Increasing cultural diversity in the workplace is much more
than just an HR buzzword. It’s key to successful teams and businesses. If you
want to create teams capable of producing breakthrough innovations, diversity
is nonnegotiable. Sure, we can just tell you to build a more diverse team, but you’ve
heard this a million times. What, specifically, is so great about diversity?
The fact is that diversity enhances creativity, improves
problem solving and decision making, fosters a happier, more engaged workforce,
and spurs economic growth. And all this is supported by decades of research. Let’s
take a closer look at the benefits of diversity.
Diverse teams are smarter.
There’s always more than one way to solve a problem. Each
team member brings to the table their own unique perspectives and approaches,
forged by their cultural background, experiences, personality, and a multitude
of other factors. In a diverse team, you naturally have access to a greater
variety of perspectives and problem-solving approaches.
You might think that putting together a group of people with
wildly different approaches and viewpoints would be a recipe for disaster and
discord. And there would be a grain of truth to that: working in diverse groups
does present certain challenges. Working with people who look like you and
think like you is certainly the path of least resistance, but the easiest
option is not always the best one. In fact, according to some experts,
diversity enhances performance precisely because it’s more challenging.
Diverse teams are not smarter just because they have a
greater variety of perspectives. It turns out that diversity actually changes
the way we process information and make decisions. We consider more information
and process that information more deeply and carefully in a diverse group.
The research bears this out. For example, a 2006 study
found that racially diverse juries considered more information, made fewer
errors when recalling information, and were more open-minded than all-white
juries. This difference was not solely attributable to the behavior of nonwhite
participants: the behavior of white participants actually changed in the
presence of a more diverse group. In another study,
small groups of college students from the same fraternity or sorority were
asked to solve a murder mystery. After deliberating for some time, they were
joined by a newcomer from either the same fraternity/sorority or a different
one. The groups that were joined by an outsider were more likely to guess the
Working with people who are different from us forces us to
challenge our assumptions, anticipate divergent viewpoints, and overcome outdated
ways of thinking. Simply put, it makes our brains work harder—and that can only
be a good thing, right?
Diverse teams are more innovative.
Having a variety of different voices sharing ideas and perspectives
often leads to out-of-the-box thinking. This in turn can give rise to the
development of new and exciting products and solutions. Researchers at the
London School of Economics found
that businesses with culturally diverse management teams are more likely to
introduce new product innovations than ones with culturally homogenous teams.
conducted by Forbes found that among companies with more than $10 billion in
annual revenue, 56 percent “strongly agreed” that diversity helps drive
innovation. Rosalind Hudnell, the director of global diversity at Intel, noted,
“Because of our diverse workforce, we’ve experienced a boost in productivity. .
. . You can’t be successful on a global stage without [diversity].”
Diverse teams create more culturally sensitive and
A lack of diversity in a team has the potential to lead to
some frankly embarrassing and out-of-touch product fails. In 2017, a popular
smartphone app was forced to pull filters that allowed users to modify their
selfies to look like different races—a feature described by critics as “digital
blackface.” Other apps have faced similar accusations of racism: one allowed
users to report having seen something “sketchy” in a particular location,
spurring headlines like “Smiling
Young White People Make App for Avoiding Black Neighborhoods.” Concerns
have also been raised over facial-recognition software. Research has found that
this new technology is more likely to be inaccurate when used on black people.
Some experts believe this is due in part to the fact that “its
algorithms are usually written by white engineers who dominate the technology
A culturally and ethnically diverse team can help ensure
that concerns about representation and inclusivity are raised—and
resolved—before a product hits the shelves.
Diverse teams attract and retain employees.
Employees, by and large, already recognize the benefits of
diversity. According to a Glassdoor
survey, two thirds of job hunters consider diversity important when
evaluating companies and job offers. A diverse and inclusive workplace is
especially important to millennials: research
suggests that in an inclusive workplace culture, millennials report higher
levels of engagement and empowerment. Building diverse teams will not only help
your business attract talented, globally minded individuals, it will also help
you keep them happy and engaged—and keep them around.
Diverse teams help the bottom line.
Okay, it probably goes without saying that smarter, happier,
and more innovative teams achieve greater business success, but we think it’s
worth emphasizing. The research is clear. A 2015 McKinsey report
found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35
percent more likely to have above-average financial returns. Another analysis
found that racial diversity is associated with “increased sales revenue, more
customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.” Increasing
cultural diversity is simply good business sense.
In 2020, there’s no excuse not to have culturally diverse
teams. But remember, differences can also present challenges, so make sure you
have created an inclusive workplace culture that welcomes differing opinions
and allows all individuals—regardless of their differences—to thrive. In a
future blog post, we’ll look at ways to overcome cross-cultural communication