According to Scientific American, “The word ‘diversity’ is shorthand for a vast effort to remake society to include everyone—not just those in privileged positions—in politics, culture and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s a noble goal, but not an easy one in today’s society. Luckily, it’s also a call-to-arms that millennial parents strive to embrace.
In a 2014 study produced by Katherine W. Phillips, the senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, argues as we do that diversity is not only important, it is crucial to the success of our future generation. So if you’re out there fighting the good fight and you need some encouragement, here are six tried and true science-backed reasons why diversity will help your child succeed in the world ahead.
1. Diversity creates teamwork.
If you want to build a boat, you’re going to need a carpenter, a sailor and a weatherman. No this is not an opening to a joke. To create something that works, you have to have an expert with different knowledge at every step and you have to rely on that person for the knowledge that you lack. What your kids are learning when they work on that economics budgeting project with their friends can mean more than you know if those friends come from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. They’re learning what it is to live and thrive in a globally diverse society where interaction with different people is necessary to succeed. To put it in a way we can all appreciate, Philips states, “You would not think of building a new car without engineers, designers and quality-control experts.” No, no we would not.
2. Diversity changes perspective.
The world would be a sad place if we all looked at a Pollock painting with the same eyes. Or if we all thought McDonald’s was the bee’s knees and so never tried that street taco with a fresh squeeze of lime. We would only need one genre in film, one style of clothing, one sport worth playing. Philips writes, “Being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective,” but with diversity comes all manner of opinions, and with opinions come choice and with choice comes the freedom to change your mind.
3. Diversity breeds creativity.
Simply being around new people with new perspectives brings out curiosity. Curiosity awakens that side of your brain that wants to experiment, to try new things. Creativity is experimental by nature. It makes you think outside the box. People who don’t fit in your box do the same thing. They draw you out into a new world. Poetry might not be your kid’s thing, but hearing a poem read in another language by a native speaker might spur them on to try. According to Philips it’s all about access to “novel information.” New info to use in new ways.
4. Diversity makes better problem solvers.
In one study, Philips and her colleagues grouped undergraduate students together either on same race or interracial teams and gave them a murder mystery to solve. The racially diverse groups solved the mystery and outperformed the other groups. Why? Because being around people who think differently from you keeps you from making assumptions. New perspectives keep you guessing.
5. Diversity clarifies values
We all want our kids to succeed in life. We wish for health, happiness and the ability for them to pursue their dreams, whether that be the law firm, the flower shop or the stage. They know they have our support. They know their family’s values, but we can’t make those values real for them until they come in contact with those who don’t agree. When your kids see the values of children from other countries, the differing emphasis on time and family and religion and hard work, their own values come to light. They figure out what is worth standing by and what they want for their own lives.
6. Diversity makes you work harder
Philips did the same murder mystery test on groups of Republicans and Democrats, except this time they had to solve in on their own and then be prepared to defend their choice. Guess what? Those that thought they’d be presenting to members of their party prepared less thoroughly than those who thought they’d be fighting the enemy. If you think you’re going to encounter resistance, you prepare for it. If every homework assignment was easy peasy, no kid would push himself past the minimum. If every discussion in English class stemmed from similar thinkers, then we’d never learn to question Holden Caulfield’s sanity or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism. This is what diversity does. It pushes you to prove yourself because not everyone from every culture will agree with you. Thank goodness.