Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Statistics, Tips and Resources
What defines a company? Beyond the products it sells, services it offers or profits it generates, any organization is defined by the people who work there. Managers and employees help shape a company’s mission statement and viewpoints, and they reflect an organization’s greater ideals and aims. As businesses pivot into new sectors or different services, it’s the people whose names are on the organization chart who carry on the spirit of the business.
This is why cultural diversity is so important in the modern workplace. Managers who hire employees who come from all economic and sociopolitical backgrounds will bring unique viewpoints and perspectives to the company. Embracing cultural diversity allows employees from disadvantaged backgrounds to have a better chance of enjoying a rewarding, fulfilling career. People who work in an office that cherishes cultural diversity can approach conflicts and decisions with a global and holistic mindset.
Cultural diversity is crucial to the workplace, but there are challenges to making it a reality in any office setting. Some companies may not make cultural diversity a priority. They might not dedicate the financial investment required to hire diverse employees, or they may not appreciate the many benefits of a culturally diverse workforce.
The tips and resources in this guide are intended to help managers, business leaders and employers create culturally diverse workplaces that flourish with new perspectives and unique insights.
Statistics Regarding Cultural Diversity in the Workplace
Cultural diversity in the workplace is important for the health and well-being of companies and their employees. These statistics examine the state of cultural diversity in the U.S.
According to research reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 47% of the workforce in 2017 was comprised of women, or 74.6 million working women in total. Women’s participation in some health and social fields was high: 98% of speech-language pathologists, 93% of dental assistants and 82% of social workers are women, according to the Department of Labor.
However, in many high-paying fields, women’s participation is low. According to data from PayScale, women account for 14.7% of software engineers, 26.6% of mathematicians and 20% of civil engineers. Forbes contributor Janice Gassam explains the bias in some STEM fields that causes male students to be perceived more favorably by some science faculty. Gassam cites a study reported by Margo Pierce of NASA that found science faculty hiring for a campus laboratory job consistently chose males over females when each presented with the exact same credentials.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of African American workers in the labor force is projected to increase from 19.6 million in 2016 to 21.6 million in 2026, or 12.7% of the total U.S. workforce. African Americans are shut out of many jobs with high salaries in technology, business, life sciences, architecture, engineering and other professions, according to a USA Today article that cites an Associated Press study.
Also according to the BLS, “Hispanics (80.5 percent) were more likely to participate in the labor force than were the other groups” for men aged 20 or older. “The labor force participation rate for Asian men (75.0 percent) was higher than the rate for White men (71.8 percent),” the BLS notes. For educational attainment, Asian individuals were the most likely to have a college degree. While employment levels generally increase along with a person’s highest level of education, the BLS reports that African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher earned less than Asians and whites at the same education levels.
Other results of the BLS study include the following:
- 52% of employed Asians held jobs in management, professional and related occupations, which is the agency’s highest paying major occupational category.
- 41% of employed whites, 31% of employed African Americans and 23% of employed Hispanics held jobs in the BLS’s highest-paying categories.
- African-American and Hispanic men are more likely than their white and Asian counterparts to work in production, transportation and material-moving industries.
- Employed Asian women are more likely to work in management, professional and related occupations (50%) than white women (45%), African-America women (36%) and Hispanic women (28%).
The Pew Research Center recently surveyed 35,000 individuals in the U.S. regarding their religious beliefs. Among those surveyed, Christian was the most common religious group, with 70.6% identifying as members of the faith. Out of non-Christian faiths, 1.9% of the people surveyed were Jewish, 0.9% were Muslim, 0.7% were Buddhist, 0.7% were Hindu and 0.3% followed a different world religion. The survey found that 22.8% of those polled were unaffiliated with any religion.
These are among the survey’s other findings:
- Of the survey respondents who identify as Christian, white people represented 86% of “Mainline Protestant,” 81% of “Orthodox Christians” and 76% of “Evangelical Christians.”
- African Americans account for 94% of “Historic Black Protestants,” 8% of “Orthodox Christians,” 6% of “Evangelical Protestants” and 3% of “Mainline Protestants.”
- More African-Americans have an “absolute” belief in God (83%) than do whites (61%), Hispanics/Latinos (59%) or Asians (44%).
Even though religious tolerance is one of the principles on which our country was founded, religious discrimination happens frequently in the workplace. Writing for the Guardian, Alison Moodie reports on instances of religious discrimination that include a Muslim woman suing a clothing retailer after not being hired because she wore a hijab, and other Muslims complaining that the companies they work for don’t adequately address their needs, such as having the ability to pray at certain times. “We now have enough religious minorities in the U.S. reaching a critical mass, and it’s something that schools and businesses are having to wrestle with in a new way,” Robert Jones, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Public Religion Institute, told Moodie.
Mental and Emotional Health Diversity
While a person’s cultural diversity may be apparent due to their outward appearance, mental and emotional health is more difficult to identify and is frequently misunderstood. A report from the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network (ADANN) states that some 44 million people over age 18 in the U.S. have experienced a mental health condition in the previous year, which is 18.5% of the population.
As for how mental and emotional health conditions are discussed in the workplace, the ADANN states that around 20% of employees in a workplace have a psychiatric disability, which highlights the need for employers to respond effectively to issues regarding mental illness in their staff.
Diversity Regarding Disabilities
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that around 61 million Americans, or roughly 25% of the population, have a disability that impacts major life activities. For individuals who have a disability, 19.1% of working-age adults participate in the labor force, according to 2018 data from the BLS. This compares with a labor force participation rate of 65.9% for people who are not disabled. Individuals with a disability, moreover, were more likely to be self-employed than those without a disability, and they were also more likely to be employed part-time.
Common fields in which individuals with a disability work include service occupations, production, transportation and material moving, according to BLS data. Individuals with disabilities, however, are less likely to work in management, professional and similar occupations.
Diversity Regarding LGBTQ+ Identity
In an article on Gallup News, Frank Newport notes that 4.5% of people in the U.S. are members of the LGBT population. Even though these individuals compose a large portion of the country, they still face discrimination within the workplace.
Across the U.S., there are 17 states that have no protections regarding workplace discrimination based on a person’s sexuality or gender identity, according to the Victory Institute. Types of discrimination include coworkers harrasing a colleague because he or she is gay or bisexual or a boss refusing to refer to an employee by his or her preferred pronouns.
Benefits of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace
Achieving cultural diversity in the workplace can be difficult, especially in certain fields and occupations. However, its benefits are hard to ignore. Here is a partial list of the positive impacts a diverse workforce has on businesses of all types.
Fresh and Unique Perspectives to Drive Innovation
Tendayi Viki writes in Forbes that “researchers have been able to identify the social and psychological factors that influence creativity. One such finding is that multicultural experiences enhance creativity.” Viki states that multicultural experiences strengthen “idea flexibility” among workers, allowing them to see the underlying connection between certain ideas.
In a workplace, this could involve an individual working with an employee who is from a foreign country who makes an extra effort to learn about the person’s culture and unique background. The experience can change the way the employee approaches other tasks and projects, allowing them to be seen from a new perspective.
Equality and Accountability
Certain high-level and senior jobs within an organization are frequently restricted to white males, making it difficult for members of diverse backgrounds to reach the upper echelon. If an employer gives individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds the means to access and succeed in senior positions, it demonstrates to employees and the outside world that the organization treats all of its employees equally and is making progress toward a diverse workplace.
“All companies should try to explore and evaluate initiatives and opportunities to create a more diverse and inclusive space and culture. And those opportunities will expand and morph as more communities and enterprises make diversity a focus,” Rebecca Pan notes in an article in Forbes.
Knowledge About Specific Markets or Territories
An office that is composed of only one type of employee demographic or cultural background can have limited knowledge about certain international trends or how to appeal to different customer bases. Building a diverse workforce allows these companies to understand and reach new consumers from various cultures and ethnicities.
Writing for AdAge, Shelley Zalis notes that even though strides still need to be made to realize cultural diversity in the workplace, “diverse teams operating in inclusive cultures can offer ideas and viewpoints that help drive innovation and effectiveness for the business.” Zalis writes that doing so is particularly important when devising marketing strategies. Teams that mirror the cultural spectrum in markets will likely find that their brand message and ads click with a wider swath of the public. For example, a sports clothing retailer that has employees from diverse backgrounds will create advertising that garners the attention of the many types of people who are interested in purchasing athletic goods.
Beyond building a more equitable and inclusive workforce, encouraging and promoting diversity has been shown to increase productivity within organizations. In fact, embracing diversity can improve a company’s financial performance, whether the firm is a mom-and-pop operation or a multinational enterprise. Forbes writer Anna Powers discusses a report from the Boston Consulting Group that found diversity increases a company’s bottom line. “Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation.” Tech companies, startups and industries in which innovation is tied to economic growth have the most to gain from having a diverse workforce. The researchers determined that diversity is “an integral part of a successful revenue generating business” rather than simply a public relations gimmick.
Tips and Resources for Cultural Diversity in the Workplace
The benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace are clear. By following these steps, companies and their employees can prosper from bringing diversity to their operations.
Diversity Hiring Initiatives
One of the first steps that companies can take to embrace diversity in the workplace is to hire individuals from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. Instead of just posting a job online and waiting for workers to apply, recruiters and HR departments can seek out candidates from many different backgrounds via platforms such as LinkedIn.
However, diversity hiring initiatives only go so far. Companies also need to retain employees of culturally diverse backgrounds by creating inclusive environments. “If you bring diverse populations in the door and don’t have an inclusive environment, they tend not to stay,” states Barbara Wankoff, executive director for diversity and inclusion at KPMG, in an article in Digitalist Magazine written by Olivia Berkman.
Even if a company reaches its diversity hiring targets, it may not achieve its goal of having a diverse workforce in the long run, according to Wankoff. “If you create an inclusive environment and then focus on those recruiting goals, the likelihood is you’ll have a better retention of that population,” Wankoff says.
When it comes to creating inclusive work environments, staff members within a company need to be aware of how they are conducting themselves. They should be using appropriate messaging and making diverse employees feel welcome. Not all employees will know instinctively how to achieve this goal, nor will they know off the bat which inclusiveness-enhancing practices they should adopt. This is why strong diversity training is particularly helpful.
A Forbes article notes 13 different methods for diversity training that have proven to be effective. They include developing training that is mandatory for all employees, creating safe places online and offline that allow and encourage dialogue and implementing consistent, year-round learning efforts for diversity. Such activities help an organization create an atmosphere in which diversity is something that’s constantly embraced rather than something that employees hear about at a single seminar.
Promoting Cultural Diversity Within an Office
Promoting cultural diversity within an office starts by evaluating the attitude and behavior of candidates during the initial job interview. For example, if a hiring manager notices that a candidate treats female employees differently from male employees or sees that the person acts rudely or inconsiderately toward workers of a certain race, the manager can note these behaviors and prevent the potentially troublesome employee from being hired. Consistently communicating and acknowledging an employee’s contributions on a professional level and a personal level will foster a positive work culture. “When the leader makes people feel important, everyone on the team understands the value of every person,” says Ken Gosnell, CEO of Experience, in Forbes.
Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Workplace on a Brand Level
Beyond embracing cultural diversity within the confines of the workplace, managers can take steps to ensure that the company is embracing diversity on a larger brand level. For example, even if a sporting goods company makes strong efforts to hire diverse employees and create inclusive environments, those values need to be represented in the company’s messaging to its customers, partners and everyone else in the outside world. These steps may include using individuals of culturally diverse backgrounds in advertisements or producing goods that cater to the needs and tastes of diverse markets.
Writing for Adweek, Vann Graves states, “It is clear that race continues to be infused in many of today’s business practices and can lead to the success or failure of brands. Even the most cynical, who care only about the bottom line, should acknowledge that it’s smart business to recognize the importance of diversity and the need to develop well-trained, diverse teams.”
Even if an organization is thriving, having a lack of diverse employees will inhibit that company’s growth. Regardless of their size or how much success they’ve achieved, embracing cultural diversity is crucial for all businesses to ensure they are incorporating unique viewpoints and are speaking to a global audience.