’t Bliss)

“When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion.”

Ethiopian Proverb

I’m an empathetic person, but I do sometimes struggle to understand why other people can’t accept people for their differences. Maybe it’s because I never felt that I fit into a box, maybe it’s because I have seen how bad playground bullying can get, or maybe it’s because my parents taught me to respect others, but I passionately believe that diversity is beautiful and unity is strength.

The world has made progress, there is no denying that. When we talk about diversity, much of the conversation is about gender equality and thankfully women and girls are more empowered than ever. Acceptance of diversity in beliefs is also growing, as we are learning that believing in different gods doesn’t prevent us from sharing morals and communities. More broadly, the support we provide to those less privileged than us is creating sustainable development both locally and globally.

Yet, oh yet… there is still along way to go. There are world leaders spreading hate because of assumptions based on ethnicity, religion and gender. We have people quick to judge the capability of others based on their appearance, those who assume talking openly about differences in sexuality will impact their own and those who abuse people because they are not like them.

Who was it who said ignorance is bliss?

Ignorance is perhaps one of the biggest problems we face as a human race.

What Diversity isn’t

Whilst there remains shortcomings in what the human race know about what our differences mean, we are pushing ourselves to get over it. There is a great push-pull fight with ethics and common sense on one side, tradition and ignorance on the other. In the workplace, this has led to diversity quotas. It’s a reaction to a need for change, that unfortunately struggles to respect why the change needs to happen.

Diversity isn’t about giving people jobs because they are female, black and/or disabled. It’s not about forcing variety in communities, groups or workplaces. If we focus on this push, we create hostility before acceptance.

What Diversity is

Diversity is a celebration of our uniqueness. We all want to belong, to be accepted, in one way or another. This need leads us to grow our similiarities, but we will never be the same and that’s a good thing.

Diversity is about everything that makes a person, a group and a community. This might include our ethnicity, gender, abilities and disabilities, sexuality, socio-economic background, family status, race and religion. It’s who we are and what that means to us.

Understanding, accepting and celebrating diversity is what drives creativity, innovation and development. It is what keeps the world beautiful, interesting and alive. With diversity, we are stronger.

The Difference it Makes

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance”

Verna Myers

We cannot create inclusivity without understanding diversity, but diversity alone is not enough to create and promote cultures where ideas thrive, success is celebrated and innovation is nurtured.

We need to understand what it means to be the Straight White-British Christian Man in his 40s as much as we need to understand what it means to be the Lesbian Black-African Muslim Woman in her 20s. It might be that sometimes we need to raise her platform higher, perhaps due to misconceptions about her religion or fewer conversations about her sexuality. The more we understand about our differences (diversity), the easier it is to accept them and live harmoniously (inclusion).

We haven’t quite made the shift from knowing that diversity matters, to really understanding why and how to take effective action. Diversity & Inclusion is not about quotas, silos and tick boxes. Employers leading the way don’t just know their numbers, they know their people. This enables them to shape their organisational culture for the people in it, creating an inclusive environment in the process.

I believe we need to reach a point where understanding is equal so opportunities are equal. Everyone deserves a voice, success and to enjoy what they do. Together, we are stronger. That’s why diversity matters.

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