Words on Diversity from the PHP Rainbow Elephpant

Enfys, the PHP Rainbow Elephpant, is intended to help promote Diversity within the PHP Community: but what exactly is Diversity? What are the benefits of Diversity? And how can Diversity be achieved?

What is Diversity?

Perhaps my favourite definitions of Diversity – based on the definition found on many other Diversity-related and University websites – is:

The concept of Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect: it means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. These differences can be on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender-identity, socio-economic status, nationality, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, technology, or other ideologies.

The main difference that I’ve added to the standard core definition found on other websites is not to discriminate on the basis of “technology” (highly appropriate for a technical community). As developers, we shouldn’t be disparaging of other developers just because they use WordPress or Drupal or Magento or Laravel (I’m listing these specific frameworks because they are regularly derided) or any other technology stack or framework; or because they are familiar with a different programming paradigm to ourselves (functional, OOP, procedural/imperative).

Diversity is a set of conscious practices that involve:

  • Understanding and appreciating interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment.
  • Practising mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own.
  • Understanding that Diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing.
  • Recognising that personal, cultural and institutionalised discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others.

Diversity is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other as individuals, and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of Diversity contained within each individual.

Why is Diversity so important?

Diversity isn’t simply a matter of opening our companies or communities to those from different backgrounds to ourselves. While being a Diverse community is a worthwhile goal in itself, it is also something that will benefit the community or business.

As individuals, we learn a lot from people who have different experiences, beliefs and perspectives on things to ourselves; and the knowledge that we share within a Diverse community helps our own growth as individual developers. Everybody has something that they can teach us, no matter how much we think we know.

Diversity exposes us to new tools and technologies, to different ways of thinking about problems, and different ways of working. Being surrounded by a group of peers who are all similar to ourselves stifles our growth as developers, because it limits our exposure to new ideas. Working with peers from a broader range of backgrounds and lifestyles introduces us to new technologies, methodologies, approaches or solutions to the problems that we encounter, broadening our own learning in the process.

For a business or a community, a culture of Diversity is more valuable than simply a business culture that provides beanbags and air hockey tables in the office, a large screen TV for watching the football World Cup, and beer on a Friday afternoon (unless you recognise that some people might prefer soft drinks as an alternative): that type of culture tends to attract people with similar backgrounds and mindsets.

A Diverse organisation is one that values the differences in people. It is a business culture which recognises that people with different backgrounds, skills, attitudes and experiences bring fresh ideas and perceptions to the business. Diverse organisations encourage and harness these differences to make their services and products more relevant and usable; and more appealing to a Diverse customer base, increasing their potential market. Diverse organisations draw upon the widest possible range of views and experiences so they can listen to and meet the changing needs of their users and customers. So the encouragement of Diversity benefits that organisation.

How can we promote Diversity?

You cannot just pay lip service to the ideal of Diversity, and expect it to happen; you need to be pro-active; and believe in what you are doing, and the reasons why you are doing it; and continually work at it. It’s necessary to support and protect Diversity by valuing all individuals and groups without prejudice, and by fostering a climate where equality and mutual respect are inherent.

What’s important is that Diversity means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating differences. Simply tolerating those differences doesn’t make a workplace or community where people feel comfortable expressing different views. Simply silencing intolerance creates its own tensions that are counter to what you’re trying to achieve.