You want to empower your employees to do their best work. And part of that empowerment is creating an environment that fosters collaboration, encourages new and different ideas, and makes everyone feel safe and supported while they’re at work.
And in order to create that environment, you need to embrace cultural diversity.
Cultural diversity (also known as multiculturalism) is a must if you want your employees and your organization to succeed. But what is cultural diversity? Why is it so important? And what steps can you take to not only create a more diverse workplace, but create space for different cultural expressions, celebrate your employees’ cultural differences, and truly empower your team to do and feel their best at work, no matter what cultural groups they may claim?
What Is Cultural Diversity?
First things first—before we talk about how to embrace cultural diversity in the workplace, let’s quickly cover what, exactly, cultural diversity is.
Sociologist Dr. Caleb Rosado, a leading expert in multiculturalism, defines cultural diversity as “…a system of beliefs and behaviors that recognizes and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organization 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 organization or society.”
Essentially, cultural diversity is about bringing people together from a diverse set of backgrounds and cultures, then creating an environment that not only recognizes the differences between those cultures and backgrounds, but celebrates them. It helps create a safe space for people to be authentically themselves.
Cultural diversity includes:
- Sexual orientation
Why Is Cultural Diversity so Important in the Workplace?
Now that you understand what cultural diversity is, let’s jump into the importance of cultural diversity in the workplace.
There are a huge number of benefits of cultural diversity, both from an employee and an organizational perspective, including:
- A more inclusive work environment. If you don’t have a variety of people working in your organization, it can cause certain people to be isolated; for example, if someone is the only person from certain ethnic groups (like Asian, Latinx, or African American), or the only woman, or the only person with a disability that works for your company, they may feel uncomfortable or singled out. This could lead them to feel less engaged with their job and the organization as a whole—and could lead them to look for another opportunity, causing issues with employee retention. When your organization is culturally diverse and your team is made up of people from diverse backgrounds, diverse cultures, and diverse groups, you have more types of people represented—which can make for a more inclusive environment for all.
- Opportunities for learning and growth. Growth doesn’t happen in an echo chamber. If you’re only surrounded by people who look, think, and come from the same cultural backgrounds as you, you’re likely to have a fairly limited perspective. When your organization embraces diverse cultures, it exposes everyone to people with a different perspective, background, and experience. This can help everyone to grow, challenge their biases and stereotypes, learn from each other, and develop broader and more well-rounded world views—which can ultimately drive better business results. For example, as diversity drives growth within your team, your employees will be able to better understand and empathize with different types of people—including your customers, which can lead to better customer service and higher customer satisfaction levels.
- Diverse groups bring diverse ideas to the table. From an organizational perspective, the more diverse workforce that you employ, the more diverse viewpoints, ideas, and perspectives that workforce brings to the table—which can drive innovation and give you a competitive edge in the market.
How to Create a More Diverse Workplace
You know what cultural diversity is. You know why it’s important. Now, let’s cover how to embrace cultural diversity in the workplace—and ensure that all your employees have the space, tools, and training they need to work together effectively.
Revamp Your Hiring Processes
Diverse companies are made up of diverse people. So, if you want to create a more diverse workplace? It starts with the people you hire.
Evaluate your current staff. Is there a truly diverse set of people represented? For example, do you employ both men and women—as well as people who identify as LGBTQ+? Do you have a high percentage of employees from different ethnic backgrounds—or is your team disproportionately white? Do you have everyone from Gen Z to Boomers on your team—or are most of your employees under the age of 30?
If you realize you’re lacking diversity on your team, it’s time to look at your hiring practices—and find ways to bring more diverse talent into your organization. For example, if you find that your organization lacks racial diversity, you might have your recruiters host an event at a university with mostly BIPOC students. If you don’t have any women on your engineering team, you might set a benchmark for your recruiters—and let them know that they’ll need to bring in a certain percentage of female (or female-identifying) candidates for all new engineering roles.
The point is, you can’t build a more culturally diverse workplace if you’re not focused on diverse hiring practices—so if your organization isn’t as diverse as you want it to be, start with revamping your hiring practices.
Increase Cultural Competency
People from different cultural backgrounds may have different ideas or cultural expressions around work. And, in order for teams to do their best work, it’s important for leaders to identify those differences around work—and create a space for those differences to effectively co-exist.
This concept is called cultural competence—the ability for people from different cultural groups (and with different cultural ideas) to be able to work together effectively. And if you want to empower diverse teams’ best work, it’s important to make cultural competence a priority within your organization; otherwise, it can lead to conflict and challenges within the team.
For example, let’s say your company currently employs people from six different countries—all of which have different attitudes and beliefs around work. If you just throw those people on a team together without any training or support, those different attitudes and beliefs can cause conflict. For example, let’s say it’s the norm in country A to create a clear boundary between work time and personal time—while it’s commonplace in country B to develop friendships with your coworkers outside of work. Without the proper context or training, employees from country B might be offended when employees from country A decline their invitation for an after-work get together.
Or let’s say country C recognizes more religious and cultural holidays than country D. If employees from country D see employees from country C getting more time off—without understanding why—it may lead to resentment.
So, how do you create more cultural competence within your organization and ensure your team can work together effectively, productively, and harmoniously?
The right training.
Diversity training is a must if you want to create cultural competency within diverse teams. Training on cultural differences—and how to effectively navigate those differences—will give your team the understanding they need to effectively collaborate with their co-workers and do their best work. (For example, training on how to avoid microaggressions can help employees avoid miscommunications—and avoid offending or upsetting their co-workers.) Depending on your organization and the kind of diversity training your team needs, you could have human resources spearhead your training program or bring in outside educators to help your team thrive in a diverse workplace.
Celebrate Your Employees’ Cultures
Cultural diversity isn’t just about recognizing cultural differences; it’s also about celebrating them. So, if you want your employees to feel seen, appreciated, and safe at work? Celebrate their cultures in any way you can.
For example, don’t just host celebrations for commonly recognized holidays in the United States (like Christmas or the 4th of July); instead, host celebrations for any holiday one or more of your employees’ celebrates (like Juneteenth, Chinese New Year, or Pride Month)—and give them the opportunity to help plan the celebration and, if they feel comfortable, educate their coworkers about the holiday and its cultural background. Or, instead of catering lunch from the same sandwich shop every week, try ordering from restaurants that reflect the dishes of your employees’ cultures.
The point is, celebrating your employees’ cultures shows them that they’re valued for who they are, where they come from, and what they bring to the table—and it’s a key part of creating a truly diverse workplace.
Embrace Cultural Diversity at Work
A diverse workforce is a major benefit to your organization; bringing together people from different backgrounds and cultures can help drive innovation, foster new ideas, and create a work environment that values equality, respect, and collaboration. And now that you know how to create a culturally diverse workplace—and foster the cultural competence necessary to empower your team’s best work—you’re armed with all the information you need to make cultural diversity a priority at your organization.