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Cultural diversity: How to bring safety to the workplace

May 2, 2022 - 13 min read

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What is cultural diversity in the workplace?

4 types of cultural diversity in the workplace

What are the benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace?

5 ways to promote cultural diversity at work

The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace

As the workforce has shifted to a largely remote one, several important changes have happened — each with critical implications for cultural diversity. The pandemic sped up the shift toward increased globalization as remote teams became more common. Hiring people based in different countries naturally creates more diverse teams. And while research indicates that the most diverse companies are also the most profitable, they're also able to capitalize on several other important benefits. 

According to our research, a sense of belonging hugely benefits employees and organizations. Increasing a sense of belonging by building a culture that actively embraces cultural diversity contributes to the following benefits:

  • Job performance increases by 56%
  • Employee turnover decreases by 50%
  • Employees use 75% fewer sick days

Perhaps the most crucial of these is the development of companies that prioritize and celebrate people and their unique perspectives. These organizations not only recruit, but retain, the best talent.

What is cultural diversity in the workplace?

Whether in business or in the world, cultural diversity is part of what it means to be human. The world is made up of different kinds of people, and each of them brings different skills, experiences, and new perspectives to the table.

Developing is critical for building relationships with people. This practical education makes us better people and sets the tone for a culture of respect and learning in the workplace. 

At work, cultural diversity means developing a workforce that is not only comprised of, but values, employees from different cultures. Diversity does mean people of different races, ethnicities, gender identities, and sexual orientations. But it also goes beyond surface-level diversity.

A truly diverse workforce also includes employees with varied political viewpoints, immigration statuses, educational, and professional backgrounds. In addition, it's actively inclusive of neurodiverse and disabled individuals.

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4 types of cultural diversity in the workplace

Diversity in the workplace is about more than just what we can see. Most definitions of diversity involve what are known as protected characteristics. These are traits or parts of an individual’s identity that are specifically sheltered from discrimination by law

These characteristics make up a large part of what we consider diversity in the workplace, but there are other types of diversity to keep in mind:

  1. Age
  2. Gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation
  3. Race and ethnicity
  4. Disability

1. Age

It’s possible for both younger and older workers to experience discrimination in the workplace. People may think that millennials are entitled, Gen Z is stuck in their phones, and boomers are out-of-touch.

The truth is that — as with any other characteristic — the lived experiences of each generation have left them with particular ways of seeing the world, and anyone can benefit from learning from those experiences. But, when looked at in the right way, generational differences can benefit teams and businesses.

2. Gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation

Gender and sexuality inclusivity are concepts that still aren’t clearly understood by many hiring managers and people in the workplace. In particular, women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community often deal with bias, insensitive personal questions, and assumptions about their lifestyle or identity.

3. Race and ethnicity

Ethnic identity is a cornerstone of diversity initiatives. However, people often tend to stop here, which can leave diverse employees feeling “othered” or as if they’re present to fill a quota. When this attitude becomes prevalent throughout the organization, it can lead to coworkers harboring resentment towards their non-white colleagues.

4. Disability

Disabilities can range from physical impairments to mental health and neurodiversity. Although many organizations cite diversity as a top value, the vast majority of them don’t have any resources in place to hire, retain, and support disabled workers.

Nearly 20% of the adult workforce lives with some sort of disability. Most of those are invisible disabilities, meaning there’s a good chance everyone in your workplace could benefit from education and accessibility initiatives.

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Benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace

Developing a truly diverse workplace has several important benefits. Here are the ways that both companies and employees benefit when diversity and inclusion are core organizational values

Trust and respect

Diverse workplaces build and foster a sense of trust and mutual respect between colleagues. Differences are celebrated, people are not singled out or ostracized, and everyone is encouraged to bring their whole selves to work.

Increased revenue

In an inclusive environment, companies and employees both benefit from an increase in revenue. Diverse companies appeal to a broader range of clients. Learning to understand different needs and experiences within your team makes it possible to respond to your clients’ needs with insight and sensitivity.

Creativity and innovation

Diversity isn’t about metrics or ticking off boxes. The true benefit of diversity is diversifying the way your team thinks and functions. You don’t get that unless you embrace, celebrate, and empower people to show up as their full selves. Diversity reduces groupthink and encourages creative, innovative work environments.

More collaborative teams

Research shows that psychological safety is the most important element of effective collaboration. By fostering a culture that embraces cultural diversity, you’re can boost your employees’ sense of belonging. This belonging is essential for psychological safety.

Improved performance and engagement

It takes effort to hide yourself at work. When people feel psychologically safe, they feel more comfortable opening up and engaging with their co-workers — which means improved collaboration, higher productivity, and better employee engagement.

Company culture

Companies that hire employees widely from different backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life have a more welcoming and inclusive workplace. This has a positive impact on how the company is perceived by the employees, as well as leaders, investors, and by the general public. 

Develops new skill sets

People from different backgrounds bring a range of skills with them. Sharing their lived experiences, education, and employee experiences promotes cross cultural learning. People become better, more agile thinkers and improve their problem-solving ability.

Reduced discrimination and harassment

Discrimination and harassment are more common in homogeneous environments. People are more apt to act out their prejudices when they are in the cultural majority. The presence of a dominant culture in the workplace can make people from underrepresented backgrounds feel pressure to assimilate. Diverse environments can help to insulate against workplace hostility. 

Improved recruiting and retention 

Diversity recruiting is only half of the puzzle. Coupled with the right environment and culture, a diverse workforce can be well retained. Workplaces where diverse people feel seen, welcome, and valued, have a strong culture of belonging and inclusion.

These kinds of environments are attractive to job seekers, who are increasingly citing work culture as a deciding factor in choosing a new job. There’s also a connection between employee belonging and employer net promoter scores (ENPS). The data suggests that when people feel a sense of belonging at work, they do better work and are less likely to want to leave.

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5 ways to promote cultural diversity at work

There isn't a quick way to build an inclusive culture at work. If you're struggling with this, it may reflect a lack of safety and trust at deeper levels of your organization. Your commitment to diversity can’t be lip service. It has to be reflected in both your company values and in your actions. People will pick up on when they're being “tokenized” or “othered,” and it can actually do more harm than good.

Here are some ways for inclusive leaders to promote cultural diversity within your organization:

1. Employee resource groups 

Create and promote employee resource groups (ERGs) at work. These peer-led groups provide safe spaces for employees to connect with one another, share experiences, and celebrate both their differences and their similarities. ERGs are open to everyone, but are hosted by members of a particular (usually underrepresented) group. They can be fantastic ways of developing community and belonging.

2. Implicit bias training

Every person has unconscious prejudices, and every person has some kind of privilege to be responsible for. Take the time to do the challenging Inner Work® of looking at your own assumptions. Offer diversity training seminars and talk about stereotypes at work. A coach can help translate the insights from a workshop into action.

3. Watch your language

If you haven't updated your content and brand guidelines in a while, it’s well worth the time to take a second look. Many terms that were commonplace are now being recognized as insensitive in daily usage. Eliminate ableist, sexist, racist, homophobic, or coded language in both internal (employee) and external (client-facing) content. Make sure you're asking culture add questions in the interview process, not culture fit questions

4. Have courageous conversations

Hold space for your employees to have difficult conversations when issues around race and social justice arise. Understand that they may be feeling angry, frustrated, anxious, disgusted, or even guilty. Their experience is important to hear, understand, and validate.

5. Hire a DEI expert

For many organizations, putting together a diversity and inclusion strategy is brand new territory. Consider adding a DEIB expert to your team. Whether as in-house staff or as a consultant, they often have the benefit of wider experience across industries. A professional can guide you through common pitfalls and best practices for building a welcoming and diverse culture.

The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace

People want to be recognized at work for who they are — and that means their whole selves, not just one facet of their identity. 

Cultural diversity within the workplace serves more than one function. Sure, it makes companies look good. But — more importantly — it makes them feel good, and when people feel welcome at work, they thrive. Cultural diversity is critical to building a healthy, inclusive, growing organization.

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Published May 2, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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