What is Diversity and Why Does it Matter?

I distinctly remember the first time I knew I lived in a bubble.   I was 17- a junior in high school.  I had two elective slots open.  For one, I decided to be a science lab assistant that didn’t require much work.  This allowed me to walk across the street one day a week to spend time with an at-risk elementary student as her mentor.

Up until that point in my life, I thought most people lived like me.  Some had more and some had less but I didn’t think there were drastic differences.  As I got to know this little girl and hear her story, I realized I was wrong.  Dead wrong.

She and her brother had been shuffled from home to home, with no one really providing for them.   She didn’t know where her next meal would come from and who would (or wouldn’t) be picking her up from school and where she would sleep most nights.

That same year, I also had a period of my schedule where I was an aide in the developmental wing of our high school.  I spent time with students around my age with varying degrees of cognitive and physical disabilities.

This was the beginning of the realization that not everyone’s world, even if we were occupying the same physical space, was the same as the world I was in.

With a large focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, my realization that I lived in a bubble helps to illustrate that diversity and inclusion aren’t just about your Title VII criteria and other subsequent legislative catagories- sex, race, color, national origin, religion,  age and sexual orientation.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t about discrimination. It’s about creating an environment in work and in life that proves it is valuable to be around people who are different from us. This value is added through perspective and leads to business results.

So when you think about your workplace (and life), do you have diversity and are you open to the perspectives around multiple criteria of diversity?

Does it include diversity in:

  1. Demographics- Title IX criteria such as sex (and sexual orientation), race, color, national origin (I would also add geographic diversity- I’ve learned a lot from people who grew up in a different part of the United States than I have), and religion.
  2. Age
  3. Cognitive Diversity including things that many would label as “disabilities” like Autism, Asperger’s, etc.
  4. Physical Diversity including things that many would also label as “disabilities” tied to physical limitations- blind, deaf, paraplegic individuals, etc.
  5. Personality Diversity
  6. Socio-Economic Diversity
  7. Political Diversity
  8. Diversity of Experiences

A lot of these areas of diversity can’t be seen.  They come with being heard.

As a business leader, I’d encourage you to use the Privilege Walk  to begin the conversation of allowing a variety of areas of diversity to be seen (by the positions people end up in on the walk) and then be heard by facilitating a discussion around it.

Because “companies with inclusive talent practices in hiring, promotion, development, leadership and team management generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors.” Source here.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird in High School too.  I was 15.  But it wasn’t until I was 17, walking into that little girl’s current front yard to take her to dinner that I realized I just learned what Atticus Finch meant, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Climb into someone else’s shoes today.  You’ll add more value if you do.


Interested in learning more about diversity and inclusion? Join Mary Ila at SHRM’s Diversity and Inclusion conference as she tackles the topic of hiring for fit AND diversity.

See session information here.

Mary Ila Ward

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