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How diverse is your social network?


Thought diversity is something that I’ve written about a number of times on this blog, and it’s role in supporting and underpinning a collaborative and innovative culture is hard to dispute.

Whilst much of the discussion around thought diversity explores the issue from an organizational perspective, there is also much we can do as individuals to create diverse and interesting social networks.  A recent study highlights how important our mentality is to the creation of just such a network.

The study, conducted by researchers from Wellesley College, found that people who value diversity are, perhaps not surprisingly, much more likely to have a diverse and inclusive social network, both from an identity perspective but also from a thought diversity perspective too.

The authors believe that their work provides not only a useful insight into how we form friendships, but also into the various benefits of diversity.  This latter point is particularly important given the huge focus on diversity in so many organizations today.

The authors note however that whilst many investigations of diversity focus on things such as race and ethnicity, their study attempted to take a much broader conception of diversity.

“Encouraging dialogue among people of differing backgrounds and beliefs can reduce prejudice and lead to a greater appreciation of diversity,” the authors say.

Valuing diversity

The results make the study one of the first to make the connection between a positive belief about the value of diversity and the likelihood that you will then seek out diverse people.

In addition to elements such as race and ethnicity, this also includes our beliefs on issues ranging from birth control, sociopolitical topics, gay marriage and even prejudice towards certain groups.

The beliefs of participants was measured by a questionnaire that was distributed to friends in various neighborhoods in Boston.  The neighborhoods were chosen because they contain a wide spread of diversity, with some communities being highly diverse, and others rather homogeneous.

Whilst participants from the most diverse neighborhoods seemed to value diversity more than their peers from homogeneous neighborhoods, the results revealed that valuing diversity was the strongest indicator of the diversity of your personal social network.

Previous studies have suggested that diversity tends to beget diversity, with diverse communities more likely to prompt diverse relationships.  On the web however, this hasn’t always been the case, with the sheer level of diversity available allowing us the option to find people that are just the same as us, creating a sort of echo chamber of thought where we make friends with those who think, act and believe what we do.

This study is important therefore in showing that even in such an environment, we can still foster diverse relationships providing it’s something we value sufficiently.

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