If you want to grow as a person, you need to expand your mindset, let new people and new ideas into your life. The more diverse these people and ideas are, the more you can learn from them. It helps you to put your own beliefs, values, and opinions into perspective. Hence, diversity helps you to brighten your horizon, get inspired by new ideas, and ultimately, be more successful.

Cultural heritage

Diversity has been a defining aspect of my life since childhood, growing up in a family with a migration background. My grandparents on my mother’s side emigrated from Spain to Switzerland as factory workers in the 1960s, bringing with them their two daughters (10 and 13 years old). The girls had to spend their first months in Switzerland in hiding, since they had no permits to stay in this country. When the local authorities found out about them, they turned a blind eye on the missing permit and the girls were allowed to visit public school. The older one, my mother, did an apprenticeship as a technical draughtswoman at today’s international operating company ABB. During that time, she met my father, a construction draughtsman in training, whose mother was Swiss and father was Italian. They had two children: my younger brother and me. We were brought up speaking Spanish and Swiss German, living a cultural mix of traditions from both countries. At the time, having a migration background was not always easy – a fact that sadly is still true today – so I was not always very proud of my cultural heritage. The biggest advantage I saw then was to have two native languages, which helped me a lot with learning French and English at school. Today, I believe that my cultural background has made me the person that I am now, and I try to pass on the heritage to my own daughter.

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What do you do best?

I decided to become a teacher when I was in middle school because I thought it to be a good job. What I didn’t consider was if I would be any good at teaching. Later in my teenage years, I started to think about what I do best. Every person has something that she is good at and passionate about. Maybe you are a talented musician, a gifted writer, or a mathematical genius. More likely, you are – like me – a person with a variety of interests, skills, and talents. Having a broad set of skills is great, isn’t it? Thinking back at my last year at college when I had to choose my career path, I remember being pretty annoyed about having so many interests. Should I go on with my career goal – which I had since middle school – to become a teacher or should I be bold and enroll at University, as the first member of my family ever? The second option appealed to me more, especially since there were so many different study fields – which of course led to the next decision dilemma: which field should I choose? Biology, history, and sociology were top of my list. However, I ended up majoring in media and communication science with ethnology and educational psychology as minors. Not the smartest combination in terms of future career options, but certainly a very diverse course program. During my studies at the University of Zurich I was confronted with a variety of topics, theories, and ideas, forcing me to rethink and question my own beliefs and views. I believe that to question myself – my beliefs, values, opinions etc. – is one of the most important things that I learned at the University. I also learned that I could use my whole skill set – not only the analytical skills – for my studies. Creativity, communication skills, empathy, and conflict management skills helped me to overcome issues, such as dealing with free riders in study groups, to come up with a good research question and design, or to solve problems with low-responsive supervisors. This was even more true for my doctoral studies which I would not have been able to complete without my “soft” skills.

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Role models and equal opportunities

During my PhD, I thought a lot about pursuing a career in academia since I love science, which is why I have been working at the intersection of science, education, and communication ever since. At our department, we had six male professors and one female professor at the time. My two supervisors were men and they did not show much interest in my career. In my last year, the female professor approached me, encouraging me to pursue an academic career. However, at that point, I had already made my mind up, mainly due to the fact, that I wanted to have kids in the near future – a plan that was not really compatible with one- or two-year contracts and having to move from one University to another. Of course, the fact that the only female professor at the department had no children did not help. I admired her for what she had achieved and I can only guess what she had to go through to get there. However, it did not have the effect on me that I would say: hey, there is a female professor – if she can do it, so do I. On the contrary, the fact that there were so few woman, intimidated me. I did not think that I had it in me to elbow my way through all the male competitors.

The lack of role models is a huge problem – not only in academia – it is an obstacle, which we need to overcome if we strive for equal opportunities. I actually only realized this when I had my daughter six years ago. Being a mom made me realize two things: first, Switzerland does not offer equal opportunities for working mothers – no news there – and second, if I want my daughter to have more female role models to look up to, I need to change things myself. Starting my own business while working part-time and having a preschool kid at home wasn’t exactly easy. But with the help and support of my family and friends I pulled through, and I am proud of what I accomplished. Not surprising, my daughter is not interested in my work at all. However, she found her own role models in her aunt and her grandmother who are running a farm together, which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

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What’s next?

I will continue to look for new ideas, perspectives, and inspirations, pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Like writing this blog and exposing my thought and views to everyone. I close with a quote by American author, journalist, and lecturer Gail Sheehy:

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”

Gail Sheehy

More on why diversity matters:
UNESCO: Learning to live together
UN: Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity
Forbes: The truth about diversity – and why it matters
SINews: Why diversity matters in the study of humanities