More than 25 million people working in the U.S. are foreign-born, and data suggest that in less than three decades, the country will be a truly pluralistic society with no single group holding a majority. If you expect your company to compete and succeed in this new world order, you need to take a close look at the advantages and disadvantages of diversity in the workplace.
Advantage: Better Financial Results
Numerous studies have found that companies with diverse teams are more profitable than homogenous businesses. A 2015 McKinsey report on public companies noted that those with the most ethnic and racial diversity in their management were 35 percent more likely to be financially successful.
Advantage: Global-Level Competition
Millions of Americans are employed by foreign-owned companies. We live in a global economy, and the companies that consistently top the Fortune 500 list are global in nature. Companies need to employ people who represent diverse populations and points of view to compete on this world stage. What sells in small-town America may not fly in the cities of the United Arab Emirates. On the other hand, if you understand the culture and the economies of each, maybe it will.
Advantage: Fact-Based Decision-Making
Studies have found that diverse groups tend to focus on facts when making decisions. They look beyond old-school ways of thinking and examine and re-examine facts to remain objective, thus making better decisions for their company. Nonhomogeneous groups are more able than homogenous groups to identify their biases and work to keep them at bay when making important business decisions.
Advantage: Creative and Innovative Thinking
If everyone acts and thinks alike, you’re likely to see the same-old, same-old when it comes to approaches to products, distribution, marketing, management and sales. However, when several people approach problems and challenges from varied perspectives, you’ll discover more creative solutions. Research suggests that diversity increases innovation and improves market growth.
Advantage: Cross-Cultural Understanding
While homogenous groups may naturally get along better, in an increasingly diverse world, cross-cultural understanding creates a better working environment and a better world. Rather than relying on a crutch of old world prejudices and misconceptions, diverse work groups improve internal climates and external results for businesses.
Disadvantage: Difficulty in Transitioning
If your company is just beginning to recognize the potential of diversification, there will likely be challenges to creating a more diverse work environment. Old ways of thinking and entrenched prejudices may hinder your efforts and create tension and conflict. Additionally, as cultures collide, there may be misinterpretations of meanings. What’s funny to one culture may be considered disrespectful to another. Management needs to buy in and educate employees across the board if workplace diversity is to have its first measure of success.
Disadvantage: Short-Term Cost Outlay
Depending on how long you’ve been in business, you may have already learned a great deal about accommodations in the workplace. Just as the Americans with Disabilities Act brought significant changes to some businesses at a financial cost, so will diversity require some flexibility. For example, if you have employees who are practicing Muslims, you’ll need to give them time and space for daily prayer. Transgender employees may need their own bathrooms. As your employees become more diverse, you may face associated costs that you hadn’t considered.
Although the transition to a diverse workplace can be difficult, employers across the country and the globe are making moves to diversify. They’re finding it’s worth the effort and the investment and that the results are both morally and financially rewarding.