The Importance of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Katie Sawyer

Katie Sawyer

July 09, 2018

The Importance of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Katie Sawyer,
July 09, 2018

What is cultural diversity?

The Oxford Dictionary defines cultural diversity as “the existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.” Culture is considered to be the underlying values that direct how people behave. Cultural diversity in the workplace is a result of practices, values, traditions, or beliefs of employees based on race, age, ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Economic globalization is one of the driving forces of cultural diversity in the workplace. The modern workforce is made up of people of different genders, ages, ethnicity, religions, and nationalities. Employers have realized that workforce diversity provides both material and intangible benefits. In order for employers to reap the benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace, they must communicate their commitment to addressing the challenges of a diverse workforce. Employers must be seen to be celebrating their employees’ diversity to avoid workplace issues, like awkwardness and hostility.

Types of diversity

Although every human being can be described as being diverse because they have unique points of view, diversity in the workforce refers to specific groups who have typically experienced discrimination. Company diversity and inclusion programs are introduced to overcome barriers to different groups of people working together in a productive way.

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The following are some of the different types of diversity in the workplace:

  • Education – There can be tension between employees who have undertaken the academic route to employment and those whose experience is of a vocational nature. This cultural difference could result in a conflict where it’s disputed whether practical or theoretical experience will help the company achieve maximum growth.
  • Ethnicity – This type of cultural diversity at work can be apparent when there are language barriers or a difference in how business is carried out. Some companies have specialist ethnic groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for under-represented communities.
  • Generations – Generation X, millennials, and traditionalists are some of the different generations that make up a diverse workforce. This type of diversity is characterized by differences in how work is viewed. For example, millennials are known for seeking flexibility in their work and doing jobs that align with their personal values.
  • Gender – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 36% of women had a bachelor’s degree by the age of 31 in comparison to 28% of men. However, research by the Pew Research Centre found that, in 2017, women earned 82% of what men earned. As well as pay disparities, women also face other workplace issues such as harassment.
  • Religion – Various religious beliefs may be over in the workplace, for example, different dress, dietary requirements, and requesting particular days off. However, religion may be more understated, for instance, how the person interacts with their team members.
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) – The LGBT community is made up of distinct groups who have unique needs and experiences. Companies need to bear this in mind when creating LGBT strategies in order to address this group’s needs.
  • Workers with disabilities – This group is very diverse in relation to the challenges they face and their needs. The range of disabilities can include vision, learning, and mental health. As a result, companies need to ensure that their diversity and inclusion programs recognize and make provision for the wide spectrum of disabilities.
  • Military veterans – The Department of Labor specifies targets for contractors and federal agencies in terms of employing military veterans. Although veterans generally have many transferable skills, like teamwork and strong discipline, they may need a company’s assistance in transitioning from a military environment to a workplace.

Examples of diversity in the workplace

Practical examples of diversity in the workplace are demonstrated by companies that are household names. Still, companies of any size can also provide positive examples of diversity in the workplace. Although smaller companies may not receive public recognition for their diversity initiatives, they can still experience the advantages of a diverse workforce.

Here are some workplace diversity examples:

  • Johnson & Johnson has appeared on the number one spot on Diversity Inc’s top companies for diversity in 2018. Johnson & Johnson acknowledges diversity and inclusion in every part of its organization. Starting with recruitment, Johnson & Johnson aims to stop gender bias with the use of technology. Interviewers are also trained to fight bias during interviews. The company works with Harvard University to train their managers on how to reduce unconscious bias. This training is supplemented by additional resources that remind managers of the concepts that they’ve already learned.
  • AT&T is number three on Diversity Inc’s list of top companies for diversity. Initiatives such as Peace Through Business, which provides business education to women entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Afghanistan, has helped to demonstrate that AT&T is a positive example of diversity in the workplace. AT&T has also worked with a job placement agency to provide internships for adults with cognitive disabilities at their Dallas headquarters. As AT&T celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, it has spent about $158 billion working with women, minority groups and service disabled veteran businesses through its supplier diversity program.
  • Kellogg Company is another example of diversity in the workplace. The Kellogg Company appears at number 18 on the Diversity Inc’s list. The Kellogg Company has been earmarked as one of the most diverse companies in 2018 due to the fact that it has a third more women in top management positions in comparison to the national average. The company has also implemented a new parental leave policy in North America, which increased the amount of parental leave from one week to a possible four weeks. Additionally, paid maternity leave increased from 10 weeks to 14 weeks.

Workplace issues involving cultural diversity

Every company that’s emerged as a positive example of cultural diversity has faced issues in relation to facilitating people from different groups to work cohesively. HR personnel and the company’s leadership should be responsive to these issues.
The following are some diversity workplace issues:

  • Conflict – This occurs when discrimination, prejudice, lack of respect, and racism are allowed to fester in a workplace. Intolerant attitudes can turn into open conflict if companies don’t take the correct steps to show that any type of discrimination won’t be tolerated.
  • Harassment – This issue can present itself in a diverse workplace where leaders fail to recognize the signs and deal with perpetrators. Training should be provided as to what constitutes harassment. Employees who harass others should be dealt with according to company procedures. Like all the other issues arising from diversity in the workplace, harassment can have a devastating effect on employees and the company as a whole. Uber is an example of a company that has suffered damage as a result of harassment claims.
  • Disregarding needs – Some companies ignore the needs of disabled employees by failing to provide them with the necessary equipment to access all facilities and to undertake their jobs. Employers need to lead the way in creating a comfortable workplace for all of its employees, irrespective of whether they have a disability.

Managing diversity in the workplace

The issues around a diverse workplace can be managed and mitigated if employers take active steps to ensure that their companies are recognized for tolerance and acceptance.

Here are some tips for managing diversity in the workplace:

  • Create written policies – Companies should include their policy in relation to diversity in their employee handbook. The policy should contain information about non-discrimination laws, the code of conduct and the compensation and benefits policy.
  • Provide sensitivity training – Employees should be provided with sensitivity training to create a better workplace culture. Sensitivity training can help employees to value views that are different, understand words, and actions that cause offense and what needs to be done if they’ve been offended.
  • Impose a zero-tolerance policy – After employees have received the handbook and training about diversity issues, the company needs to set the tone about how violations will be dealt with. Employees should be aware that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated and every reported incident will be taken seriously.

Benefits of cultural diversity

It’s important to review the benefits that both the company and employees can enjoy when answering the question “why is cultural diversity important in the workplace?”

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The advantages of cultural diversity include:

  • Innovation – Where everyone in a company is from the same background, they’re likely to have similar ideas. In order to remain competitive, companies need new ideas and concepts. A diverse workforce brings unique perspectives on how to solve problems and innovate to gain a competitive edge.
  • Respect – A diverse workforce enables team members to appreciate the differences in others because of the positive contribution that different people bring. Where co-workers are open to learning from each other, they appreciate that diversity enables them to function better as a team. Therefore, gain a mutual respect for colleagues who are different.
  • Reputation – A commitment to diversity demonstrates that a company values fairness and equality. These characteristics have a positive effect on its reputation with suppliers and consumers. A company that openly recruits the best candidates for a job, irrespective of which group they are in, will gain customer loyalty and a good reputation.
  • Growth – Where a company has a diversified workforce, they position themselves to build relationships with people from different cultures. Diverse employees can advise the companies about the best strategies to use to gain new customer bases. Employees who speak different languages and are aware of the cultural norms of international markets can be vital to a company’s growth.
  • Compliance – Companies need to comply with both federal and state laws that ban them from carrying out discriminatory practices. Promoting a diverse workplace where everyone is respected helps companies to obey the law and also ensures that every employee is treated with the respect he or she deserves.


The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace can’t be understated. Having diverse employees increases the bottom line and also assists in staying on the right side of the law. Companies that have a clear diversity and inclusion policy (and are seen to enforce this policy) benefit from happier and more productive employees and a great reputation.

A key area where companies that employ an hourly workforce needs to demonstrate fair treatment is the allocation of leave. Schedule a call with a Deputy rep and see how the leave function will help you to keep track of your employees time off to ensure that they receive the leave they’re entitled to.


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Katie Sawyer
Katie is the Director of Content Marketing at Deputy. She's happiest when she can help people do more of what they love. She likes telling stories, meeting new people, and being a word nerd.
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