Our cultures shape who we are. Company leaders who wish to uplift and care for the people they employ — and create a workplace environment that retains those valuable employees — must not only acknowledge but celebrate cultural diversity. When differing identities are welcomed and celebrated in a workplace, both the employees and the company benefit. Learn more about the benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace.
What is Cultural Diversity?
Each person belongs to a culture of some sort, whether it’s familial, geographic, societal, ethnic, religious, racial or beyond. Even workplaces often create a “company culture” reflecting their values and goals. Cultural diversity differs from both ethnic and racial diversity, but both ethnicity and race can help make up the specifics of a culture:
- Ethnicity refers to a sense of peoplehood and can be defined by what a group of people shares, such as a language or dialect, customs, place of origin, or genealogical ties.
- Race is constructed based off phenotypic or observable characteristics, such as skin color, facial form, hair texture or eye shape.
Our ethnic and racial identities can inform the cultures that we belong to, and sometimes they are the most foundational aspects of our cultural identities, especially if our race or ethnicity is in the minority. Often, folks who belong to a majority culture and aren’t exposed to anything outside of that do not realize that they are operating within their own cultural system, because that system becomes the social and behavioral “default.”
Why is it Important to Celebrate Cultural Diversity?
When people of varying cultural identities gather, especially within a system where they’re working together, it helps each person in that group to gain empathy and understanding.
In a culturally diverse setting, it’s important to examine differences rather than glossing over them. For example, the concept of being “color blind” to race asserts that we should not notice someone’s race but only regard them as part of the human race.
This approach ignores power dynamics that harm those within the racial or ethnic minority, overlooks the fact that systemic injustice and ideas of racial supremacy have generationally positioned some groups with far more privilege and opportunity, and reinforces the unspoken assumption that the majority culture is the “norm” that everyone else should assimilate into.
In this 2012 article, scholars at MIT's Sloan School of Management, Harvard Business School, and the Department of Psychology at Tufts University dived deeper into the emergence, practice and implications of color blindness, especially when managing diverse groups of people.
“Shutting our eyes to the complexities of race does not make them disappear,” the article reads, “but does make it harder to see that color blindness often creates more problems than it solves.”
Thus, examining and celebrating cultural diversity — while first acknowledging how those in power have harmed and disadvantaged certain groups because they are different — can help managers and companies create welcoming and inclusive spaces.
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What are the Benefits of Cultural Diversity in Workplaces?
For decades, study after study has shown how diversity is good for business revenue, retention and innovation — and the case for it continues to grow
. Here are eight main benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace.
- Diversity of Thought Drives Creativity - This Forbes article references an INSEAD study where people engaged in one-on-one interactions as buyers and sellers. The study found that people who had lived abroad and immersed themselves in different cultures were more likely to reach a creative deal. Similarly, companies that intentionally position a diverse group of people in various roles of leadership and on teams more often reach “aha” moments of innovation.
- Employees Look for Diversity - A Glassdoor survey from September 2020 shows that more than 3 in 4 employees and job seekers report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.
- Inevitable as Gen Z Enters the Workforce - According to recent Pew Research, barely half (52%) of Gen Z is non-Hispanic white — significantly smaller than Millennials who were non-Hispanic white in 2002 (61%). One-in-four Gen Zers are Hispanic, 14% are black, 6% are Asian and 5% are some other race, or two or more races. Workplaces will inevitably start looking more diverse in the coming years, and it is up to company leaders to create spaces that keep up with the cultural identities of their employees.
- Expansive Market Knowledge - Cultural diversity in your workplace means having a greater understanding of customer needs across demographics. Greater understanding of cultural customs and languages also helps companies avoid mistakes like when Got Milk? commercials translated incorrectly to Spanish.
- Teams Gain Complex Skill Sets - Along with more extensive market knowledge, building a diverse team means your team will have complex skill sets. For example, hiring cross-generationally with team members of varying ages will set you up with a range of skills and experience.
- Sets a Standard of Flexible Adaptation - Exposure to diversity helps us change with more flexibility and ease. Biological studies even prove that loss of genetic diversity in a population reduces its ability to adapt and evolve. We are less likely to be stuck in our way of doing things if we have relationships with those who approach things differently.
- Diverse Leadership Drives Higher Revenue - A 2018 BCG study found that companies with above-average diversity in their leadership teams showed EBIT margins that were 9% higher than companies with below-average diversity in leadership teams. Similarly, a McKinsey & Company study showed that companies with diverse boards gained higher profits.
- Diversity Leads to Better Decision-Making - This 2017 study analyzed around 600 business decisions made by 200 teams. Teams that were geographically diverse, included members of different genders and an age gap of at least 20 years made better business decisions than individuals 87% of the time.
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Ask your team for ideas to celebrate cultural diversity and spend time on research and reflection. Start with a few meaningful initiatives and make creating an inclusive environment part of your company’s vision for the future.
CG Kennedy loves seeking justice for marginalized people, tending to her garden, and cooking anything with rice in it.