Why is Diversity Important in the Workplace? The 1 Reason

Why is diversity important in the workplace? Learn more with this science-based article with tons of research papers

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Most people approach the question “Why is diversity important in the workplace?” in the wrong way. In fact, the Internet is full of content that makes bold claims about diversity without bringing any evidence, or that misses the whole point of diversity. If you really want to know the importance of diversity in the workplace, read this instead.

Why Is Diversity Important in the Workplace? Because It’s Right!

If you were looking for a quick answer, there you have it. Diversity is important because it is the right thing to do. And, like any right thing to do, you don’t need additional motives. Now, this article is really about “why is diversity important in the workplace” and not about “why is diversity the right thing to do”. Still, I will try to argue why it is the right thing to do briefly.

Diversity is the right thing to do because it ensures everyone gets the same opportunities in the long term. Ultimately, this means everyone on earth will have the potential to fulfill her or his dreams.

If you believe everyone should have access to the same opportunities, then diversity allows you to abide by this belief. In case you don’t, you are missing out on such an important value. Most people believe in equality, and they expect companies to act accordingly. This is not a claim made out of the blue. According to PEW Research Center, 74% of over 38,000 respondents across 34 countries say gender equality is “very important”. The percentage is much higher in most Western developed countries such as Australia (91%), Canada (93%), France (90%) or Sweden (96%). You can read the full research paper here.

Why is diversity important in the workplace? Try to include black people in your DEI initiatives
Diversity should address every identity, gender, and culture.

The data we have (PEW Research Center) shows people care about gender equality. Yet, there are many other equalities we should consider: religion, race, sexual orientation, cultural identity. All these different flavors of diversity are important, and people care about them. It is hard to gather data about all those at a world-wide level, but we can start to see correlation. According to another study by the PEW Research Center, 63% of over 6,000 respondents believe the legacy of slavery affects the life of blacks today.

We can see the importance of racial equality is felt strongly, although not as strongly as gender equality. This can make sense, because there are pockets of society with little or no exposure to intercultural and interracial environments, so they might not be fully aware of the problem. This is not the case with gender equality, which permeates across cultures. Once more, I encourage you to read the full research paper.

The evidence is clear: people care about diversity, and hopefully you do as well. So, you should implement diversity and inclusion in your workplace. When doing so, please avoid the business case (or we might as well say “crap”). Things like “diversity is important because it increases productivity” or “because it enables us to reach customers with different demographics” are a no-no. Do they imply that, without these business benefits, you would not pursue diversity? People are left to wonder, and they will assume for the worst.

We gathered some data for this as well. Harvard Business Review surveyed 2500 LGBTQ+ professionals about the message Fortune 500 companies communicated about diversity. They found out that people did not find sincere when diversity was motivated by a business case, and, surprisingly, preferred no motivation at all. HBR advice to value diversity in its own sake, not even motivating “because it is the right thing to do” unless asked.

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Why should people feel different? Would you have wanted a mom that fed you as a kid because otherwise she would go to jail, or because she cared? Did she need to build up a business case, or “you are my son” was enough to drive action? I think you get the point.

Why Is Diversity Important in the Workplace? The Site Benefits

Most gas stations have reward points systems. Fill up your gas tank enough times and you will collect points, collect enough points and you will get a small reward: a sweater, a pan, an air-frier. Those are all side benefits: you wouldn’t fill tanks and tanks of gas and then throw them away just to make enough points to get the reward. If you wanted the air-frier, you might go buy that directly instead.

Asians and Diversity
Don’t assume that if someone has been born and raised in your country will fully reflect your own culture. Consider what might be the heritage or legacy from her or his parents.

Diversity works like this. Diversity is the fuel, you get it because it has value on its own. Fuel allows your car to move, diversity is plain right. On top of this, you get the side benefits. With fuel, you get the air-frier, with diversity you can get increased productivity and resiliency. Those are side-benefits, they are not the primary reasons to pursue diversity. Once more, we already answered “why is diversity important in the workplace?” and you should try to pursue diversity on its own.

Still, other benefits are worth noting.

Diversity Increases Productivity

There is significant amount of evidence that people believe diversity increases productivity. This is because most research papers ask respondents what they feel about productivity, with questions like “Do you feel more productive?”.

This can be unbiased. For example, some research papers track diversity according to some pre-defined metric (e.g., percentage of black people in the workforce in a company) and ask over time the same question “Do you feel more productive?”. As they track how the percentage of black employee increase, they see how responses to the answer change, and try to drive a correlation. This is unbiased, because subjects are unaware of the correlation we are looking for (diversity and productivity).

Why is diversity important in the workplace? Address the needs of people with disability or peole that may not feel proud of their body
Diversity goes beyond ethnicity, you should also account for people who might feel uncomfortable with their body and how to make them feel accepted in your environment.

Still, even if unbiased, we are still talking about how people feel. Claiming you are more productive does not mean you actually are, even if you genuinely believe so. In fact, some types of diversity can hinder productivities due to cultural and language barriers that make collaboration harder, not easier. In other contexts, such as work that requires no collaboration and may be repetitive, such as in factories, diversity can have limited or no effect.

This research by Linda Barrington (Cornell University) and Kenneth Troske (University of Kentucky) dated 2001 shows already that there is either positive correlation or no correlation between workplace diversity and productivity. The study never found negative correlation. That is, you can be either (mildly) better off or as good as now by implementing diversity, but not worse. I like this study because it correlates objective measures of productivity, such as sales per worker with workforce demographics and occupational diversity (e.g., percentage of white males).

From the study, you will see that diversity increases productivity for real, but it is not a game changer. In other words, if your company is struggling with significantly poor performance, diversity by itself won’t turn things around. To put it in even a different way, productivity does not justify the pursuit of diversity. Again, diversity should be pursued, but in its own sake.

Diversity Increases Creativity

Again, if you ask “Why Diversity is Important in the Workplace?”, it is because it is the right thing to do. But it comes with additional benefits. One of those is that it increases creativity, which is generally a good thing.

Empirically, this makes sense: if your workforce is diverse, each member has a different background and brings to the table different life experiences. As such, your collective body of knowledge is larger and you are less subject to group-thinking, which hinders creativity (everyone already thinks the same). But once again, creativity is something hard to measure because:

  • Creativity is subjective and there is no clear measure for how it in itself
  • It is hard to correlate creativity with external proxies. For example, how much of increased sales or lowered defects in manufacturing comes from creativity?

Still, some researchers attempted to find a correlation. In 2014, Richard B. Freeman and Wei Huang of Harvard University tried to address this in their paper. In their research, they examined over 1.5 million research papers and looked at the names of the authors. They found out that papers with authors of different ethnicities had more citations than papers with same ethnicity authors (they call this homophily).

Why is diversity important in the workplace? Consider other cultures
It is easy to pinpoint some categories for Diversity, such as Women, Black, Hispanic, Asian. But remember that diversity can be much more granular. Can you really distinguish between Indonesian and Malay? What are the cultural differences?

The more a research paper is cited in others, the more it is important and of good quality, we can assume. We cannot necessarily assume it is more creative. However, research is by definition finding out about something new, and finding new ways to measure things or identify patterns. In other words, the research work itself has a significant component of creativity. So, we can consider that cross-cultural teams do a better job (better papers) when the work has a creative component (like in research). Probably, we wouldn’t see such a correlation if instead of papers we were measuring units of products physically manufactured.

Reputational Impacts of Diversity

Why is diversity important in the workplace? Because it is the right thing to do: we said this over and over now. And precisely because it is the right thing to do, it will establish you as a company that knows the right thing to do, and actually do it. Diversity is a proxy of integrity and egalitarianism. Outsiders (and even employees) cannot be sure about how much integrity you have as a company. If you implement diversity, they will know that.

Why is diversity important in the workplace? Consider religion
Remember that different religions may have different needs: try to understan them.

This applies to potential future employees, current and future customers, suppliers, government bodies, and all the environment at large where your company interacts. This paper by PwC shows that diversity and inclusion (or lack thereof) carries a reputational risk that is to be managed, with potential upsides and downsides. Yet, although PwC is a respectable company, this is a marketing paper, so it is not double-checked by external researches and the data behind it are not transparently available.

We have better evidence in this SAGE Journal article authored by Leigh S. Wilton, Diana T. Sanchez, Miguel M. Unzueta, Cheryl Kaiser, and Nava Calouri. It shows that companies that advocate for diversity are perceived to be of a higher reputation, especially if they advocate for gender equality.

Diversity is Important

Diversity is important in the workplace. As simple as that. Like any other “right thing”, it is something you should pursue for its own sake, without needing for extrinsic motivators such as productivity or creativity.

The next time they ask you “Why is diversity important in the workplace?” you will know what to answer. You will know it is just right and your moral compass drives you toward that. You will know it might increase productivity, it improves the quality of creative work, and strengthen the brand of your company. Driving diversity and inclusion, however, is not easy. Referent power is a good strategy to push your point across, so read this to start the change.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

Alessandro Maggio