The Pros & Cons of Cultural Diversity
The research proven advantages to cultural diversity in the workplace include increased innovation, greater connection with diverse consumers, and increased ability to attract and retain diverse employees, to name a few.
Increased innovation is the result of cultural diversity being positively correlated to diverse experiences and perspectives. Research indicates that the more perspectives you have when solving a problem, the greater the creativity generated by the group. Diversity has also been proven to make group smarter — as in, they create better solutions than homogenous groups do.
Greater connections to diverse consumers is the result of people having first hand cultural perspectives. If you sell products or services, increasing cultural diversity in the workplace means increasing the possibility of understanding the needs of more diverse audiences.
Attraction & Retention
Cultural diversity in the workplace begets itself. It’s often hard for companies to increase diversity in ways that stick. Sometimes they can make “diverse” hires, but they don’t last long because there aren’t a lot of people they can relate to. When organizations create truly inclusive environments, where the differences are welcomed, then more people of diverse backgrounds tend to follow and stick around. It is especially attractive to culturally diverse people when they see reflections of themselves higher up in the organization. This indicates that there is the possibility of upward mobility for people like them. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, most of the cultural diversity in organizations is often concentrated at the lower levels of the organizational chart. This is not the case everywhere, but it is very common.
The disadvantages of cultural diversity have been well-researched in the context of communities and neighborhoods. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and Peter Block, author of Community, researched diversity in communuties. One study was conducted in culturally diverse neighborhood that had been inclusive of many cultures for over 20 years. The researchers found that as diversity increased, trust decreased between and *within* cultural groups. This means that people with the same cultural background were less likely to trust each other when more diversity was present.
It’s likely that the same phenomenon plays out at work. In the diverse neighborhoods, people had less faith that their neighbors would participate in civic activities, like voting. People were more likely to protest. And they were more likely to identify watching TV as their primary source of entertainment.
This is it all dire news. It simply means that you just can’t throw people from different cultures together and expect it to be all hunky-dory. It takes deliberate effort to help people navigate differences in order to get to those optimal outcomes like innovation, community connection, and attraction/retention. It doesn’t always happen automatically or naturally. This is why the diversity and inclusion field exists. Companies like mine, TMI Consulting, help communities and companies learn the skills and tools necessary to work well across differences.
Reposted from my Quora answer to the question “What are the advantages and disadvantages of cultural diversity” on 2/4/2017.