New Zealand Law Society - Embracing Diversity

Embracing Diversity

Embracing Diversity

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Part 4 — Celebrate our differences

Globalisation should mean heterogeneity not homogeneity. Instead of creating a single, boring global village we should focus on encouraging the proliferation of cultural diversity. Many voices, more choices, less uniformity. We could enjoy a rich array of cultures and allow diverse ideologies to flourish.

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”.
— Stephen Covey


  1. People have diverse aptitudes and skills, whether based on their cultural backgrounds or different fields of interest. It is beneficial to have individuals with various talents, whether in a group, company or social setting.
  2. Diversity encourages individuals to embrace some of the qualities of humanism, not necessarily as a religious or philosophical policy, but rather as a way of relating to others. By learning about and understanding the different traditions of a friend or work colleague we can become more sensitive to those traditions.
  3. “You cannot solve a problem from the same level of thinking that created it” (Einstein). Different backgrounds and cultures approach conflict in different ways. People with diverse backgrounds can provide insight on new approaches to address difficult moral or other dilemmas.
  4. Diversity educates us. We learn about the traditions of other “tribes” through formal education and life experience and, in doing so, find it more difficult to judge people from those tribes.
  5. Research shows that productivity flourishes in culturally diverse cities and that people are willing to pay to live and work in such fertile environments. The mind expands when encountering modes of thinking that differ from its own. Diversity provides innovation which in turn propels economic growth.
  6. The diversity that globalisation has brought into the world’s most cosmopolitan cities offers tangible benefits – for personal development, communities and the economy as a whole. For people who appreciate cultural diversity and want to live in tolerant, open societies, the vibrancy of major cities like London, New York and Melbourne is a major attraction. Diversity thus acts as a magnet for talent, which in turn further spurs economic growth.
  7. Diversity broadens the range of cultural experiences available in a city or country. The mingling of cultures through immigration leads to distinctive innovation. People are now interested in new holistic approaches to issues that blend Eastern and Western influences, spirituality and quantum physics, ancient wisdom and modern theories.

People who have grown up in multicultural societies often find it not only normal but desirable to live with people of different backgrounds. Diversity is not merely tolerated, but something to be actively sought out.

The biggest economic benefit of diversity is that it stimulates new ideas, which are the source of most economic growth. The exceptional individuals who come up with brilliant new ideas are often immigrants. Instead of following the conventional wisdom, immigrants tend to have a different point of view and notice new details. As outsiders, they are more determined to succeed. For example, of Britain’s 129 Nobel prize-winners, 21 arrived in the country as refugees.

Most innovations nowadays do not come from individuals but from groups of talented people sparking off each other. The more diversity within the group the more expansive the thinking and therefore the innovation.

Diversity is vital in a range of important industries and sectors, because an everincreasing share of advanced economies’ prosperity comes from companies that solve problems – whether they are developing new medicines, new computer games or new environmentallyfriendly technologies, designing innovative products and policies, or providing original management advice.

Diversity is critical for an organisation’s ability to innovate and adapt in a fast changing environment. It is essential to the growth and prosperity of any organisation that it be able to draw on diverse perspectives, experiences, cultures, genders and ages. Why? Because diversity breeds innovation and innovation breeds business success.

Successful companies are not the ones that build a business and then look at diversity as a nicetohave attribute. Truly successful and innovative organisations are those that build diverse teams when they are just starting out in their own apartment or in their garage. Diversity is a mentality, not just a strategic imperative.

A cornerstone to making diversity work is to respect all people and to genuinely value the differences among them. By always putting these values into action you can overcome personal inhibitions and apprehensions.

As John Stuart Mill remarked in 1848:

“It is hardly possible to overrate the value, for the improvement of human beings, of things which bring them into contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar ... there is no nation which does not need to borrow from others”.

Coming into contact with different types of people, different points of view, different ways of thinking and different lifestyles, helps us understand our own culture and the world around us better, to grasp the values and assumptions that underpin them, and hopefully progress as individuals and as a society. As we do so, conflicts should be resolved more readily and effectively.

Paul Sills is an Auckland barrister specialising in commercial and civil litigation. He is also an experienced mediator.  This is the fourth in a series of articles on embracing diversity. Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three and Part Five and Part Six.

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