The Value of Diversity
Diversity, we are constantly told, is a good thing. It is something to aim for and it is something that the law should compel or at least facilitate. Unfortunately, folks are not always clear or precise in regards to what is meant by the term and just why it is a good thing.
The easy and obvious view of diversity is a variety in ethnicities in an area or group. For example, people speak of the military as being diverse because there blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and so on. Another common form of diversity is cultural. This, obviously enough, involves a variety of people from various cultural groups (which may or may not also involve ethnicity as a factor). A third common form is gender diversity. Traditionally this involved having a mix of males and females, but has been expanded to include sexual orientation (straight, bisexual, gay, trans, and so on). Other forms of diversity (ideological, for example) are also possible.
It is commonly assumed in some circles that diversity is good. However, it is reasonable to inquire as to the nature and extent of this value.
The value of diversity is typically presented as extrinsic: diversity is supposed to have various positive effects. In the case of communities, diversity provides a greater variety of restaurants and is supposed to make the area more interesting. In the case of the military, diversity is supposed to provide useful things such as a variety of language skills, understanding of different cultures, and other things that can be useful in operating in other countries. In the case of academics, diversity is supposed to bring in a variety of opinions and perspectives other than those held by the white males of the old academy.
One concern with this sort of view is that it seems to rest on the assumption that individuals represent their groups. So, for example, adding an Hispanic woman to the faculty will provide a perspective that must be distinct from those held by a white male (who represents his ethnicity and gender) or a black woman (who also represents her ethnicity and gender). To assume that a person must somehow represent or instantiate the perspective of his/her group or even be different from others seems to rest on stereotyping. In fact, it might be suspected that this sort of view is analogous to racism/sexism/etc. in that it assumes, uncritically, that people will or will not have certain qualities based solely on their membership in a group (ethnic, gender, cultural or other).
That said, it is not unreasonable to believe that people who differ in ethnicity, gender, and so on will tend to be be different in other ways. But, whether these differences are significant or valuable is another matter.
The value of diversity is also put forth as being an end in and of itself. That is, it is presented as having intrinsic value. So, for example, having a diverse faculty would be valuable even if the diversity had no discernible effect on education. While I will admit that arguing for intrinsic value is tricky, it seems unlikely that diversity is valuable in and of itself. Rather, as noted above, its value seems to stem from its consequences.
People also argue for diversity in terms of equal opportunity. That is, we should strive for diversity as a means of creating more equal opportunity and to reduce discrimination. In this case, the end is not to achieve diversity, but to end discrimination. This should, in theory, create more diversity by removing unfair obstacles. Of course, some people do take diversity to be the goal. That is, the end is not to allow equal opportunity but to ensure that the population in question is divided among certain groups. In general, the usual idea is that the diversity of the specific population (for example university faculty) matches the diversity of the general population.
One obvious concern with this sort of approach is that it can directly conflict with non-discrimination and equal opportunity. For example , individuals could be excluded from a job based on their membership in an over-represented group rather than on the basis of their qualifications for that job. It is, I think, rather well established that denying a person a job on the basis of race, gender and so on is unjust. Excluding someone in the name of diversity is no more right than excluding someone in the same of uniformity.
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