Why We Need Diversity
Variety in our lives adds physical, financial, and emotional health.
Posted July 16, 2019 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
When we hear the word “diversity” we think of race and maybe culture. Of course, when speaking about the diversity of ethnicity, race and culture are key aspects. But diversity is much broader. Diversity cuts across all facets of our lives and it plays an important role, as important as helping us to survive.
Nature can teach us a lot about the value of diversity.
Nature includes a broad variety of plant and animal life. Such variability among organisms builds strength and helps in survival. For example, planting all the same trees in a park means that when one gets a disease, they all get the disease. Planting different varieties ensures that some will thrive while others may have to fight off pests.
Or consider the value of our biodiversity to ensure that we have food. I may not want to get too chummy with a bee, but without that bee pollinating our vegetable and fruit plants, we would not have enough food.
What do we know about biodiversity among people? Studies of the practice of inbreeding among royal families, done so as to keep their bloodlines “pure” dating back hundreds of years, reveal the high mortality, poor health, and passing on of genetic disorders.1 Variability among and between all organisms builds strength.
Diversity leads to better health.
Among plants and animals, diseases are less prevalent when there is greater diversity.2 Pathogens cannot easily find their ideal hosts among a variety of different plants and animals, leading to lower levels of disease. And the passing of diseases is lower when there are lots of different kinds of hosts, as some will not be as receptive as others making the reproduction of diseases less likely.
Diversity works well for human health, too. A well-balanced diet includes a varied menu, which leads to better physical well-being. So too for our work-out regimens, as we are encouraged to alternate between activities, working some muscle groups one day and others another, as well as a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Don’t put all your money in one basket!
Every good financial advisor tells us that to be smart about our investments, we need diversity. Financial diversification spreads risk and improves the overall chance of success.3 If we put all our money in one stock, and that one stock fails, we lose everything.
Whether the investments be stocks, bonds, or real estate, the same diversity is urged—we are told to make sure to cover enough different ways to invest so that any negative downturns in one area can be balanced by stability in another.
Workplace diversity improves the work environment.
Research shows that diverse work groups produce more cognitive processing and more exchange of information.4 Diversity brings in new ideas and experiences, and people can learn from each other. Bringing in different ideas and perspectives leads to better problem-solving. Working in diverse teams opens dialogue and promotes creativity.
The value of diversity is true for our culture, too.
When we meet and live and work with people who are different, we are more likely to be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Mixing with people of different backgrounds and life experiences brings us to question why we are doing things the way we do. It forces a questioning of values and beliefs.
While at first, this may feel uncomfortable—“but we always do it this way!”—it can be liberating. Learning about different ways to live our lives allows us to see that there are multiple ways of doing things. This diversity can free us from the pressure to conform to a one-size-fits-all way of life.
Another benefit of diversity is that a variety of ideas and ways of thinking can free us from the danger of “groupthink.”5 A strong desire to conform and not be different can lead to not speaking up or raising alternative ideas. This leads to a uniform way of thinking within a group.
Groupthink can be boring at best, and dangerous at worst. For example, when political advisors at the highest levels want to be part of the group or be “loyal” to those in charge, they do not question decisions—they join in groupthink, which can lead to bad decisions. With openness to diverse ideas, it is much less likely to fall into the trap of not questioning and not thinking there are multiple ways to do things.
And diversity adds spice to life, literally! Cultural expansion gives us great gifts. Cocoa came from Mayan people in Mexico, coffee from Ethiopia in Africa, wine-making was found in China 7000 years ago, sugar was first developed from India thousands of years ago, and corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, vanilla, maple syrup came from Native Americans in North America.
Diversity keeps us healthy physically, financially, professionally, and emotionally. It leads to innovation and creativity. When we live, work, and play in culturally diverse communities we are healthier, and that’s why we need diversity.
1. Alvarez, G., Ceballos, F.C. & Quinteiro, C. (2009). The role of inbreeding in the extinction of a European Royal Dynasty. PLOS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0005174
2. Keesing, F. & Ostfeld, R.S. (2015). Is biodiversity good for your health? Science, 349 (6245), pp. 235-6.
4. Arayssi, M., Dah, M. & Jizi, M. (2016) Women on boards, sustainability reporting and firm performance. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 7 (3), pp. 376-401.
Lambert, J. (2016). Cultural diversity as a mechanism for innovation: Workplace diversity and the absorptive capacity framework. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict. 20 (1), pp. 68-77.