The Importance of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

by Katie Sawyer, 9 minutes read
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Social media, instant news, and powerful voices. As technology evolves, education grows, and employees speak up, businesses have an obligation to address concerns over cultural differences and diversity in the workplace.

Employees, customers, partners, and press will hold brands to higher standards. It’s critical that diversity and inclusive culture is built into a company's mold from the get-go, and it’s not treated as an added on benefit.

What is cultural diversity?

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

Diversity in the workforce refers to specific groups of people who have typically experienced discrimination. To help these employees overcome barriers at work, many companies have created diversity and inclusion programs.

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When you think about diversity, that can mean a lot of things. Here are just some of the different types of diversity in the workplace.

  • Race – Race is maybe one of the first things you think of when you think about diversity. Employees of color have often faced challenges — getting hired, being accepted by the co-workers, receiving fair compensation.

  • Education – Not everyone’s path to employment is the same. Having a mix of educational backgrounds is a huge asset to an organization, but can also create conflict.

  • Ethnicity – As the workforce becomes more and more global, ethnic diversity might bring about language barriers or cultural differences in how business is carried out. To address this, some companies have specialist ethnic groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for under-represented communities.

  • Generations – Yes, age counts as diversity. Generation X, millennials, and Gen Z are some of the different generations that make up a diverse workforce. And each group has different expectations and experiences they bring with them to work. For example, millennials are known for seeking flexibility in their work and doing jobs that align with their personal values. That wasn’t something Gen X focused on when they joined the workforce.

  • Gender – According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 208 years to reach gender equality in the U.S. Cultural diversity in the workplace also applies to gender. And gender doesn’t have to be binary, which is a new way of thinking for many organizations.

  • Religion – Religious diversity can impact your staff’s dress, dietary requirements, and request for particular days off.

  • Sexual Orientation – The LGBTQI community is made up of distinct groups who have unique needs and experiences. Companies need to bear this in mind when creating LGBTQI strategies in order to address this group’s needs. Additionally, new laws are being created to protect the rights of these groups. For example, in the United States, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Workers with disabilities – Diversity in the workplace also applies to workers with disabilities. Whether impairments from vision, learning, or mental health, diversity comes in many ways. 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

Although some big-name brands have shown diversity in the workplace, companies of any size can also provide positive examples of diversity. Smaller companies may not receive public recognition for their diversity initiatives, but you can still experience the advantages of a diverse workforce.

Here are some workplace diversity examples:

  • Nike joined other companies who have marked Juneteenth a paid company holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States.

  • Reddit co-founder and former CEO, Alexis Ohanian, stepped down from Reddit’s board in 2020 with the request that his seat go to a Black board member.

  • Johnson & Johnson appeared on the number one spot on Diversity Inc’s top companies for diversity in 2018. Starting with recruitment, Johnson aimins 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 has also received nods for its commitment to diversity in the workplace. 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, 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 that you might need to address:

  • 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 – 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.

  • Create an accountability plan – Use regular surveys to check in on your progress, and have a plan in place for how you’re going to ensure staff uphold these policies.

  • Address micro-aggressionsMicro-aggressions are “thinly veiled, everyday instances of racism, homophobia, sexism (and more) that you see in the world.” Examples might be commenting on how well an ethnically diverse person speaks English or saying that a Black co-worker is well-dressed. Use trainings to help address these mico-aggressions

  • 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:

  • Leadership - Diversity in the workplace can have a powerful impact on your leadership. From building company culture to attracting diverse candidates during recruitment, your leadership is the face and the voice of your company.

  • 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.

  • Productivity – The diversity of a company is an indication of how productive its employees will be. The Forbes Global Diversity and Inclusion Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce report found that 77% of companies used productivity as a measure to gauge the success of diversity programs. Respondents in the Forbes research advised that their companies have experienced an increase in productivity due to a diverse workforce.

  • 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.

  • RecruitmentResearch shows that 67% of job seekers advised that a company’s diverse workforce is a key factor when evaluating job offers. These findings demonstrate that diversity is a key aspect when recruiting the best talent. Job seekers are aware of the importance of a diverse workforce and want to be part of a company that will value and appreciate their difference.

    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.

Why diversity is important in the workplace

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.