I made a new friend yesterday. She told me that her son had moved from a predominantly black neighborhood in NYC to a mostly white upstate New York college, and really struggled with seeing, for the very first time, how it felt to be in the minority. Tell me about it. About being a woman engineer in manufacturing. About being the only brown person in the rural mid-west. About looking around the conference table and realizing that no-one else present resembles you in any way. There are two ways to handle this. You can retreat to your comfort zone. Or you can enjoy the challenge, and learn how to be heard anyway. And then, help create a world where diversity, done right, is not uncomfortable.



Diversity can be of many kinds. Visible or not. Controversial or not. Unexpected or not. Physical, or mental, or biological. The easiest kind to see at a glance, of course, is racial. That’s one of the things I love about cities in the U.S. — they are truly mosaics of the world. You just have to look around you to see that this is a country of immigrants.


New York subway poster

When I travel, I don’t expect diversity in other parts of the world. Every so often, there is an honorable exception, like London or Hongkong, and I love those places. In general, though, I expect to see a majority of white faces in Iceland, and brown faces in Indonesia, and that’s what I get.  But here, at home, I appreciate the racial diversity, and honestly, I have come to expect it. I most definitely notice it. It was interesting to go from NYC to Chicago recently and note the relative lack of diversity, when I remember clearly a trip to Chicago when I was living in a small town in western Michigan a few years ago, and finding Chicago’s diversity remarkable!


Think of the words we associate with diversity. Broad-mindedness. Tolerance. Openness. Fairness. Inclusion. They are all values I espouse. But perhaps the reason I want diversity most fiercely is the one that is most personal. Feeling “different”. Feeling like an outsider. Teenagers might grow out of that feeling, but persons with mental health concerns usually don’t. A diverse environment subconsciously tells me, “You too are welcome here.”tumblr_o3p4r2dgYA1specoro1_1280
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2 Responses to Diversity

  1. swamimalathi says:

    As an engineer, the diversity I have found most challenging to handle is mental diversity. The person I work most closely with is a non-analytical thinker, who regularly makes technical connections and statements that make no sense to me – but his musician’s mind sees the jump or non-sequitur as natural. I find it extremely difficult (but rewarding) to work him on projects and papers together. Similarly, I find it really difficult to deal with people who are political in their interactions, or who focus on sales almost to the exclusion of technical feasibility. At home too, I find it really difficult to deal with people whose primary approach to life is emotional rather than based on logic and practicality.

    While outer diversity is most challenging at the level of initial interactions, I suspect that the deep and enduring conflicts and challenges arise from inner diversity that we find unable to accept or tolerate, such as non-theistic vs. highly religious people (rationality vs faith), or value system differences such as relative importance of fairness vs. loyalty (which I remember reading somewhere as a primary difference between liberals and conservatives).

    It is interesting how diversity works in India. Because of the extensive linguistic, cultural and religious diversity, there is a high tolerance of diversity. Yet there is also extensive discrimination based on a wide variety of factors: accent (perceived education and sophistication level), rich vs. poor (even foreigners from richer countries are treated better than those from poor countries!), urban vs. rural (which I think is actually the biggest divide in the world these days) and so on. I have yet to understand the roots of the Indian psyche that results in the same persons being such a mix of tolerance and prejudice! Quite unlike other societies where people mostly seem to be either more or less welcoming of diversity.


    • Mimi G. says:

      Very true. About your take on discrimination in India, perhaps you have a more nuanced understanding of this because you are looking at it from the inside. Perhaps there are similar dichotomies in other countries visible to their inhabitants.


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