The Power of Diversity

by Geraldine Richmond | Oct 28, 2019

From the President Banner

Why is diversity so important in science and technology?

Geraldine RichmondThis question, whether asked or implied, is one we need to counter at all levels. Our growing diversity in science and engineering is our strength. And given the global challenges we face today, we need all the mental muscle power we can get.

Ultimately, our goal must be cognitive diversity—the grand assembly of different perspectives and skills in laboratories and classrooms. This aspiration can be reached only through a diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, experience, and geography. Examples abound that show how a diverse team can identify and address issues that a like-minded and a look-alike team might miss. For instance, countless lives of women and children have been saved after airbag engineers realized the mistake of basing the force of deployment on the size of the average adult male. Lives are being improved and saved as medical and pharmaceutical researchers take into full account the differences in racial, gender, and ethnic physiology.  

For those who thrive on data, substantial research shows the economic benefit of an inclusive environment. Companies with ethnically and culturally diverse executives, boards of directors, and rank-and-file workers are 35 percent more likely to show profitability above their industry medians, according to the Diversity Matters report by McKinsey & Company, which compiled data from 366 public companies across a range of industries in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the United Kingdom.

A large and expanding gap exists between how older generations and younger Millennials define diversity and inclusion. Baby boomers and Gen Xers tend to consider workplace diversity in legal and moral terms, regardless of whether it benefits the bottom line. It’s simply a matter of fairness. 

Millennials, however, take a much broader view, according to Unleashing the Power of Inclusion, a study  by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. Millennials consider diversity to be a necessary building block for innovation. They believe an inclusive culture—built on teamwork—is also essential to competitiveness and financial growth. According to this study, the disconnect between the generations is already causing hardships as upper management resists attempts by Millennials to express themselves freely. 

The generations that follow will likely amplify these views. Diversity is a requirement for the future. If scientists and engineers are to continue their claim of always being at the forefront of innovation, they also must fully embrace the growing understanding of the power of diversity.

Geraldine L. Richmond is the Fiscal Year 2020 president of Sigma Xi. 

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