Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

What is Cultural Diversity?

My first thought when I heard the phrase "Cultural Diversity in the Workplace" was to imagine an office where the employees were a mix of gender, ethnicity, religion and background. While technically this fits the definition, it actually refers to the concept of diversity of thought. This concept is a theory that explains our thinking as being shaped by our culture, background experiences and personality.

Diversity of thought allows companies to build diverse teams where not everyone thinks the same way. It brings different perspectives, meaning, ideas and practices to how common goals are accomplished—which better reflects how the modern world works.

It's been proven that diverse teams are smarter, robust and more innovative that non-diverse teams. The flip side of this is that it also provides more opportunities for teams to fail. In the next sections I will outline the benefits and potential pitfalls of building diverse teams.


How is diversity of thought beneficial?

Differences of opinion, whether it be in a critical or strategic context or figuring out what colour to paint the office wall, sparks healthy debate and a positive friction within teams. Some of the core benefits to having a diverse team are:

  1. Not everyone thinks the same way (groupthink).
  2. You'll bring different perspectives and ideas to customer solutions.
  3. Your team will be robust and innovative.
  4. You'll gain depth and understanding of your different customers and/or users.
“True excellence requires diverse teams” — Farai Madzima, UX Lead, Shopify

Pitfalls of diversity.

While there are some great benefits to embracing thought diversity, there are a few potential pitfalls to watch out for. Just as the difference in perspective, meaning, ideas and practices can lead to great success, it can also be the cause of team failure. A team that is dysfunctional can be categorised into 5 stages:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

Team failures can often be attributed to a misunderstanding of how team members from different cultures operate. The 8 scales below outline different aspects to consider and what they mean.

Wrap up.

I've briefly outlined what cultural diversity in the workplace is and the benefits and pitfalls that come with a diverse team. I encourage you to do some further reading on the topic to gain a understanding of what the benefits could be for your company. I attended the UX Australia conference and have based this article off an excellent talk given by Farai Madzima. You can view the slides and listen to the talk here.

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