The research proven advantages to cultural diversity in the workplace include increased innovation, profitability, greater connection with diverse consumers, and increased ability to attract and retain diverse employees, to name a few.
Increased innovation is the result of cultural diversity being positively correlated to diverse experiences and perspectives. Research indicates that the more perspectives you have when solving a problem, the greater the creativity generated by the group. Diversity has also been proven to make group smarter — as in, they create better solutions than homogenous groups do. And the business case for diversity includes these perspective plus the fact that companies with ethnic, racial, and gender diversity outperform their less diverse competitors.
Greater connections to diverse consumers is the result of people having first hand cultural perspectives. If you sell products or services, increasing cultural diversity in the workplace means increasing the possibility of understanding the needs of more diverse audiences. We live in the most diverse, cross-cultural era in history. Diversity makes sense because it renders you part of the multifaceted fabric of society. You can connect when you reflect the perspectives of both your current and future stakeholders.
Attraction & Retention
Cultural diversity in the workplace begets itself. It’s often hard for companies to increase diversity in ways that stick. Sometimes they can make “diverse” hires, but they don’t last long because there aren’t a lot of people they can relate to. When organizations create truly inclusive environments, where the differences are welcomed, then more people of diverse backgrounds tend to follow and stick around. It is especially attractive to culturally diverse people when they see reflections of themselves higher up in the organization. This indicates that there is the possibility of upward mobility for people like them. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, most of the cultural diversity in organizations is often concentrated at the lower levels of the organizational chart. This is not the case everywhere, but it is very common.
The disadvantages of cultural diversity have been well-researched in the context of communities and neighborhoods. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and Peter Block, author of Community, researched diversity in communities. One study was conducted in culturally diverse neighborhood that had been inclusive of many cultures for over 20 years. The researchers found that as diversity increased, trust decreased between and *within* cultural groups. This means that people with the same cultural background were less likely to trust each other when more diversity was present.
It’s likely that the same phenomenon plays out at work. In the diverse neighborhoods, people had less faith that their neighbors would participate in civic activities, like voting. People were more likely to protest. And they were more likely to identify watching TV as their primary source of entertainment.
It is also fairly common for companies to address the symptoms rather than the cause of their cultural diversity issues. This results in revolving doors of the very demographics you seek to expand. It also causes diversity initiatives to start then stall out. Lackluster efforts leave people feeling more disillusioned than they were before effort was made. It’s better to not start at all than to be half-committed to cultural inclusion. Are you really ready to welcome diversity and the myriad accompanying perspectives and ideas? If you aren’t, then your hires will feel tokenized, undervalued, and demoralized.
This isn’t all dire news. It simply means that you just can’t throw people from different cultures together and expect it to be all hunky-dory. It takes deliberate effort to help people navigate differences in order to get to those optimal outcomes like innovation, community connection, and attraction/retention. It doesn’t always happen automatically or naturally. This is why the diversity and inclusion field exists. Companies like mine, TMI Consulting, help communities and companies learn the skills and tools necessary to work well across differences. It doesn’t have to be guesswork anymore, either. Our digital cultural assessments can quantify your diversity, equity, and inclusion across all of your organizational systems and structures.
Dr. Tiffany Jana (they/them) is the author of four books published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships across Differences is available everywhere books are sold. You can also earn 3 SHRM CEU credits for reading it.
Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion is available everywhere books are sold. You can also earn 3 SHRM CEU credits for reading it.
The IPPY Award winning second edition of The B Corp Handbook is available everywhere books are sold.
2020 Terry McAdam Book Award and getAbstract Reader’s Choice International Book of the Year Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions is available everywhere books are sold. You can also earn 3 SHRM CEU credits for reading it.