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Diversity in the Military

Despite its challenges, diversity can be a major asset for a modern military force. The issue of managing individuals with different backgrounds, appearances, experiences, abilities, and beliefs is not new. However, the increased diversity of the early 21st century has made it particularly acute. Diversity today means not only race but also different religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, and other traits (Ramos et al., 2019). By those metrics, most militaries are now more diverse than ever. Although military groups usually prize uniformity due to its advantages for cohesion, current thinking emphasizes the benefits of diversity. By bringing together diverse groups, you can leverage insights produced by varied backgrounds (Fricker et al., 2020). You can also rely on a wider variety of useful skills and talents. In this paper, I will examine the concept of diversity and its utility in military contexts.

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Human diversity is an objective fact rooted in our evolution and prehistory. Members of ancient hunter-gatherer tribes were comparatively similar to each other. Their diversity consisted largely of sex and age group differences. Cyclical climate change drove our ancestors to spread across the globe over millions of years (Mirazón Lahr, 2016). Migrations and local extinctions separated human societies from each other. Our ancestors adapted to local conditions biologically, evolving into different races. They also developed specific cultural and social traits, like different languages and religions. People’s attitudes towards such widespread diversity varied from the early days. Humans tend to put the interests of the in-group first and view out-groups with suspicion (Ramos et al., 2019). However, contacts with other groups prevented inbreeding and enabled an exchange of information and resources. Such contacts led to more diversity within societies even as they reduced overall human diversity (Mirazón Lahr, 2016). Over time, the most successful groups absorbed others, becoming more diverse. The same dynamics that influenced contacts between prehistoric groups remain relevant to this day.

Most modern countries are highly diverse, and their militaries tend to reflect this fact. The above-mentioned historical processes directly caused internal ethnic and cultural diversity. The complexity of our modern society also produced differences in worldview, lifestyle, and education (Fricker et al., 2020). Social changes led to the integration of women and the greater visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals in more social roles. Visible increases in diversity can lead to a loss of trust and cohesion in a group (Ramos et al., 2019). Those problems are especially pressing for large, hierarchical organizations, such as the military. Diversity can also offer us numerous benefits, namely, diverse skills, approaches, and viewpoints (Fricker et al., 2020). Enhancing our flexibility and cultural competence, helps us engage with a complex, diverse world. The integration of former out-groups tends to cancel out the initial harm caused by increases in diversity (Massey et al., 2018). Once we accept people who are different from us in our groups, they no longer lower trust or disrupt cohesion. Thus, whether diversity is a net positive or negative depends on how we approach it.

The military cannot avoid engaging with diversity because it is a part of society. It needs to create a coherent approach for managing diversity. The need for discipline may seem to make diversity a liability that the military needs to minimize. Even minor disruptions of cohesion during combat operations can have fatal consequences. Still, diversity can be an asset for today’s militaries if they can control its hazards. Modern military doctrines call for an adaptable response to complex, diverse, and unpredictable threats (Mazarr, 2016). Internal diversity can give military groups the versatility they need to perform their functions. We should encourage individuality in the military to foster personal initiative and independent thinking. The military’s strong discipline and internal culture can help it integrate diverse individuals into a unified force. As a result, we would have all the military benefits of diversity without its weaknesses. Conversely, attempts to suppress diversity in the ranks are doomed to fail. They would only exacerbate the loss of internal trust and cohesion by alienating members of discriminated groups. Thus, the future of the military depends on its effective management of diversity.

Diversity is an essential human trait that manifests in social, cultural, and biological differences. The high diversity of our modern societies is the result of millennia of migration and adaptation. It largely developed in response to the natural environment and climate change. While increases in diversity can diminish social cohesion and trust, this effect seems to be short-lived. Over time, our societies can fully absorb elements that we used to consider alien. While increasing diversity poses certain challenges, it also offers major benefits. Embracing diversity can let us benefit from a variety of perspectives and superior ability to adapt. Since modern militaries reflect and engage with today’s complex world, they cannot afford to neglect diversity. They should make diversity a part of their internal cultures to minimize the damage to their cohesion. It would also grant them the superior versatility that they need to counter complex threats. Diversity is in line with modern military doctrines, which call for a flexible and creative approach.


Fricker, M., Graham, P. J., Henderson, D., & Pedersen, N. J. L. L. (Eds.). (2020). The Routledge handbook of social epistemology. Routledge.

Massey, D., Bennett, M., Ramos, M. R., & Hewstone, M. (2018). Social diversity is initially threatening, but people do adapt over time – New research. The Conversation.

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Mazarr, M. J. (2016). Rethinking risk in national security: Lessons of the financial crisis for risk management. Springer.

Mirazón Lahr, M. (2016). The shaping of human diversity: Filters, boundaries, and transitions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1698), 1-12.

Ramos, M. R., Bennett, M. R., Massey, D. S., & Hewstone, M. (2019). Humans adapt to social diversity over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(25), 12244–12249.

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