Diversity in Action

What are the real benefits of a diverse workforce?

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | December 15, 2016

When you hear the word diversity, do you think it applies only to other people? The truth is that diversity is about all of us because we’re all different in some way. But different is good especially at work.

Consultant and author Michael D. Lee gives six advantages to workplace diversity:

  1. Creativity increases when people with different ways of solving problems work together. “There is no one best answer to any question,” says Lee. “The more ideas you can obtain from different people, the more likely you are to develop a workable answer.”
  2. Productivity increases when people of different backgrounds pull together to achieve goals.
  3. New attitudes. These come with the diversity of our workforce through diverse cultures and backgrounds.
  4. Language skills become available through people of different nationalities.
  5. Understanding increases. By relating to people of all backgrounds, we gain a greater perspective and experience greater success.
  6. New processes. A typical result when people with different ideas come together and collaborate.

Diversity and Decision-Making

A further benefit of diversity is improved decision-making. Researchers at Stanford Business School set up two groups of three people who were told to solve a murder mystery. In both groups two members were friends and the third was a stranger.

In the first group, the friends had a common piece of information, and the stranger was given a piece of unique information essential to solving the murder. In the second group, one friend and one stranger had common information, while the other friend had the unique information.

Which group was more likely to solve the mystery? The group with two friends having common information and the stranger with unique information.

Researchers speculate that this was because the friends shared a common background, expected to have the same information, and therefore didn’t bother to share what they knew. The stranger, however, knew he was different and expected to have different information, so he was more likely to share it. Thus, a better decision was made and the mystery solved.

Celebrating diversity in the workplace makes our differences work for us. We aim to create an environment in which we can all feel comfortable, one in which we can capitalize on our differences and create a more effective, productive, and competitive organization.

We’re all different in some way. Consider the following:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Ethnic heritage
  • Family status
  • Gender
  • Generation
  • Mental or physical abilities
  • National origin
  • Occupation
  • Race
  • Regional origin
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Skin color
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Work experience
  • Work style

A diverse workplace reflects our changing world. The organizations that best manage this diversity are the most likely to thrive in the 21st century.