Why is difference so often framed negatively, and presented as dangerous and suspicious? Why are new methods and practices frequently opposed instead of welcomed with enthusiasm and seen to contribute and complement the old ones? Why are developing one’s knowledge and acquiring new skills literally “not nice” in the Finnish (linguistic) context, meaning at the “discomfort zone” (Finnish “epämukavuusalue”) instead of the English equivalent “learning zone”? Why do people often think that “us” is somehow better than “them”? What about migration – how could foreign citizens be considered more as an opportunity than as a threat?
Difference and diversity should be seen in a more positive light. There is extensive research on the favorable consequences of diversity and multiculturality in the workplace and in the society at large. For example, increased diversity has influenced positively the performance of companies by increasing productivity, driving innovation, boosting internationalization, building global networks, and promoting learning through access to new knowledge and technologies. Foreign citizens, migrants, have linguistic and socio-cultural skills as well as understanding of many cultures – and thus abilities to smoothly co-operate and build trust in transnational contexts. (Li, 2020). Nevertheless, diversity as such is not enough to create desirable outcomes if not implemented holistically and based on values. The management and the authorities should respect and recognize the important contribution and special skills of their diverse employees and residents, and thus build feeling of belonging, being included. (Mor Barak, 2015). The concept of inclusion is often linked with diversity to describe how organizations, societies and their members connect and interact with people representing all types of differences (Deane & Ferdman, 2014). Smooth and successful integration is crucial both for the migrants and the receiving societies.
Studying in the international Master’s Programme in Intercultural Encounters has been extremely valuable, eye-opening and pleasant experience. Being surrounded by such amazing fellow students, with diverse backgrounds from different parts of the world, has enabled countless inspiring discussions in the classroom (before the pandemic) and enriching group case studies. Without this unique intercultural context, we would have missed an integral part of the purpose of our studies.
Cultures and subcultures, in-groups and out-groups, are formed everywhere, and thus intercultural encounters, synergies, and ideological clashes may well happen between regional communities, parents and their children, different socio-economical classes, majority-minority groups, political parties, religious affiliations, hobby-related circles and even between academic disciplines. In this light, if diversity is to be found anywhere and all of us construct unique identities, also migration could be seen more as an opportunity to learn something new than as a threat to protect oneself against.
This blog post wanted to focus on the positive aspects of diversity as well as on the possibilities enabled by migration. While it is evident that challenges do exist on many levels, and several issues could still be improved, it is important to start from attitudes and foster tolerance, respect, equality, and empathy.
Deane, B., & Ferdman, B. (2014). Diversity at work : the practice of inclusion. Jossey-Bass.
Li, H. (2020). How to Retain Global Talent? Economic and Social Integration of Chinese Students in Finland. Sustainability, 12(4161), 1-19. DOI: 10.3390/su12104161
Mor Barak, M. E. (2015). Inclusion is the Key to Diversity Management, but What is Inclusion? Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 39(2), 83–88. DOI: 10.1080/23303131.2015.1035599
Author is a student at the University of Helsinki