Opinion Blog: Don't do me a favor. Why diversity is not only "the right thing to do"
Increasing diversity and equal access to opportunity in your workplace is not charity, diversity benefits all.
I care about diversity in academia. Makes sense since I am a senior faculty, I am Latina, and I am a tenured professor at a large medical center. Is it self-serving that I want to see more women and underrepresented minorities in senior faculty positions like mine?
Yes, maybe it is self-serving. But perhaps not for the reasons that you might think.
True, we underrepresented minorities and women want equal opportunity and fairness. And of course, it would be nice if discrimination, racism, and unconscious bias didn't exist. But I also see the need to increase diversity in academia as a missed opportunity. Diversity in the workplace is turning out to be a secret sauce for success in organizations. And I do want my organization to be successful.
Evidence-based research in the business sector shows that diversity can improve the bottom line. A 2009 study showed that "racial diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.(1) More recently, a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, found that companies that were ethnically diverse were 35% more likely to perform better than the national median for their industry. They also found that companies that were gender-diverse were 15% more likely to be making more money than the median.(2)
In spite of this and other evidence, many leaders are resistant to increasing diversity in their teams. According to a paper by Ellison and Mullin, this resistance comes from the fact that people enjoy being with other like-minded people.(3) It is human nature.
In their paper, Ellison and Mullin wrote that:
--“The more homogeneous offices have higher levels of social capital" but ..."higher levels of social capital are not important enough to cause those offices to perform better. The employees might be happier, they might be more comfortable, and these might be cooperative places, but they seem to perform less well.”--
I understand this to mean that resistance to diversity may come from a level of comfort that individuals in a homogeneous group have from being with each other. Diversity challenges that level of comfort and "happiness", even when it can measurably improve productivity and profits. This is fascinating and sad at the same time. So you are telling me that leaders in homogeneous teams like to be with each other so much that they will prefer working with people who look and think like them, even if diversifying would make their organization more successful? Really? Wow!
I want my organization to be more diverse, not just because I would enjoy my work more if I could be with others who are like me, but also because I want us to be more successful. I want us to have the faculty and staff to respond to more diverse research opportunities and to be able to reach out to many different populations.
If diversity is good for business, is it good for academia?
I don't see why it wouldn't be.
So, yes. I'd like to see more diversity in the research workplace. Yes. It would make me happier to see more minority women faculty, but I would also hope that by bringing different perspectives, abilities, and resources, underrepresented minorities can make our academic institution more successful.
So I ask, please don't do us a favor. Diversifying your workplace is not a charity case. Diversity is good for you, even if at first it might be a little uncomfortable.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.