Understanding the Different Types of Diversity in the Workplace

When we talk about diversity in the workplace, it can be easy to group all aspects of it together. But as we continue to evolve our definitions of diversity, taking the time to consider its different forms will be fruitful in the long term.

In the modern working world, we define diversity as a concerted effort to accommodate the full spectrum of human experience. That broad definition can make it easy to lump all types of diversity in the workplace under one umbrella—but that’s something we should try to avoid. 

While diversity has commonly been depicted as relating largely to race, culture, gender, and sexuality, there are many other factors to be considered when promoting a diverse workforce. If we limit what our conception of diversity entails, we limit the scope of growth for our staff. That’s why an intersectional approach is important for an inclusive employee experience.

True diversity requires a diverse approach. And while a comprehensive list of every aspect worthy of consideration within your belonging and diversity strategy would span many pages, we’ve found that understanding some of the most significant types of diversity is a good start. 

Understanding the Types of Diversity

Knowing that diversity extends beyond any one categorization is a good foundation for your belonging and diversity strategy. But truly embracing diversity requires considering the different factors at play, and building policy that reflects that potential scope.

A good starting point is considering the multiple factors that shape your own identity; after all, the person who knows you best is you. Think about your cultural background. Your religious beliefs. How your age affects your approach to work. What education you’ve received. Where you received it. Then consider how the same depth and diversity lies behind every person within your company.

Knowing your own depth of character is important, because it gives you a personal lens with which to view other employees at your organization. By giving every employee that same consideration, you prevent them from becoming siloed in one category, and help encourage an intersectional approach to workplace diversity. 

Defining an Intersectional Approach to Diversity

Before we dive into five potential areas of focus when considering workplace diversity, let’s first define what we mean by an intersectional approach. Intersectionality should be the foundation for any inquiry into the types of diversity in your workplace. 

Intersectionality: The acknowledgement that aspects of an individual’s identity (such as gender, race, and culture) are interconnected, and that each individual is more than a singular category.

While that multiplicity is something to be celebrated, it also impacts structural privilege. For example, the discrimination a Black woman faces is different to a white woman. That’s the basis of intersectionality, and why considering different types of workplace diversity is key.

“In the United States, white women make 79 to 80 cents on the dollar, whereas Black women make 62 cents. And women of color/Indigenous women make anywhere from 43 cents to 62 cents. So again, what women are we talking about?”

Minda Harts

Five Types of Workplace Diversity 

As mentioned previously, there’s no limit to the ways in which you can consider the types of diversity of your workforce. We’re focusing here on the five most common areas of diversity that companies identify.

1. Cultural Diversity

The modern working world has been defined by one central phrase: culture fit. Ever since Netflix reinvented company culture in 2009 with its culture deck, an onus has been placed on hiring employees fit into the existing culture—a situation that can lead to a homogenous workforce.

Instead, we should champion cultural diversity, celebrating the individuality of each person’s cultural background. 

A person’s culture reflects their heritage and their upbringing: their manner; their language(s); their style of speaking; the foods they eat; their world views. Understanding and integrating these smoothly is the basis for any successful company culture—such differences should be valued deeply.

A prescriptive and limiting company culture prevents your employees from feeling heard, and, most importantly, from hearing each other. In turn, that can lead to confusion and miscommunication. Embracing cultural diversity means creating spaces for dialogues between employees to bridge potential cultural gaps, and learn from one another. 

2. Racial Diversity

While race and culture can often be related, it’s important to distinguish the two. Two Asian employees don’t necessarily share the same culture—in fact, it’s very likely they don’t, and to assume that they do is damaging in itself. Such assumptions can be the basis for widespread casual discrimination within your workplace. 

That’s why it’s important to consider racial diversity and cultural diversity as separate types of diversity. Race is largely a biological construct, while culture is tied to lived-in existence. Whether someone of Asian descent considers themself American, German, or Korean is not discernible based on their race alone, but it does play a big part in how they are perceived by the outside world. 

3. Gender Diversity

According to McKinsey in 2020 women still only made up 21% of C-suite positions globally. As we move towards greater gender representation, it’s important to consider the diversity of leadership positions as much as the overall company.

Looking at those figures further, you’ll see that only 1 in 25 C-suite executives is a woman of color. But that doesn’t mean discounting the experience of women as a whole. Instead, it highlights the need for an intersectional approach; for the ability to promote gender diversity and racial diversity together, rather than as separate categories. 

“When I entered into my career, I was the 'only.' I don’t know if any of you have ever been the only of anything, but sometimes it can feel isolating. And I was the only Black woman, I was the only woman of color. And I felt it. I felt it at every turn.”

Minda Harts

When considering gender diversity, don’t limit your considerations to a male/female binary. Recognizing that gender exists on a spectrum, and making accommodations for people accordingly, such as the use of gender pronouns at work, will help promote an inclusive working environment. 

Finally, it’s important to distinguish sexual orientation or sexuality from sex and gender identity. When you appreciate and understand these differences, your LGBTQ+ community will feel supported.

4. Physical Disabilities 

One of the most varied types of diversity to consider is people with physical disabilities, since the scope of what constitutes a disability is very broad. With an estimated 15% of the global population living with some form of disability, we should all strive to make workspaces more inclusive for everyone. 

Whether considering how accessible your website design is to users with screen readers, or whether wheelchair users can easily traverse your physical workspaces, it’s important to account for experiences outside of our own. Giving employees an opportunity to provide direct, confidential feedback is a great way to improve engagement and promote diversity at the same time. 

As we move into a world ever more oriented around remote and hybrid working spaces, we can’t let these standards slip. It’s never been more important to consider how your employees and your customers interact with your business. 

5. Diversity in Interests

While it shouldn’t be a driving force in your hiring process, or a point of consideration when it comes to leadership roles, understanding your employees’ personal interests can have a great impact on their sense of belonging. We’ve included this area to highlight how wide the remit of diversity can be.

It also highlights that identifying types of diversity shouldn’t be a matter of box ticking. Instead, it’s a chance to further engage with your employees, comprehend what is important to them, and ensure they feel included within the current workplace culture. 

Giving opportunities for employees to connect across department and continental divides based on mutual interests is a great way to foster organic connections—particularly as many of us are working in remote or hybrid workspaces. A connected, included and engaged workforce should be the goal of any successful belonging and diversity campaign. 

“Many of us think we have to climb to the top of Mount Everest and put a Black Lives Matter sign or gender diversity sign up there. But no, it’s not the grand gestures. It’s the everyday actions that make the workplace better than we found it.”

Minda Harts

Creating Diversity in the Workplace

There are plenty of types of diversity that we haven’t considered; neurodiversity, age, ethnicity, and religion to name but a few. But the main takeaway is simple: everyone is diverse.

If you’re starting a new diversity campaign at your company, don’t freeze at the prospective scale implied by intersectionality. Taking an intersectional approach to belonging and diversity doesn’t mean that every initiative you enact has to cater to every demographic. Rather, it’s a way of being more considerate of each and every individual. 

The best way to ensure you’re meeting the needs of a diverse workforce? Listening. Enabling your employees to provide reliable, confidential feedback—and engaging with it!—should be at the heart of any belonging and diversity initiative. 

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