Diversity Week: What is diversity in academia?

When a company references their “diversity plan,” they’re often talking about a plan to meet an ethnicity or gender quota among their staff or in their boardrooms.

But diversity in 2015 means so much more than just appointing women or ethnic minorities to senior positions. When we talk about having a diverse population in any context, we’re talking about having lots of different people represented. Different ages. Different backgrounds. Women and men. People of all gender identities and sexual orientations. People with illnesses and disabilities, as well as the able-bodied. People of all religions and beliefs.

The AUT definition of diversity is this:

Diversity means understanding, respecting and embracing the uniqueness that results from differences in gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, religious and ethical beliefs or political opinions. It means taking account of individual differences, respecting the ways in which differences are expressed, and taking full advantage of the exchange of perspectives and ideas resulting from those differences to build a robust, inclusive and welcoming environment.

That means that Diversity Week is about absolutely all of us!

This is a view of diversity that moves beyond simple majorities and minorities. This is about having all perspectives represented and thus opening our thinking.

In academia especially, diversity is crucial. Higher education is all about understanding our world, and how can we understand our world if we view it with blind spots? In research, the more perspectives we bring to our work, the more robust our work will be.

In fact, Harvard economists Richard Freeman and Wei Huang have shown that mixed-nationality research teams produce more successful papers than same-nationality teams. Freeman and Huang examined 2.5 million scientific papers from US-based authors, and found that those co-authored with non-US authors received more citations and were published in higher-rated journals than those written exclusively by US authors.

Even for those who perform their research alone, engaging within a community of many different researchers allows for the generation of new ideas. And discovering new ideas is one of the coolest parts of being a researcher.


Work cited:

Freeman, R. B., & Huang, W. (2014). Collaborating with people like me: Ethnic co-authorship within the US. NBER Working Paper 19905.



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2 thoughts on “Diversity Week: What is diversity in academia?

  1. There is a thing or two that AUT could learn about ’embracing diversity’ at the work place. What’s the point of having nice definitions if it is not practised?

    1. Every organisation can do better, and Diversity Week is just one of 52 weeks per year when we must challenge ourselves to practice the values we preach. If you have specific concerns about diversity issues at AUT, you can contact Diversity Manager Lian-Hong Brebner at lbrebner@aut.ac.nz.

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