What is Diversity in the Workplace?

diversity in the workplace

Key Takeaways

  • Diversity in the workplace refers to a workforce comprised of individuals with various characteristics.
  • Diversity is categorized into surface-level (observable traits) and deep-level diversity (unobservable traits).
  • The four layers of diversity as organizational, external, internal, and worldview
  • The top three benefits of diversity include the availability of various perspectives, decreased turnover, and increased financial performance.

What is Diversity in the workplace?


Diversity in the workplace refers to individual differences in race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, and cognitive ability. In recent years, this definition has grown to encompass cultural and personal aspects. These include education, skills, personalities, experiences, marital status, political beliefs, and financial status. Diversity in the workplace refers to organizations that employ individuals with a range of characteristics. This article discusses the types of workplace diversity and the benefits of a diverse workforce.


Types of Diversity in the Workplace

The most common types of diversity include:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Physical and mental capabilities
  • Marital status
  • Financial status
  • Political Beliefs
  • Religion
  • Knowledge, skills & abilities (KSAOs)
  • Socio-economic status
  • Privilege
  • Upbringing
  • Nationality

Example of Age Diversity – Generational Diversity

There are many sub-categories for each type of diversity in the workplace. For instance, generational diversity relates to age diversity and describes a group of individuals belonging to various generations. Today’s workforce consists of Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Individuals belonging to the same generation often have similar life experiences, perspectives, political beliefs, and knowledge.

Baby Boomers tend to be achievement-oriented, competitive, and are motivated by position. Generation X are independent, value freedom, and are comfortable with technology. Millennials value work-life balance, flexibility, and are tech-savvy. Generation Z value social justice, work-life balance, and are also tech-savvy. Generation Z is more likely to consider workplace diversity when comparing prospective employers. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are less likely to value diversity. Boomers also have a traditional understanding of diversity. In other words, Boomers are more likely to associate diversity with ethnicity, as opposed to the many other facets of diversity that exist today.

Generational diversity in the workplace also enforces knowledge-sharing. For example, individuals from each generation can share different knowledge sets and skills. Generational diversity also increases customer satisfaction as employees can understand the needs of age-specific target audiences. Organizations develop a competitive advantage by having representatives from each target customer base.


What is Surface-Level vs Deep-Level Diversity in the workplace?

Diversity in the workplace exists in various forms and consists of surface-level and deep-level diversity:

1. Surface-Level Diversity

Surface-level diversity consists of observable characteristics of an individual such as age, race, gender, physical capability, and body size. This type of diversity also includes ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and tenure. Characteristics of surface-level diversity often lead to stereotypes and discrimination within an organization. Though, they often do not reflect an individual’s skills, knowledge, thoughts, or opinions.

2. Deep-Level Diversity

This type of diversity encompasses characteristics that are not readily visible. These characteristics include religion, political beliefs, values, and attitudes. Deep-level diversity also includes personality, cognitive ability, and deductive reasoning skills. Personality refers to stable qualities which make up an individual’s character. For example, introversion, ambiversion, and extroversion are types of personality traits. Personality types contribute to an individual’s tendency for behaviours, thoughts, and emotional patterns.

Four Layers of Diversity in the workplace

There are four distinct layers of diversity. When combined, they provide a comprehensive view of workplace diversity.

Four layers of diversity in the workplace

Organizational Diversity

Examples of organizational diversity include department, seniority, job function, responsibilities, and workplace location. Ongoing management and tracking of diversity can help build an organization’s brand. This, in turn, increases a company’s desirability as a potential employer and place of business. As a result, these organizations become more attractive and interesting. The inclusive nature of diverse workplaces also helps forge strong connections among employees. Furthermore, today’s society is reliant and influenced by social media. Social media allows companies to promote themselves and attract customers and high-quality employees.

External Diversity

External diversity describes characteristics which an individual has direct control over. Characteristics of external diversity include education, experiences, appearance, religion, and socio-economic status. This type of diversity is dynamic and influenced by the actions taken by an individual throughout their life.

Internal Diversity

Internal diversity consists of static characteristics which an individual is born into, such as age, race, gender, and ethnicity. These characteristics often arise in cases of workplace discrimination and bias.

For example, gender bias is a common occurrence within the workplace. Gender bias is particularly relevant in today’s society as more individuals begin to self-identify as gender-fluid, cisgender, and transgender.

However, the most common type of gender bias in the workplace occurs between men and women. Gender bias often occurs in situations relating to compensation and leadership. In Canada, women working full-time positions earn approximately 76.8 cents for every dollar earned by men in similar positions.

Despite our ever-evolving society, inequalities between men and women persist. Employers can minimize gender bias by educating employees on appropriate behaviour. Businesses can implement policies concerning childcare and family leave. Employers should also address systemic discrimination against women in certain industries. This includes businesses in construction and engineering which tend to be male-dominated fields. Businesses should also eliminate barriers and obstacles to high-paying positions within their organizations.

Worldview Diversity

Worldview diversity is a dynamic type of diversity that encompasses the unique experiences acquired over time. Events within our life can influence the way we conceptualize the world around us. For example, political beliefs are elements of our personality that are shaped by various life events and experiences. Other examples include morality and one’s outlook on life. Worldview diversity is also formed through a combination of internal, external, and organizational diversity.


The Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Organizations with diverse workforces experience several key advantages. The benefits of diversity within the workplace include:

1. Broader Perspectives

Organizations with high diversity lead to staff with different experiences and viewpoints. Diversity encourages individuals with different mindsets to gather and exchange perspectives. As a result, diversity encourages new, innovative, and creative ideas. Diversity of thought also leads to improved problem-solving and decision-making.

On the other hand, a homogenous workforce is made up of individuals with similar life experiences, opinions, and perspectives. A lack of diversity leads to unimaginative and unvaried ideas.

Creativity is vital to a company’s success. Creative ideas result in new and exciting products which attract clients and boost sales. Creativity also helps businesses solve complex problems in unconventional and innovative ways. Innovation is what differentiates a good business from a great business. It also allows companies to better adapt to changes in customer demand and market trends. In today’s competitive business world, a lack of creativity and innovation is detrimental to an organization’s success. Diverse viewpoints provide a competitive edge over other businesses. Diversity can also help companies enter new markets. For instance, organizations seeking to expand internationally will benefit from culturally diverse staff through an understanding of cultural customs, regulations, and negotiation standards.

2. Employee Performance

Diversity in the workplace leads to a supportive work environment as individuals of various ethnicities, backgrounds, and cognitive abilities feel more comfortable interacting with one another. Positive interactions within the workplace lead to happier employees. In turn, this leads to increased productivity. In addition, the pressure to conform is less prevalent in diverse workplaces, which allows more open and positive employee relationships to form.

Happy employees also experience greater satisfaction. Increased employee satisfaction leads to improved performance. Employees with high satisfaction are more optimistic about the work they perform. Employee satisfaction contributes to many advantages within an organization, including:

  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased turnover
  • Increased retention rate
  • Lower absentee rate
  • Positive organizational culture
  • Increased collaboration

3. Increased Financial Performance

Diverse organizations perform better than companies with less diverse workforces. For example, a study involving over 1,000 organizations reveals that companies with increased levels of cultural and ethnic diversity outperform those with less diversity by 36%. Another study indicates that companies with above-average diversity rake in an average of 45% innovation revenue. This is in contrast to 26% for companies with below-average diversity. In addition, diverse companies have cash flows that are 2.3 times higher and attain 19% higher revenue.

Key benefits of diversity in the workplace

Diversity in the workplace is advantageous for all companies, regardless of size, industry, or location. Businesses today have even implemented diversity policies to stay on top of the competition. Organizations cannot afford to fall behind in this competitive market. Diversity in the workplace is invaluable as it allows businesses to adapt to industry trends and the needs of target audiences. Organizations with bel0w-average diversity lack creativity and problem-solving skills. Without diversity, businesses are unable to outperform their competitors and survive in the business world.




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