Why diversity is hard to embrace

This week readings about diversity reminded me of one TED talk that I have listened a while ago. I don’t remember it exactly, but the speaker might have begun to tell a story by asking the audience who they would have come along with there, whether their companions are same nationalities, gender, age group, and looking like themselves. The point was that people tend to stay in their social comfort zone and get along with people that seem familiar and similar socioeconomic identities.

It is obvious and scientifically proven that diversity can increase innovations, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, as Katherine W. Phillips discussed (“How Diversity Makes us Smarter”) Also as our society has become more culturally, ethnically, religiously diverse, diversity matters for not only practical reasons but also for ethical and philosophical reasons. However, it is also very difficult to embrace diversity in reality, if it is not informational diversity in particular. Let me illustrate my observation of tension that social diversity has brought. It was through my research on community gardens. I have four case study sites with different characteristics. One of my findings from those four cases was that strong sense of community emerged in a community garden that is composed of more homogeneous neighbors. On the other hand, one community garden, which was territorially embedded in one neighborhood, encountered tensions and conflicts because the organization that operated the community garden brought gardeners from outside of the neighborhood. Original gardeners wanted to keep the garden for their own neighborhood’ asset and did not want to mingle with outside people. Eventually, most neighborhood gardeners had left and the community garden ended up being isolated from that neighborhood. I cannot say that this is the case for every community garden, but it was really hard to integrate socioeconomically and ethnically different group of people in those community venues.

The scientific results Katherine W. Phillips suggested are mostly the cases in workplaces, education, higher levels of decision-making and teamwork, which require more information and innovation, not in informal social relationships. As the TED speaker, I mentioned earlier, pointed out, our desire to be with people like us and maintain the status quo might be a big hurdle to engage with diversity.

7 Replies to “Why diversity is hard to embrace”

  1. Good thoughts and thanks for the link. I have worked on highly diverse teams and highly similar teams. I am grateful for both opportunities because there are benefits and challenges associated with each which I have learned from. I would like to say that, from my experience, certain forms of diversity are more useful than others. For instance, according to my experience, one form of diversity that hasn’t had much impact on outcome is age. Counter intuitively, I have worked with really young professionals with vast experience and insight and very in-touch older professionals who have been able to connect very well. Age didn’t seem to play much of a role. Diversity of thought and intellect has, in contrast made a big difference. This is the form of diversity that I am on the lookout to surround myself with. And it comes from all types of backgrounds. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Well said and I think your example is relevant in any sort of social setting. This is something that I think about often because people are not comfortable with change. In community nutrition, we always talk about the need to diversify but never very much about how to handle conflict once it arises. It’s not like we can force people to work together in these sorts of social situations. How can we foster diverse relationships in these types of social situations?

  3. Great post! There is definitely a feeling of comfort when you are around those that are like-minded and similar looking. We may look to surround ourselves with people with similar values that affirm what we believe and reject those who believe something else. Without needing to be challenged about our beliefs, we continue to grow and build our tight-knit circle of those similar to us with hopes of having our thoughts, values, and opinions supported. We may or may not have someone in the group who may say “hey dude, have you considered this other thing?”, which can change and help us grow.


  4. Nice post! I agree with you that diversity is hard to embrace as we like to be in our comfort zone. In fact, I’ve come across research that suggests diversity may cause team conflict at the initial stage. This might be what happened with the community garden example you gave. However, research also has it that if a group/team can resolve their differences and become cohesive – then they may soon reap the potential benefits of diversity.

  5. Hi Kyunghee, I totally hear you and I really appreciate that you pointed out the difficulty of actualization of diversity in any social setting. It is really difficult to disrupt the hegemonic perspective that unconsciously inscribed in people’s minds. It is even hard to think another way around within a homogenous group. I am also wrestling with the question of how can we foster diverse and inclusive thinking that we can enjoy in our lives apart from universities and institutions? I think this is the hardest part of the issue.

  6. Great post. I really enjoyed when you said : “people tend to stay in their social comfort zone and get along with people that seem familiar and similar socioeconomic identities.” This is so true! Even though I am living in a foreign country, I started to realize that I tend to talk more and make friends only with people with Latin roots. Sometimes I even started to think: Am I racist against north Americans? I guess discussing about these topics have made more aware of my implicit bias.

  7. Interesting read! People with similar socio-economic background find it easier to get along with other people compared to people with different backgrounds. More education and awareness can lead to more inclusive communities. We are no more leaving in isolation increasingly we are becoming a global community.

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