In most Western countries today, embracing diversity is considered both a desirable end and a means to an end[Unsupported assertion]. Every other day sees another academic publication showing that more diversity leads to better decision making, more efficient output, and etc. [Unsupported assertion]

This certainly was not the case a century ago.

When did embracing diversity become such an important (and almost religious) pursuit for modern Western societies? Can this be traced to specific movements (e.g. women enfranchisement, civil rights movements)?

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    I figured as much; it's just that I find your Q to (still) be rather poorly worded, as if the Q is "when did we start 'being diverse' all of a sudden". You will find that re-phrasing it so "the change" is not on the people not fitting the mould, but on the people making their lives hard for it, that some things become clearer -- and others more difficult.
    – DevSolar
    Jul 4, 2022 at 6:26
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    The addage of "embracing" was excellent, and turned the Q around for me.
    – DevSolar
    Jul 4, 2022 at 6:47
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    Please document your preliminary research Please provide evidence of the assertions.Is diversity important? Is it important for some/many/most/all Western countries? How important? Absent preliminary research, I'm not sure that historical sources and methods will be useful to answer this question, and it might better be asked in a different forum
    – MCW
    Jul 4, 2022 at 9:32
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    I think the acceptance of "social diversity" is a highly debated topic, you cannot take it for granted as a "goal" in western countries. Electoral results % will show you that very few western countries have a social majority for "embracing diversity". Even all the progressive countries have sizable % of political parties that are against this (such as the Netherlands).
    – James
    Jul 4, 2022 at 15:22
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    I don't want to write a long answer, but I think a good case could be made for the roots of this to be in the Peace of Westphalia. 109 different states agreed to tolerate a diversity of religions in Europe, ending a century of pointless and ruinous religious war in Europe that killed millions. This is the beginning of liberalism, a philosophy in which we agree tolerate other people's strange and uncouth ways, not necessarily because we like or respect them, but because fighting over them is wasteful and rarely conclusive. Jul 5, 2022 at 17:16

3 Answers 3


Embracing diversity (as well as the contrary, wanting more uniformity) might be a bit of a historical constant. You can find it at the very beginning of Confucius' Analects.

Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?

John Tzetzes from Constantinople expresses similar sentiments in the 12th century, albeit with a heavy dose of intolerance at the same time:

One finds me Scythian among Scythians, Latin among Latins...

And also to Persians I speak in Persian...

To Alans I say in their tongue:

‘Good day, my lord, my archontissa, where are you from? Tapankhas mesfili khsina korthi kanda, and so on’ . . .

Arabs, since they are Arabs, I address in Arabic...

And also I welcome the Ros according to their habits...

‘Sdraste, brate, sestritza’, and I say, ‘dobra deni’.

To Jews I say in a proper manner in Hebrew:

‘Your blind house devoted to magic, your mouth, a chasmengulfing flies,

Memakomene beth fagi beelzebul timaie..."

I am sure that it is possible to find lots of similar quotes through the centuries.

One example of turning (intra-Christian) diversity into official policies is the Electorate of Brandenburg and later the Kingdom of Prussia during the late 17th and early 18th century, epitomized in Frederick II's famous sentence

Everybody should go to heaven in his own fashion here

(den hier mus ein jeder nach Seiner Fasson Selich werden)

As for the current push for more diversity, it seems to be mainly the logical consequence of women's emancipation and increased international mobility post-WWII. In the US the Black civil rights movement probably also plays a role. Supporting equal rights and non-segregationist policies means, in practical terms, that one should also support more diversity at the workplace.

On a more opportunistic note (one that matches well with Prussian and especially the Constantinopolan examples above), in some places there are very direct advantages from having a diverse team. E.g. when developing or servicing products on a globalized market. So economic globalization and modern communications do play a role as well.

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    Putting aside whether it's been a "constant" in between these examples rather than it occasionally occurring as per them, is the contention that the OP's question warrants the response, "what's changed isn't such tolerance, but how quickly things change now"? It would be far from the only case of history "speeding up", to borrow a term from Roberts & Westad.
    – J.G.
    Jul 4, 2022 at 22:00
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    What has changed is 1. workforces have actually become more diverse through immigration and more female workers, and 2. there are more cases where diversity has direct economic benefits.
    – Jan
    Jul 4, 2022 at 22:59
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    Wasn't Confucius just talking about friends within the country? During his time, lands and countries outside China were generally considered to be cultrally inferior or outright barbaric. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hua%E2%80%93Yi_distinction)
    – KC Wong
    Jul 5, 2022 at 5:18

Here in America, as you suggest, women's rights, civil rights and the American Disability Act are the cause, but in a legal rather than cultural way. As anti-discrimination laws were passed and then strengthened through lawsuits or other legal requirements, larger companies were forced into proving they weren't discriminating by grudgingly having a few "diversity hires", and then -- after "but we already have a black woman" stopped working -- having a reasonable proportion of hires from protected groups.

After a few decades of that, the culture had changed. A diverse upper management team which would have been shocking in the 1970's, was now completely normal. Note how there's no embracing so far. Anti-discrimination law forced the change, which naturally caused a change in public attitudes. Sure, today you'll find CEO's saying they embrace the changes they were forced to make, but that was never a driving force.

  • What do you mean by "diversity hire" or a "protected group"? Could you add some citations to support your answer? Were large companies in the USA typically actively supporting/promoting segregation in the workplace in the 1960s or 1970s?
    – gerrit
    Jul 5, 2022 at 7:53
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    Citations please... This argument is based on the assumption that laws predate social change - but in a (nominally) democratic society, it is difficult to pass a law without broad social support, suggesting that the social change predates the law. Please revise to explain.
    – MCW
    Jul 5, 2022 at 11:41
  • One example of legality preceding social mores is gay marriage in Canada. The Ontario Supreme Court decided it was discriminatory, based on the interpretation of existing laws. Put to the population, most people sided on embracing the change, to the point where a subsequent Federal vote in Canada's Parliament, under Harper, got very little opposition - even Conservatives members, whose party had called it, saw where the wind was coming from. Once courts decide not to back discrimination, people, not infrequently, follow, if the change is not too far out of step with sentiment. Jul 5, 2022 at 16:26
  • Forcing companies is one effect. I'd also argue court cases forcing countries to confront the dissonance between their - often admirable - constitutions and legal rights protecting individuals vs the actual treatment of religious, ethnic or sexual-orientation minorities tends to lead people to question why discrimination is a good idea. Looking at legal influence is at least solid argument as going back to ancient history, where the idea might have been phrased by some, but rather rarely put in practice at scale and breadth. Jul 5, 2022 at 16:34
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: WP states public opinion was already in favor of the move by the time the first court ruling came about.
    – DevSolar
    Jul 5, 2022 at 19:18

The Holocaust and the reconstruction of Europe.

What is the opposite of diversity? Monoculture. The mono-ethnic, mono-religious nation-state.

What is the only way to achieve a monoculture? Violence. Those that do not conform must be suppressed, driven out ("ethnic cleansing") or murdered, whether at Auschwitz or at Srebrenica or just through a thousand individual local crimes.

As part of the attempts to prevent this from ever happening again, the European Convention on Human Rights was established.
In particular, article 8 "Freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and article 14 "Prohibition of discrimination".

This isn't the origin of "diversity" in general - the Austro-Hungarian empire was a pretty diverse place - but modern diversity thought does specifically set itself against ethno-nationalism.

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    I'm not convinced; the pattern of states created in Europe after WWII was of distinct nation states, valuing national (ethno/religious/linguistic) unity; that's pretty much the way Europe had been going for a century or more, with each empire splitting into nation states. Diversity - in the questioner's sense - was everywhere a low priority. Jul 5, 2022 at 17:09

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