What are the different types of diversity in the workplace? As modern companies refine their approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion for the current workplace environment, it’s integral for organizations to remember that diversity in the workplace goes beyond gender and race.
Rather, new types of diversity in the workplace encompass a broad range of elements—everything from gender, race, and ethnicity, and sexual orientation to life experience, job function, and political affiliation. Exploring the types of diversity in the workplace and how it affects organizational, team and individual dynamics is a necessary step for today’s organizations to undergo erstand in order to be truly inclusive.
Different types of diversity in the workplace benefit organizations in a wide variety of ways—better collaboration and teamwork, improved problem-solving, happier employees, and the enormous bottom-line benefit of a more profitable company.
With that in mind, we’ve developed this comprehensive exploration of various Types of Diversity in the Workplace to guide you through the new world of global diversity. In this guide, you’ll learn:
Let’s take a deep dive into the three types of diversity in the workplace!
What Is Workplace Diversity?
To start off, let’s break down the question at the heart of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts: what is diversity in the workplace?
Diversity in the workplace is the mix. It’s the presence of employees who all bring unique identities—that represent an intersection of ethnicities, races, physical traits, mental traits, life experiences, and much more.
We can also approach this answer in another way: one key to understanding diversity in the workplace is also understanding what it does not look like. Think about the makeup of your workplace or places you’ve worked at before. What traits—age, gender, generation, educational background, etc.—do you notice? What voices were or are consistently heard—and which voices were or are not heard?
Workplace diversity efforts aim to make sure that diverse employees are present to give voice to a wide range of thoughts, opinions, and skillsets. And—as we’ll see in the next section—the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace can provide an enormous boost to any organization.
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
By just about every metric out there, the benefits of diversity in the workplace for organizations are enormous.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there are hundreds of different situations that could appropriately qualify as examples oftypes of diversity in the workplace. Let’s go over some of the onesthat you may have experienced—or might want to think about implementing for your own organization.
An organizational team is made up of people from different cultures. For multinational companies, this team could consist of organizational members from Japan, the United States, India, Russia, Egypt, and South Africa—all working together to bring their unique world views, skills, and cultural experiences together to solve problems and increase productivity. This example is not limited to multinational companies, either! An organization that does business in one country could make up a diverse team just by putting together people from different internal regions or different ethnicities within the country.
An organization makes an effort to bring more diversity to its leadership staff. In 2000, white men held over 96% of the Fortune 500leadership positions. By 2020, that number had dropped down to around 86%, but that still means an overwhelming majority of those positions are still held by one gender and one race. Companies making an effort to increase diversity within their leadership staff—by actively taking time to look at candidates of a different gender, sexual orientation, color, or any other trait outside the dominant one.
A company putting an emphasis on people with unconventional or different backgrounds is another example of workplace diversity. Many companies might have a program in which they make an effort to bring on those who have served in the military, for example. Another example? Organizations bringing on individuals that may have a criminal background or served time in prison to the payroll.
Seeking out new hires in a different location is a part of workplace diversity. In an environment where technology has enabled virtual communication and collaboration like never before, adding in diversity through employees in different locations is easier than ever. Many companies can bring in the valuable new ideas and experiences that people from other locations offer without the physical barriers of commuting that existed in a pre-digital working environment.
Putting together a team with generational or age differences symbolizes workplace diversity. Many organizations go one of two ways when it comes to their age or generational makeup. Startup or technologically-driven organizations might tend to focus on the cutting-edge skills and enthusiasm of youth, while more traditional companies might prefer the consistency and experience more veteran employees bring to the table.
However, an organization or a team with true generational and age diversity has the benefit of an enormous range of life experience, workplace skills, and innovation/problem solving to bring to the business world.
Diversity in the workplace isn’t just limited to the people currently in your organization. Actively seeking out vendors, suppliers, customers, and clients from underrepresented parts of society can be an important part of workplace diversity. There are many institutions, trade organizations, publications, and other efforts that promote these up-and-coming sources for these essential parts of the business.
Along these same lines, another example of diversity in the workplace is actively recruiting for everything from internships to new hires from those same underrepresented parts of society.
The 4 Layers of Diversity in the Workplace
There are four different “layers” of diversity that organizations should be aware of. Taken together, these four dimensions make for a comprehensive picture of workplace diversity for everyone in the workplace. All of the subsequent types of diversity will fall into these four dimensions.
Internal Diversity in the Workplace
Internal diversity refers to elements that humans are born with. Age is a good example when it comes to internal diversity; your birthday, after all, is your birthday once and for all. Nationality, race, and ethnicity are other examples of internal diversity.
External Diversity in the Workplace
Think of external diversity as the elements of a human being that they have some control over as they progress through their lives. Appearance is a good example of external diversity, as are where someone chooses to live, their educational background, and their spiritual or religious beliefs.
Organizational Workplace Diversity
Organizational workplace diversity covers all of the different titles, functions, and experiences that working in a company brings about. Job title, function, and responsibilities come under this umbrella, as do workplace location, management status, department, and much more.
Worldview and Personality-Related Diversity
This specific category refers to the elements of our personality and worldview that we develop over our lives, shaped by experiences and other factors. A person’s specific political beliefs will fall into the “worldview and personality-related diversity” group.
Different Types of Diversity in the Workplace
It’s essential that organizations pay close attention to age diversity in the workplace. Ageism in the workplace is a very real thing; many organizations may believe that older employees don’t have the technological know-how to do certain jobs (or willingness to learn new skills), or that younger employees might not have the attitude, workability, or personality to succeed on a long-term basis.
Instead, organizations should be open to all ages when it comes to diversity in the workplace; the different skills and life experiences people of all ages bring to the workplace can be valuable in a variety of ways for a wide range of different positions.
Running in parallel with “age diversity” is generational diversity in today’s offices. Incredibly enough, today’s workplaces can see members of five different generations roaming the hallways (or the different Zoom calls). Those generations consist of:
The “Traditionalists,” born before and during World War II (roughly 1925-1945)
The “Baby Boomers,” born in the wake of World War II (from 1946 to 1964)
“Generation X,” coming after the “Baby Boom” ended (from 1965 to 1980)
“Millennials,” the young and technologically-advanced generation currently making their mark on the workforce (from 1981 to 2000).
“Generation Z,” the next generation poised to enter the workforce.
Each of these generations features their own unique characteristics, skill sets, and personalities that they bring to the workforce. Balancing out an organization’s structure with a mixture of workers from different generations is key to ensuring successful, streamlined collaboration.
As we explored in one of the prior examples, gender diversity is critical to establishing overall diversity in the workforce—and, as the numbers show, is essential for a productive organization overall. Moving past the outdated, male-dominated workforce biases and taking active steps to welcome all genders into all levels of an organization—from entry-level individuals to leaders—can have a dramatic, transformative effect on an organization.
Gender Identity and Assigned Sex
Gender identity refers to where a person falls on the “spectrum” of gender, from cisgender (identifying with their “assigned sex” from birth) to gender-fluid (not identifying with one specific gender) and many other possibilities.
This glossary from the Human Rights Council provides some helpful definitions, and there are several other helpful TED Talks on the subject. Welcoming in—and supporting—those with different gender identities is another important factor in creating diversity in the workplace.
Race and Ethnicity
Wondering about racial diversity in the workforce and ethnicity diversity in the workforce? These two terms are different. As the National Geographic points out in a “Culture | Explainer” article:
“Race” is usually associated with biology and linked with physical characteristics such as skin color or hair texture. “Ethnicity” is linked with cultural expression and identification.
True diversity in the workplace welcomes in people of all races and ethnicities, bringing their unique experiences and skills shaped by both into a productive, collaborative workforce.
Opening your workforce up to individuals from different geographic locations is a building block of workforce diversity. The good news? With the boom in virtual collaboration and work-from-home practices, it’s easier than ever to gain perspectives, thoughts, ideas, and strategies from individuals working in different areas of the country (or different parts of the world).
Language and Accent
Did you know that there are over 6,500 languages spoken in the world today? Helping to break down language and accent barriers and bring in those that might not sound like everyone else in the organization is critical for that comprehensive workplace diversity modern companies seek out.
Diverse employment in the workforce is open to those of different sexual orientations—homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, and more. While there have been significant strides in the world for protection/access for those with different sexual orientations, there is still a lot of work to do to achieve equality. A support system for LGBT+ individuals in the office is a great start for many organizations.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs
A person’s religion and spiritual beliefs can be an essential part of their makeup. Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment that welcomes individuals with different religious beliefs can create a harmonious, productive workplace—especially essential in a country with a variety of religions and spiritual beliefs represented in the populace (India or the United States, for example).
Cultural Identity & Background
Creating an inclusive workforce means welcoming those with different cultural identities and backgrounds. There are a host of elements that make up one’s cultural identity, and these elements often influence an individual’s specific work or communication style.
Someone coming from Canada might have a totally different method of working than someone from China, for example. The key to understanding cultural diversity in the workplace diversity is to celebrate the differences and create a welcoming, warm environment where all can flourish.
Physical and Cognitive Abilities & Disabilities
A diverse workforce includes people of all physical and cognitive abilities and disabilities. This workforce could welcome people that need a wheelchair to function, for example, or those with cognitive (mental) disabilities like Aspbergers or Attention Deficit Disorder. Like anyone else in society, people of different physical and cognitive abilities and disabilities make up a diverse workforce.
Luckily, society seems to have come a long way in recent years when it comes to openly addressing the importance of mental health (it’s even been a topic of conversation for National Basketball Association teams).
However, there is still much work to be done for the acceptance of mental health as a true factor of diversity. Welcoming in those employees who have struggled with their mental health, or have something that affects their mental health on a regular basis (as so many of us do) is an important step for workplace diversity.
There are a lot of different “brain types” out there; neurodiversity encourages the acceptance and integration of those different brain types (including those with conditions like ADHD and dyslexia) into the workforce. Those brain types—as pointed out in this article—can provide some unique benefits to forward-thinking organizations.
Behavior and Attitude
As much as we’d all like to work with people that are friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic all the time, that’s just not how human behavior and attitude works. Diversity in the workplace means bringing in people with behaviors and attitudes that vary—from those enthusiastic, optimistic go-getters to people that might be viewed as “antisocial,” quiet, or even surly.
Seeking out a variety of educational backgrounds is important for diversity at the office. Someone with a high school diploma or a degree from a state school might fit in just as well as someone with a Master’s degree or an Ivy League college on their resume. Educational diversity is one of the critical parts of diversity and inclusion at work.
Personality and Thinking Style
As evidenced in our very own GlobeSmart profile, everyone has a different approach to their work style. Independent or interdependent? Egalitarianism or status-oriented? Risk or certainty? Direct or indirect communication? Task-oriented or relationship-oriented?
A diverse mix of personalities and work styles within the office helps to fill in gaps, boost innovation, and make for truly productive teams.
What does a person like to do with their spare time? How about the kinds of movies they watch or music they listen to? What do they like to read? What kind of sports team allegiances do they have? All of those little traits that make up a person—the kids of things you might read about on their Facebook “About Us” page—contribute to a diverse, productive workforce.
We all make instant judgments based on appearance—that’s just the way our brains work. However, it’s important for today’s workplaces to put aside those biases—whether they be for the clothes someone wears, their physical look, or some other visual trait—and make sure that the workplace is a diverse one welcoming and inclusive of all appearances.
Family and Upbringing
Each individual brings with them their unique family situation and upbringing. Those raised in situations different from the “normal” (if there is a current “normal” that exists) may have a way of thinking and acting that can bring different perspectives to the workplace.
Additionally, diversity in the workplace also means giving some latitude to those with family situations that may need to be addressed—a child with special needs, for example, or a sick parent. Making space for these situations creates a better, more diverse, and more open working environment.
Parental status is an important part of gender diversity in the workplace. Many organizations may still have a mindset that is biased against those who are parents; the impression may exist that their needed duties around the home might take them away from the work that needs to get done. Bringing in employees with children and without children makes for a diverse and welcoming workforce.
Relationship Status and Marital Status
In the same realm of parental status is relationship status or marital status. Just as companies may have a bias against those who are parents, they may swing one way or another for those either in or out of a relationship. Companies may prefer single people for their perceived availability or flexibility, or those in a relationship for their perceived stability and structure.
Per the American Psychological Association, someone’s socioeconomic status is “the social standing or class of an individual or group”; the status “is often measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation.
Reaching those individuals or workers from a lower socioeconomic status—those that may not have had the educational or life opportunities afforded to those in higher classes—is a key element of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce.
Think about your life experience—the culmination of everything you’ve experienced right up until this very moment. Everything you’ve done in your life influences everything you do (or will do) in the office.
By bringing in workers with different life experiences—people that have lived in different places, attended different events, or been part of different living situations, for example—an organization will be even more adaptable and innovative moving forward in the contemporary work environment.
From people just starting out on their working existence to veterans of many different jobs, work experience is a key function of diversity in the workforce. A mix of work experience allows for a wide range of thinking to tackle different problems and challenges that come up every day in the office. Those with long backgrounds in the industry know those valuable ins and outs, while those with experience in different industries (or those fresh to the workforce) could provide fresh approaches and thoughts that could make a huge difference.
Additionally, be sure to search for diversity in both job function and diversity in management status when filling out a workforce; cast a wide net and think outside the box to staff those important positions.
The number of dollars in someone’s bank account shouldn’t correlate to the job they can do for your organization. A diverse organization features people of different financial statuses—from those that may be wealthy or financially secure to those that may not be at the same level when it comes to finances. A diverse workplace, hopefully, can help to raise everyone involved to at least a level of financial comfort.
There’s a wide range of political beliefs out there—from people completely apathetic and unconcerned about politics to those very vocal and passionate about their allegiances. Welcoming those with different political beliefs (even those ones that might be outside the perceived mainstream) can be an important part of diversity in the workplace.
It can be tricky for those that have served in the military—especially those that have seen active duty overseas—to transition back into a work environment. Adding in those that have served in the military (with their unique skill sets, education, and adaptability to technology informed by their service) could be a powerful boost to diversity in the workforce.
Criminal background is also something to consider for the idea of “diversity in the workplace.” Those that have served time in prison—or have some type of criminal mark on their background—are eligible for employment, and (in most cases) deserve another chance to become “productive members of society” without a scarlet letter on them. It’s not the first thing that you might think of for workforce diversity, but it is something to consider.
Moral Compass and World Views
Finally, we have to consider two other elements for diversity in the workforce. A diverse workplace welcomes a range of moral compasses and world views, as well. All personalities—from the positive to the pessimistic, from the nihilistic to the happy-go-lucky—should be considered as part of workplace diversity and inclusion. A “big tent” approach for the wide moral compasses and world views is key to an inclusive workplace.
Leveraging diversity at your organization requires all employees to prioritize inclusion. Many of our clients have found success in doing so with the Inclusive Behaviors Inventory, an assessment enabling individuals to see how inclusive they are and get strategies for improvement.