According to a recent demographic study by the Pew Research Center, there won’t be a single racial or ethnic majority in the United States by 2055. The workforce and the way firms approach diversity (including disability and mental diversity) in the workforce will be significantly impacted by this trend toward a more diversified population.

Organizations that can successfully manage workplace diversity in the years to come will have a significant advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. This article offers practical suggestions and guidance on how businesses can approach and manage workplace diversity.

What is Workplace Diversity?

Workplace diversity refers to the makeup of an organization’s workforce.

Diversity in the workplace can present itself in terms of visible attributes such as race or gender, as well as less visible (or invisible) attributes such as political beliefs, cultural background, or citizenship status.

Types of Diversity in the Workplace You Need to Know

Diversity includes the traits and features that set people apart from one another. Gender identity, color, and sexual orientation are a few typical traits that denote diversity in the workplace, but there are many other traits and experiences that people can bring to the workplace, and employers and HR teams should be aware of them.

There are an infinite number of variables that make people unique. A person’s individual biological and genetic predispositions, experiences, and education all shape who they are as a person over the course of their lifetime. These encounters enable people to engage with and learn from one another, which diversifies and evolves the community.

Let’s explore the distinctive qualities that set each of us apart from one another in more detail while keeping in mind how diversity can benefit organizations and the market they serve.

Diverse employees

Cognitive disability

The EEOC recognizes cognitive limitations, commonly referred to as intellectual functioning, when a person meets the following requirements:

  • IQ score below 70-75
  • Significant disparities in adaptive skills, which are the fundamental conceptual, social, and practical abilities required for daily living
  • Disability started before the age of 18

An individual’s verbal, reading, math, and visual understanding, as well as their memory, problem-solving skills, attention, communication, and languages, may all be impacted by different functioning. Having an intellectual impairment, however, does not preclude a person from having great success in the workplace.

Physical abilities and disabilities

Employing people with a range of disabilities and experiences will assist your team in creating a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere and bring fresh perspectives and ideas to help your business reach a larger market of customers and clients.

Mental health

Companies may experience an increase in absences, work-family conflict, mental health and behavioral problems, and even greater turnover rates if employees lack the support and means to ask for and receive the assistance they need.

Employers are increasing resources, such as insurance coverage for mental health services, and creating a more inclusive workplace culture to support mental health in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness in the workplace.

Neurodiversity

The National Symposium on Neurodiversity defines neurodiversity as, “a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autism spectrum, Tourette syndrome, and others.”

Neurodivergent persons include some of the most well-known and prosperous people in the world. Pokemon’s designer and creator, Satoshi Tajiri, has Asperger’s Syndrome; Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, has dyslexia; and actress and campaigner Emma Watson, has ADHD.

Even while some stigmas and preconceptions may exist about neurodiverse people, research indicates that some conditions, such as dyslexia and autism, can actually improve a person’s capacity for pattern recognition, knowledge retention, and math proficiency—all essential skills for any career.

Behavior and ethnodiversity

Every person has distinctive mannerisms and behavioral patterns that they acquire over the course of their lives. These actions can be perceived in several ways and are a product of an individual’s upbringing, family, friends, and culture. This is a crucial aspect of diversity to understand because, even if a behavior may appear normal or unremarkable to you, it may be impolite, strange, or improper to someone else.

Let’s say you’re in the elevator and your coworker doesn’t strike up a conversation with you. You might think they’re being rude, but it might just be that they find talking in such close quarters unusual or uncomfortable.

Individual differences in behavior or ethnodiversity can be quite subtle and particular. It’s crucial to keep in mind that each person’s conduct is a product of their own experiences, so if something strikes you as unusual, impolite, or improper, think about gently asking the individual why they act the way they do rather than reacting negatively or passing judgment.

Put simply, instead of jumping to the worst conclusion, give them the benefit of the doubt and you might be surprised at what you discover.

Personality and style of thinking

Bringing a diverse range of personalities and thought-styles into the workplace can result in both stressful conditions and brilliant innovation. Companies choose to hire based on culture fit in order to avoid the former, which subsequently stops the latter. Instead, employers should look for varied personalities who get along well with one another and push one another’s viewpoints. One way to do this is to hire for shared values, not “culture fit”.

Because it can be challenging to determine someone’s personality and thought patterns from a résumé or even an interview, 22% of employers ask both employees and job prospects to undergo personality tests. By doing this, businesses may better understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and gaps and create an environment that accommodates both extroverts and introverts, as well as everyone in between.

While many businesses take pride in their team’s broad “diversity of thought,” your company shouldn’t base all of its diversity assessments on one metric. You will automatically attract people with a variety of personalities and cognitive processes if you hire people with a wide range of diverse traits.

Cultural differences

Different cultures are shaped by a variety of elements, including food, language, religion, and traditions.

While many individuals like learning about other cultures, working with people from diverse cultures is a very different experience.

Employees who are unfamiliar with another culture may face a variety of challenging situations as a result of cultural differences. For instance, cheek kissing is pretty ubiquitous in French culture, and if you have a coworker or candidate who engages in this behavior, they would see it as a warm hello while you might think it to be completely improper at work.

Above all else, it’s essential to educate your employees about different cultures and embrace the distinctions. Furthermore, encouraging open communication can help workers learn about one another’s cultural differences without fostering a hostile work environment driven by cultural misunderstandings.

National origin

It is possible that you will work and interact with people who were born in a different nation than yourself, regardless of where your firm is headquartered or how many remote workers your company employs.

No matter where a person may be living right now, the country in which they were born can provide them a set of cultural characteristics that they may keep with them for the rest of their lives. A person’s national origin can determine many aspects of them that they might take with them for the rest of their lives, including their religious views, personal ethos, and much more.

Languages

At least 350 languages are spoken in American homes, according to reports from the US Census Bureau. Contrary to popular belief, the United States does not have an official language, unlike the majority of other nations. However, a person’s capacity to land and hold a job can be significantly impacted by language, linguistics, and accents.

Some job applicants may find it difficult to apply for a position or pass the interview process if a job description or recruitment materials are only available in one language, such as English.

Although it is impractical for any business to translate all of its recruitment materials into the 350 or so different languages, it can be useful to offer a few extra translations for tongues that are frequently spoken in your neighborhood and at work.

For positions that don’t require employees to be proficient in a language, you might also think about using an online translation service or an in-person interpreter.

Additionally, accents, or the various ways people speak particular words within a language, can result in accent bias or perception, in which people denigrate or assess someone’s IQ and talents based on how they pronounce particular words.

People might also connect with others who speak with a similar accent to their own. When you and your team encounter individuals with diverse linguistic backgrounds, being aware of the many accent biases will help you and your team recognize your own biases and overcome them.

Ethnicity

Although the terms are often conflated, race is different from ethnicity. The foundation of ethnicity is learned behaviors rather than biological characteristics. Culture, history, nationality, heritage, attire, customs, language, ancestry, and geographic origin are all factors that contribute to an individual’s ethnicity. Hispanic or Latinx, Irish, Jewish, or Cambodian ethnicities are typical examples.

Race

Race, in contrast to ethnicity, is determined by biology. White, Black or African American, Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, and others are examples of races.

Citizenship status

Employers are prohibited by the Immigration Reform and Control Act from selecting, recommending, hiring, or terminating persons based on their nationality or immigration status. Even with these rules in place, a foreign-born worker’s ability to get employment or overcome prejudices against immigrants and citizenship status may be significantly impacted by their citizenship status alone.

Obtaining citizenship is undoubtedly a difficult task, but for those who succeed, the majority join the American labor force. For instance, the unemployment rate for Americans who were born abroad was 5.6 percent in 2021, compared to 5.3 percent for Americans who were born domestically.

Age

The workforce includes members of different generations at any one time. Each has distinctive characteristics that are dictated by the era in which they were born and the particular social, political, and economic changes that took place during their upbringing.

For people from different generations, these disparities can provide difficulties in the workplace. These difficulties may manifest as ageism, an unintentional bias. Ageism in the workplace is the propensity to feel poorly about someone else because of their age.

This bias is influenced by stereotypes of various generations. For instance, Baby Boomers are stereotyped as workaholics, Gen Xers as risk-takers, Millennials are concerned with meaningful work, and Gen Zers are known for ghosting on their employers and seeking job security. Such misconceptions may cause coworkers and employers to feel that specific age groups may not succeed at their company due to life milestones like having children or retiring.

Although ageism can have an impact on any employee, 58 percent of workers report noticing it when people reach their fifties. However, age discrimination is two times less common among those under the age of 25.

Family

Family has an impact on everyone’s life. It contributes to a person’s upbringing and offers support throughout their lifetime. Some families are chosen, while others are linked biologically.

Regardless of how a person’s family is structured, it’s crucial for employers to understand that everyone owes their loved ones obligations outside of the workplace. You can assist employees  to build strong family ties and improve their work-life balance by offering perks and advantages including flexible work schedules, child and elder care benefits, and family medical leave.

Ideologies

Family has an impact on everyone’s life. It contributes to a person’s upbringing and offers assistance throughout their lifetime. Some families are chosen, while others are linked biologically.

Ideologies are preconceived notions about various facets of life held by an individual, a group, or a civilization. The majority of people hold distinctive economic, political, and religious ideas that are shaped by their family members, their upbringing, their locality, and their education.

The frequency and comfort with which employees express their thoughts to coworkers are influenced by their ideologies. People with radically different ideas may be less likely to strike up a conversation with a coworker if they anticipate it will result in an argumentative exchange.

Morality

An individual’s morals reflect their views on proper attitudes and actions. Morals frequently reflect an individual’s upbringing, family, life experiences, income, ideology, cultural background, citizenship status, privilege, personality, financial status, social roles, as well as social, religious, political, and worldly convictions.

The majority of businesses look for candidates whose personal ethics, morals, and values coincide with their fundamental beliefs. For employers, shared morality can change the way a business prioritizes its work and the impact it has on the market, the neighborhood, and the global community.

Religion and spiritual beliefs

The workplace ought to be understanding and welcoming of everyone’s beliefs, even if they differ from one another, whether or not they discuss their religious beliefs there.

Employers can accomplish this by allowing employees to take time off as needed for religious holidays and festivals by granting floating holidays. Additionally, it’s critical to respect those who wear religious attire to work and make sure their coworkers treat them equally and respectfully. Depending on the design of your workplace and building, you might want to think about setting aside a place for employees to engage in personal spiritual and religious activities without having to leave the workplace or disturb their coworkers.

Military experience

Veterans bring a plethora of expertise, knowledge, and experience to the table, making them ideal additions to any position or business. However, a lot of companies may find it challenging to recognize the value that these people can contribute to a firm since they are unfamiliar with military culture, experiences, or typical military lingo.

There are tools available such as this skills matcher or this military skills translator that can help employers to better understand how military talents apply to a particular function.

Parental status

While the presence of children can have an impact on both parents, pregnant women, working moms, and women who are childbearing age experience a motherhood penalty or maternal wall. Women are frequently at a disadvantage in their jobs compared to males and fathers because of stereotypes about a woman’s status in society and her need for time off after childbirth and for childcare.

During an interview, inquiries about a candidate’s plans for and obligations as a parent are more likely to be directed toward women applicants. Although it is unlawful to discriminate against parents and expectant women, asking a job applicant about their parental status is not technically unlawful.

Along with mothers who work, 54 percent of women with small children quit their jobs to take care of their children. It can be quite challenging for people who take a significant amount of time off to perform caregiving responsibilities to explain the gaps in their CV and find companies ready to help them as they return to the workforce.

Employers can help working parents by minimizing unconscious bias against them and by offering advantages like flexible work schedules, childcare assistance, parental leave, and adoption support to lessen the hurdles they confront and retain top talent.

Marital status

For many people, marriage is a significant life event. An individual’s beliefs, geographic location, income, parental status, family, socioeconomic status, privilege, family, and behaviors can change as a result of being married, divorcing, separating, or losing a spouse to death.

Similar to gender bias, marital status bias can make it difficult for people with excellent qualifications to find employment or advance in their careers. And while federal law forbids employers from discriminating against a person based on their gender, sex, or sexual orientation, just a few states have laws that specifically forbid discrimination based on marital status in the workplace.

If a person’s spouse works there as well, their marital status may have a particular impact. To prevent family members from working on the same team or in the same hierarchy as one another, some businesses have anti-nepotism policies in place.

Privilege

When we talk about privilege, we mean social power that can be reduced or increased depending on a person’s sex, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, age, immigration status, socioeconomic status, social role, cultural background, and level of impairment. A person’s capacity to achieve specific degrees and qualities of education, employment, higher income, and chances throughout life can be impacted by privilege.

Employers must take into account a candidate’s privilege and the opportunities they may or may not be eligible for based on their own demographics. The college admissions scandal, in which parents had the power to influence undergraduate admissions choices, is a prime example of how privilege and opportunity, rather than merit, may provide some people access to more prestigious experiences than others.

Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Employers benefit from diversity in the workplace because it gives them access to larger talent pools and fosters collaboration and innovation.

Diverse employees contribute a variety of knowledge, abilities, and life experiences to the workplace, which fosters creativity and innovation.

Diverse leadership brings in money

According to 2019 McKinsey research, organizations in the top quartile for gender-diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than those in the lowest quartile. Similar to this, businesses with the highest levels of racial and cultural diversity reported 36 percent better profitability than those with the lowest levels.

Workplace diversity helps with recruiting

According to PWC, workplace diversity improves a company’s reputation, and a positive reputation aids a company in attracting top personnel. In fact, 32% of Millennial and Gen Z employees believe that diversity and corporate social responsibility are essential for firms.

A diverse workplace benefits employees

Teams with a variety of backgrounds enrich the working environment; employees enjoy working with people from different backgrounds and experiences. Diverse teams function better together, promoting job satisfaction and a sense of team spirit.

Enhanced productivity among employees

Employees may be more satisfied with their jobs if they feel engaged and represented at work. This means they’re more likely to engage and feel a stronger connection to their work when they are happier at work. This frequently leads to increased productivity and morale, which can result in better performance and increased earnings for the company.

A diverse workplace helps improve creativity and decision-making

Employee creativity seems to be more prevalent in a diverse and inclusive workforce. Employee teams in diverse organizations exhibit a range of distinctive perspectives derived from factors like gender or culture. When various viewpoints are combined, teams can develop multifaceted creativity and decision-making skills that can help your organization succeed.

Strengthened culture and trust

When a company’s stance on open communication is part of their employer brand it builds mutual trust between the organization and its employees. Companies that remain open to new ideas, purposely seek out different perspectives and encourage employee engagement at all levels will build a culture of trust that strengthens retention. And when employees feel appreciated for what they bring to the table it enables them to fully engage in their work and stay true to their individual personalities.

How to promote workforce diversity

Inform your hiring staff

It’s critical to communicate your hiring objectives to your company’s managers if you wish to build a more diverse workforce. Determine the diversity of your present workforce to start. Employee surveys are one method for doing this.

Once you’ve evaluated your organizational diversity, establish cultural and sensitivity training. Then, carry out a company-wide audit to pinpoint areas that require improvement. You can better understand how to enhance your present hiring procedures after you have this input.

Consider how you approach diversity in the workplace

To help safeguard its employees and owners, every organization should have a diversity policy. Think about revising or establishing new procedures for hiring, promotions, performance reviews, and recruitment.

For best results, think of building a diverse workplace as an ongoing effort. It takes time, but building a diverse workplace is the best thing you can do for your organization.

5 Tips for managing a diverse and inclusive workplace

1. Prioritize communication

Organizations must make sure they communicate with employees in an effective manner if they are to manage a diverse workplace. Policies, procedures, safety regulations, and other crucial information should be written to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers by translating content and, where appropriate, using visuals and symbols.

2. Treat each person as an individual

Avoid making assumptions. Instead of attributing behaviors to someone’s history, consider each employee as an individual and rate achievements and failures based on the person’s merits.

3. Encourage your employees to work with others who aren’t like themselves

Working in diverse teams can help dispel stereotypes and cultural misconceptions by allowing employees to get to know and respect one another personally.

4. Use objective criteria to make management decisions

Regardless of background, establish a single set of rules for all employee groups. To guarantee that every employee is treated fairly, make sure that all employment actions, including discipline, adhere to this set of standardized criteria.

5. Express your openness to new ideas

Encourage your employees to recognize that the organization values people’s experiences, backgrounds, and cultures in addition to their own. Find ways to include a variety of viewpoints and skills in your attempts to meet organizational goals.