05 jun 2017 / Geral

The Role Of Diversity In The Workplace

6 Minute Read


"We are, at almost every point of our day, immersed in cultural diversity: faces, clothes, smells, attitudes, values, traditions, behaviors, beliefs, rituals."


- Randa Abdel-Fattah


We arrive at Second Home, Lisbon’s creative workspace hub and cultural venue, and hear people speak in English, French, Portuguese, German...We’re in Lisbon but we could be visiting the headquarters of an organization in New York, Paris or Singapore. The place is a mirror of the movement happening worldwide.


I start talking with one of the members working there, he’s French, but his mom is Italian, he lived in Zurich, Miami, Rome, and Luxembourg. He grew up spending his summer vacations in Algarve, where his parents enjoyed the warm weather and golf courses. After years of living in different countries, he headed back to Portugal, this time to call it home. Like so many others working there and in organizations all over the world, his cultural background is influenced by more than one country.


Organizations all over the globe are faced with a culturally diverse workforce, a tendency that is only going to increase in the upcoming years. This pool of different languages, habits, values and traditions can boost innovation and creativity due to the access to different perspectives and inputs or it can cause friction and tension, leaving collaborators feeling misunderstood and underappreciated.


The Scope of Diversity


Diversity in the workplace doesn’t just refer to cultural differences, it comprises race, gender, age, personality, cognitive styles, education, background, and anything else that contributes to differences in communication and behavior, including how people perceive themselves and others.


The Diversity Advantage


Recent research by Mckinsey shows that the organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to financially outperform the industry median. Indicating that companies determined to thrive in this global economy will benefit from a diverse workplace.

The study shows correlation, not causation, nevertheless, the report states that the advantage might spring from the organization’s increased ability to win top talent and improve customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, leading to a virtuous cycle that increases the financial returns.

The research also suggests that differences in age, sex, sexual orientation and even global mindsets can bring about benefits to the organizations, allowing them to attract and retain diverse talent.


Global Customers


Any organization in today’s business world is either dealing with clients from all over the world or will probably look to expand the scope of their reach in the near future.

A diverse workforce will be better equipped to deal with a diverse client base because it will rely on a multitude of different skills, perspectives, experiences, and ideas.


Different Ways of Thinking


Work is changing rapidly, both for individuals and groups. In the knowledge economy, collaborators are expected to have a broader span of work, an ability to work across different tasks and situations.

Today, workers need to know more, but they also need to work collaboratively in teams to solve challenges and complete tasks that imply little structure or rules but might be context sensitive, which leaves workers to produce novel and extemporaneous work.

The capacity to see alternative angles and perspectives, creating new patterns of thinking fuels innovation and creativity. So a diverse workforce, one in which different ideas are welcomed and integrated, has a better chance of succeeding in this economy.


The Challenges of Diversity


Diversity doesn’t come without its challenges. And communication is a big part of it. When you have people from different cultural backgrounds interacting to reach a common goal there’s a big chance of misunderstandings and difficulties in grasping the essence of what’s being communicated, verbally and non-verbally. This might affect overall motivation, collaboration, teamwork, and ultimately hinder the performance of the organization.

It doesn’t stop there, diversity workplace quotas can prevent a company from hiring the best talent for a given position. A quota blinds companies of important questions they should be asking instead of just trying to meet a random number, questions like:


  • Are we looking at women candidates for top positions?
  • Are we looking at candidates from different cultural backgrounds?
  • How are we biased in assessing the candidates for this position?


Diversity in Action


For an organization to truly reap the benefits of diversity, the leadership has to reflect the practices of the company. Instilling diversity throughout organizational levels needs to start from the top. Companies need to be aware of the types of people they’re hiring, especially in top roles.

Hiring managers and HR people need to look beyond their traditional networks if diversity is going to be a lived value and not just a theoretical concept.
Organizations need to understand diversity as a long-term practice, not a one-act solution. Changing the numbers in a company can an overwhelming task, especially when certain demographic tendencies are installed.

However, the benefits of diversity are too significant for any company to ignore. Commitment and perseverance to diversity can foster a workplace environment where new ideas and practices can better meet the demands of a global customer base.


In this Ted Talk, Pellegrino Riccardi,  a cross-cultural expert shares his personal and professional experience of how very different cultures can successfully interact and help businesses thrive in a global economy. 



"We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, and inclusion."


- Max de Pree



If you're ready to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce and improve your organization's ability to interact and work in multicultural environments this is your chance. We're hosting a one-day workshop on Cultural Intelligence next Thursday. We only a few spots left, so for more information about the Cultural Intelligence Workshop go here or contact us directly at info@sofiacalheiros.com | +351 215 892 109. 

Sofia Calheiros / Leadership & Coaching