Given the increasingly populist nature of political discourse in America and Europe, successful businesses must continue to think inclusively and internationally. Cultural diversity in the workplace provides a definitive competitive advantage for businesses who want to operate globally. From Google to Qantas and Deloitte, organisations across a multitude of industries are becoming more aware of the advantages of a diverse workforce. These benefits come with the challenges of working cross-culturally, in geographically diverse settings and on a multi-linguistic basis.
Cultural diversity is often used in conjunction or interchangeably with the term multiculturalism, which is defined as a:
“…a system of beliefs and behaviours that recognises and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organisation or society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural context which empowers all within the organisation or society.”(Belfield, 2012)
An organisation is culturally diverse, when population differences are well represented within a community. Diversity has been defined as “any attribute that another person may use to detect individual differences” (Williams & O’Reilly, 1998, p. 81). Diversity can be seen through both attributive and cognitive identifiers. This can refer to differences based on ethnicity, gender, age, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation, and many more dimensions such as education, occupation, tenure, personality, socioeconomic status, marital or parental status, and so on. The list is almost endless!
Cultural diversity is important because it can benefit the workplace. People from various backgrounds can contribute to the group via their different perspectives, providing a different point of view to look at problems from all angles. This leads to creativity and innovation. Leading corporations like Microsoft, HSBC and even McDonalds value diversity in their corporate ethos. Diversity can be integrated into organisational practices by encouraging open-mindedness and judgement-free observations about the value of differences.
When choosing metrics for Diversity Atlas, we carefully consider which metrics capture salient diversity for organisations. We regularly review and conduct research to ensure that Diversity Atlas captures key diversity data for organisations. By emphasising cultural diversity, demographic diversity and intersectionality, we can provide more nuanced, considered and applicable insights for diversity metrics. Diversity Atlas provides organisations with an in-depth understanding of the types and extent of diversity within their workforce, communities, customer base, schools, beneficiaries and more.
4 pillars of Cultural Diversity
A diverse workforce drives profitability by enhancing productivity, driving innovation and creativity, providing cultural insight into local markets, attracting and retaining the best talent and developing a more adaptable range of products and services (Reynolds, 2019).
Leading organisations develop, encourage and enhance cultural diversity by promoting the value of inclusion. By diversifying perceptions, ideologies and observations, organisations can optimise their workforce and bottom line with a broader, more inclusive approach. Listed below are some of the prominent factors in cultural diversity:
Country of Birth
With businesses operating across borders, languages and cultures, organisations must embrace cultural diversity in an effort to optimise their bottom line. A diverse workforce will enable this objective by communicating and acting on business strategy effectively in an international marketplace. A workforce with employees originating from different countries enables creatively diverse approaches to local market conditions and global trends. At Diversity Atlas, we assist your organisation with the inclusion of such diverse personalities from different parts of the world.
One of the most influential aspects of culture is language, which serves as a medium to share cultural, social and intellectual experiences. Language represents a form a communication between people, although it involves a great deal more than just linguistic exchange. Language encompasses the sharing of values, social codes, cultural perceptions and the development of a sense of belonging, both individually and collectively. Language can be described as the medium that defines values, views and identity of your workforce.
Employees from different culture and language backgrounds need to train and practice certain linguistic norms that help retain their identity in the absence of their native language in the business environment. While an effective workforce needs to work with a lingua franca, such as English, an inclusive workforce will promote multilingualism, which helps connect cultures and leverage diversity as a strength, especially when it comes to engaging local markets and globalising product and service propositions.
‘Worldviews’ is the term we use to describe both secular and religious beliefs. In this context, we draw from the study of religion and its attempts to answer questions about the nature of reality to describe ‘worldview’ as a belief system that provides meaning about the world. While religious traditions have historically been the dominant voices in providing answers to these questions, there is an increasing trend towards non-religious and secular frameworks.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), the 2016 Census found that about one-third of Australians identify with ‘no religion’ or a secular belief such as Humanism, Agnosticism or Atheism.
We have worked to formulate survey questions in Diversity Atlas to be inclusive and inviting of all users to participate, regardless of their beliefs. Our database incorporates religious beliefs, spiritual traditions, and secular frameworks.
Ethnicity is defined as a “common identity-based ancestry, language, or culture” (Gendered Innovations, Stanford, n.d.). Ethnicity is based on religion, beliefs, and customs as well as memories of migration or colonisation. Ethnic diversity is highly recommended for organisations that have multilingual business needs and diverse market bases.
Certain companies, like Uber, have established community-based workspaces as safe spaces for historically marginalised or disadvantaged groups. Ethnic diversity drives creativity and enhances the aptitude of the entire workforce, especially for globally focused organisations with an international outlook.
Ethnicity and race are complex and interrelated concepts. While ethnicity is used to describe people who have shared ideas of culture, language, history and customs, race refers to the powerful social category forged historically through oppression, slavery, and conquest. Research has shown that humans are 99.99% alike genetically, and that intra-racial genetic differences are higher than inter-racial differences (Donovan, 2019).
Race does not form a part of Diversity Atlas’ cultural diversity index. Race has no proven basis in science and forms the basis of racism – the use of race to establish a social hierarchy and system of power that privileges or advantages of certain groups and unfairly disadvantages others. While a person may have more than one ethnicity (multi-ethnic), their race can be something that the person identifies with or is assigned to them by others.
Other Demographic Pillars Of Diversity
Age diversity enables greater energy and varied experience to drive results and innovation. With longer lifespans, careers are bound to extend beyond the traditional retirement age resulting in a workplace whose ages range more than six decades. There are as many as five generations in the workforce (Mazzotta, 2018):
- The Silent Generation – born between 1925 and 1945
- Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980
- Generation Y (Millennials) – born between 1981 and 1995
- Generation Z (iGen) – born 1996 and later
Research demonstrates that age diversity in the workplace can result in improved organisational performance. Studies show that mixed-aged work teams have higher productivity. Age diversity is positively correlated to performance in situations where groups are involved in complex decision-making tasks.
Age diversity can reduce employee turnover. Workers who are 55 and older contribute to lower turnover and typically stay in their jobs longer than younger employees. This means lower turnover costs for employers and the retention of more skilled, experienced employees. Age diversity brings about a variation in experiences, expectations, styles and perspectives. These differences can be a source of strength and innovation. Diversity Atlas includes deep diving keyfacts about age and generations vs other pillars of diversity.
Gender is a sociocultural dimension that has significant implications for the workplace in the context of norms, roles and relations (WHO, n.d.). Gender intersects with other demographic identifiers, which drive inequity in the workplace and community, including ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, age, geographic locality and sexual orientation. Women often face greater barriers to equality due to cultural gender norms of economic dependence, patriarchal societal structures and imposed domestic roles and responsibilities.
Men are also faced with certain challenges as traditional expectations of masculinity increase men to certain psychoemotional risks at work. Toxic masculinity is also a challenge in modern workplaces and involves the suppression of emotion, masking of distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness and using violence as an indicator of power (Salam, 2019). Gender diverse persons face stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace and are at greater risk for physical and sexual violence, resulting in increased risk of psychosocial and physiological health problems.
Diversity Atlas can help your organisation challenge gender stereotypes and combat gender inequality by providing data on gender and cultural diversity. “Gender diversity, as it relates to a work environment, means that men and women are hired at the same rate, paid equally for equal work, and promoted at the same rate” (Gray, 2018). A study by Pew Research found that women on average earn 80% of what their male colleagues earned.
The national gender pay gap, as measured in Australia by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is 13.9%, which means women, on average, are paid 13.9% less than men. Gender equality is valued among businesses and organizations because of its strong correlation to performance, economic competitiveness, productivity, innovation, growth and ability of companies to attract and retain talent. Research has also demonstrated that a gender-diverse leadership boosts performance while correcting gender pay inequities.
“In Western Europe, only 17 percent of executive-committee members are women, and women comprise just 32 percent of members of corporate boards for companies listed in Western Europe’s major market indexes.”(Devillard et al., 2017)
A gender equal workforce is crucial to adapting to future changes and needs as workplaces and jobs evolve, requiring a diverse, highly skilled, trained and resilient workforce.
The Difference Between Gender & Sex
Sex is the biological component determined by genitalia, chromosomes, primary and secondary sex characteristics (Clements, 2018). Biological sex is usually differentiated as male, female, intersex or people with difference of sexual development (DSD). Gender is a social dimension and represents a person’s internal understanding of their own true gender (Many Voices, 2010).
Gender is not binary and includes other genders outside of the male-female dichotomy. While most never question or contradict their assigned sex and are cis-gender, meaning that their assigned sex and gender are identical, some people are genderqueer, non-binary, transgender or gender-diverse. Gender diverse people often have a different gender from their assigned biological sex. For example, a person who feels like they are a man can still have female genitalia, but their gender is male.
An educationally-diverse workforce provides greater opportunity to attract and retain high quality employees. Employees with higher education, such as graduate diplomas, master degrees or PhDs provide a higher degree of specialisation and resultant competitive advantage for any organisation. With ever-growing technological innovation and advancements, having an educationally-diverse workforce drives productivity with a dynamic approach. Educational diversity brings about a diversity of views and concepts towards local and international markets and enhances creativity, innovation and productivity among businesses.
Sexual orientation refers to an immutable pattern of emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to men, women or people who are gender diverse. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation exists on a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusion attraction of the same sex (APA, n.d.).
Sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (attraction to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (attraction to members of one’s own sex) and bisexual (attraction to members of both sexes). Sexual orientation is separate from other identifiers of sex and gender, including biological sex, gender identity and social gender role.
The term queer is sometimes used to describe people who are attracted to members of the non-cisgender community. Other terms used are pansexual or omnisexual, which challenge the status quo of binary genders (Psychology Today, n.d.). Pansexuality describes attraction to people of any gender or sex, while demi-sexual refers to a person who experiences sexual attraction only once a strong emotional bond has been formed with a partner. While asexual individuals can experience emotional attraction, they do not experience sexual attraction. For a full list of terms, visit Abrams (2019).
Sexual orientation cannot be chosen and is largely biologically determined. It is common for people to become aware of their orientation during pre-teen and teen years. Sexual diversity is part of cultural diversity and is being promoted by top companies as an inherent value in their business culture (KPMG, 2010). As societies are becoming more inclusive, having an open and tolerant workplace that is diverse can contribute to capturing the LGBTQ+ market and connecting with the consumer base.
Almost one in five people or over 4 million people in Australia have a disability, and is increasing with an ageing population (Australian Network on Disability, n.d.). Disabilities can include physical, sensory, psychiatric, neurological, cognitive or intellectual impairments (Government of Western Australia, n.d.). People with disabilities have the same social and economic interactions as people without disabilities, including such activities as consumption, employment, holidays, families, friends, access to information and contribution to society. The only difference is the barriers that people with disabilities face.
The social model of disability (Chung, 2018) posits that disability is a result of the social barriers facing people with disability and not the impairment itself. While impairment can result in certain limitations, the stigma, discrimination, social, economic and physical barriers to equality in society result in disability. The role of an employer is to reduce or eliminate these barriers by accommodating people with disabilities in their workforce. These adjustments are known as reasonable accommodations and protected by the law via the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and state legislation like the Equal Opportunity Act (Vic). People with disability have shown that they are reliable, highly productive, cost-effective and safe.
By promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace, employers and organisations can enhance productivity, innovation, creativity, retention, local market recognition, credibility and profitability. Cultural diversity needs to promoted at all levels, including leadership, to be effective. Only 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women in leadership positions (Jones, 2017). Of the high ranking officials surveyed by Forbes, 72% of those were white.
While diversity and inclusion has become a core value in HR departments across the world, if diversity is promoted at junior levels only, this may severely hamper the optimisation of other levels. Be it gender, ethnicity, age, disability or sexual orientation, all groups need to be empowered and included in the organisation’s ethos for the benefits of diversity to felt across the board.
Cultural Diversity is like a Rubik’s cube! You can call it a success when you match all faces!
Like a Rubik’s cube, the aspects of diversity are highly varied from individual to individual. To promote diversity and inclusion as a core value, the organisation must establish a balance of attributes by including people with varied traits. This will bring about a unique synergy of talent and resources in local and international markets. Diversity and inclusion strategies supplement and support overall business goals by connecting the workforce and the business to the external community. Genuine inclusion of diversity and differences is the key method towards leveraging the potential of diverse human traits.
Measuring cultural diversity will enable your organisation to develop effective strategies for recruitment, inclusion, engagement based on your specific diversity makeup. By measuring diversity a diversity baseline is established, enabling you to track changes to diversity across time, and to evaluate the impact of your strategies. Diversity Atlas is a diversity data-analysis tool that improves businesses + orgs in a global world. Not only can measuring diversity in your workplace help improve staff engagement and wellbeing, it can strengthen business outcomes and performance.
Alex Chung co-authored this article with Rezza Moieni.