What is Diversity at Work and Why Does it Matter?


“Diversity of Thought.”


 “Gender and race.”


What are we referring to when we say “diversity at work?”

Well, there are many different definitions for diversity in the workplace but generally, it is defined as "variety of people." For example, many people may say that diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. But depending on where you’re located in the world, it may also include religion, heritage, veteran status, age or nationality.

And all of these types of diversity are important.

Even simply integrating diverse personalities, for example, can allow for a more varied perspective on ideas, which can heighten creativity and innovation.

Think about the last article you read. A diverse team of writers is more likely to produce content that appeals to a wider audience, because they have different backgrounds and experiences. They’re also more likely to bring varied perspectives, even in business settings.  

Consider the difference in perspective that an HR person who lives in the U.S. vs. the U.K. vs. Brazil vs. Japan will have. Even if they’re all discussing diversity, they will likely offer different insights and may even have different priorities or approaches to solving their challenges. In general, people have different perspectives, ideas, approaches, and ways of doing things which can create a more varied perspective on …virtually anything!

Ultimately, there are many definitions of diversity at work because it tends to be based on the local population, and who may be marginalized, and who is the majority. Regardless of the identities that exist in any given workplace, there are many benefits of increasing diversity at work because it ultimately creates a workforce that is made up of people with different perspectives and backgrounds – reflecting the broader world.

Despite this however, research suggests that despite changes and improvements, there are still disparities in the workforce when it comes to equality, opportunity, pay equity, promotional opportunities and many other areas – across a number of identity groups.

Differentiating Between "Diversity" and "Inclusion"

Some researchers have taken to distinguishing between types of diversity by developing a three-layer model: surface-level, deep-level and hidden. As defined by scholars from Rice University :

1.Surface-level diversity:

Diversity in the form of characteristics of individuals that are readily visible including, but not limited to, age, body size, visible disabilities, race or sex.

2.Deep-level diversity:

Diversity in characteristics that are non-observable such as attitudes, values, and beliefs, such as religion.

3.Hidden diversity:

Diversity in characteristics that are deep-level but may be concealed or revealed at discretion by individuals who possess them, such as sexual orientation.

Understanding these various layers of diversity are critical to inclusion. But what is inclusion and how is it different from diversity?

Diversity is precisely what we’ve discussed above: differences in any form. Most organisations consider diversity in metrics when implementing D&I initiatives – meaning they simply increase the number of diverse people in the organisation, whether they’re focus on gender representation, racial or ethnic minority representation, or otherwise.

But inclusion is the next step. It’s not enough to simply bring people in the room via hiring – people must also become a part of the fold. Inclusion describes how welcome people feel, and if they truly gain a sense of belonging within the organization, or if they’re merely invited and then side lined.

The step after that is called equity, which describes the advancement and opportunities presented to the diverse groups once they’ve been a part of the organization. After all, it is not sufficient to hire minorities and then relegate them to the lowest-levels and offer them the lowest pay. There must be equitable representation at all levels of the organisation.


What are the Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace?

There are a number of benefits to diversity in the workplace . But first, let’s note that it’s the moral and just response to an increasingly diverse world to create a workforce that reflects that and reduces (or eliminates) discrimination and/or marginalisation.

1. Beyond that, there’s also a business case for it. To start, it is one of the best ways to generate enhanced ideas and creativity. Increasing diversity can help organisations to be more innovative and productive.

2. Workplaces that are culturally diverse are at an advantage. As a whole, and when they work well, they tend to perform better, are more creative, and receive higher financial returns compared to their peers lacking diversity. 

3. Diverse teams are also fact-focused. Research suggests that compared to homogenous groups, diverse teams are aware of their own potential biases, and encourage scrutiny in each other’s actions, which keeps them focused on facts and ensures that they evaluate information correctly.

4. Diverse teams process more carefully. Even when introducing “outsiders” to the group, diverse teams tend to be more accurate because they’re considering the perspective of others and processing information more cautiously, leading to improved accuracy.

5. Diverse teams are more innovative. They’re more likely to introduce radical solutions and create new products in a relatively short period, compared to their peers lacking diversity. Conformity, or homogeneity, often discourages innovative thinking.

The concept of cultural brokerage can play a large role in the success of these teams. Cultural brokerage, as defined by researchers, is the act of facilitating interactions across parties from different cultural backgrounds. 

Team members who have multicultural experience typically take on this role to support their teammates who don’t have this experience. In some instances, the “broker” has multicultural experiences in both cultures that they’re connecting. In other instances, they have multicultural experiences in different cultures than the ones that they’re connecting. But regardless of the scenario, these brokers use their combined knowledge to integrate information and ideas from both cultures, or they act as a third party to invite others to share cultural knowledge. In all scenarios, the creativity of the teams experience major boosts.

What’s notable is that these connections and breakthroughs can happen in spite of some of the negative aspects that can occasionally come with forming diverse teams – like clashing communication styles and lack of trust. Instead, what research has found is that even those challenges can lead to gains - such as when lack of trust leads to an increased caution in decision-making or when miscommunication results in increased effort in providing clarity and mutual understanding.

For more statistics about the role of diversity and its impact on the bottom-line, visit our article on the topic.

But ultimately, given its impact, diversity should be encouraged and celebrated by the entire team and organisation – because we ultimately have a lot to learn from each other and we’re all better off when we do.


The Importance of Creating an Inclusive Environment That Promotes Equality and Respect & How to Ensure Diversity in Your Workforce

While “embracing cultural diversity” may sound great in theory, that phrase can leave you wondering how to implement it or what it looks like in practice. Fortunately, we can look to research around education, cultural competency and international business in order to develop a set of best practices to apply to our workplaces.

Below are several tangible ways to embrace and support cultural diversity.

1. Increase Your Understanding:

Actively learning about cultures outside of your own, whether through reading, videos, guided learning or simply interacting with people from that culture will allow you to better understand their perspectives and values, while also helping you form more meaningful relationships.


2. Respect Values:

Our values often differ between cultures. What’s meaningful to us may not resonate with other people. Meeting someone whose values conflict with your own is inevitable, but respect theirs and don’t impose your values onto them or present your values as “right” or “correct.”


3. Be Cognisant of Language Differences:

For many people, English may not be their first language or the language that they use outside of business. This can lead to potential miscommunications or misunderstandings, but approach these situations with grace and understanding for how challenging it can be to understand or utilise subtle language nuances, regional jargon, and similar speech patterns.


4. Recognise Differences:

Many of the topics that we discuss in the workplace around family, gender, or well-being can vary significantly across cultures and influence behaviours. Recognising and respecting those differences can strengthen relationships.


5. Adjust Materials:

Whenever possible, take the time to adjust work or learning materials to reflect diverse communities. One example of this is using diverse stock photography in presentations, brochures, websites or marketing materials. 


6. Be an Ally:

Appropriately intervene if you hear colleagues or others showing cultural insensitivity or bias through their speech, body language, behaviours or beliefs. 


7. Be Proactive:

Listen, accept, and welcome diversity and people from diverse groups proactively, including their presence, ideas, suggestions, feedback and values. 


8. Be an Advocate:

Encourage the people around you and at your broader organisation to review policies and practices to ensure that they are supportive and welcoming to all people. This should be done periodically and refreshed to remain inclusive.