Let’s celebrate our diversity!

Version imprimable

April 11, 2017

Vincent Poitout and studentsI’ve been thinking about writing this « Director’s note » in English for a while. This idea was prompted by e-mails I occasionally receive from non-French speaking trainees asking me why official communication from the CRCHUM cannot be sent in both languages. The response of course is that French is the official language in Québec; that we are a public institution; and that we must respect our provincial language rules. The second reason is that we unfortunately don’t have the resources to translate all documents in English.

These practical considerations aside, we highly value the diversity of our research community. It is to convey our appreciation of our non-French speaking colleagues that I finally decided to write this note in English, despite a warning from our communications folks that I might be severely reprimanded by our legal authorities for doing so!

Now, of course I realize that language diversity is not restricted to French and English. But unfortunately, I can’t write in Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, German, Japanese, or any other language for that matter! Also, language is obviously only one aspect of diversity which encompasses gender, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and many other traits.  

The CRCHUM is a very diverse environment. In the last two years, we have welcomed trainees from at least 34 different nationalities. I argue that this is a tremendous asset, but why? 

Because scientific investigation is all about confronting ideas and approaching issues from various perspectives. In an article entitled “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” published in Scientific American in 2014 as part of a special report on diversity in science and innovation, Katherine W. Phillips concludes that diversity works « by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place. The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In just the same way, we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate. » There is a wealth of evidence in support of the claim that diversity is a key driver of innovation, not just in science but in business as well (see for example the Forbes Insights report on the topic). 

Beyond the walls of our institution, we are very fortunate to live in a city, a province, and a country that – for the most part – understand and promote the value of diversity. Given some recent political moves close to us, we should be all the more thankful for and appreciative of the openness and welcoming of the people of Montreal, Quebec, and Canada. As an immigrant myself, I am profoundly grateful. This is our strength. Let’s celebrate it. But let’s not take it for granted, and continue to defend it as a critical core value of ours.

Vincent Poitout
Director of the CRCHUM