Cultural Diversity In Workplace

Written by: Saniya Anklesaria || Graphics by: Saniya Anklesaria

The things and practices you were taught define who you become. Culture is a broad term encompassing values, beliefs, norms, behaviors, and overall plays an important role in our  “way of being.” In the outside world,  one will come across people from different walks of life having different cultural backgrounds. So, what exactly is this cultural diversity and why does it matter in life, especially in a professional setting? Cultural Diversity can be defined by the term Multiculturalism, describing the representation of different ethnic and cultural groups existing in society.

Why is Cultural Diversity Important?

A culturally diverse environment is very important in a workplace and can’t be understated. It is seen that companies who have adopted cultural diversity and the concept of inclusion, benefit from happier and more productive employees along with a great reputation. As national politics and discussions seem to become more inward looking and divisive, businesses must continue to think not only inclusively but also globally and embracing cultural diversity is the most crucial step for businesses to become internationally competitive. Right from Disney to the Virgin Group, organizations are adopting the benefits of a diverse workforce.


1. Can drive innovation and inspire creativity 

Cultures influence the way in which we see the world. Colleagues are inspired to see the workplace and the world from a different perspective with a variety of viewpoints exposing them to a wide range of professional and personal experience of an international team. Thus, this diversity of thought helps to meet customer needs by solving problems in exciting ways that breeds creativity and drives innovation. For instance, cosmetic giant company L’Oréal has gained excessive profits because of its success in emerging markets along with multicultural product development teams. Multiple perspectives, personalities and voices bouncing off one another leads to out-of-the-box thinking. A recent study from Forbes concluded that diversity and inclusion can drive innovation and creativity. 

2. Greater opportunity for personal and professional growth

Fundamentally, a culturally diverse and inclusive business attracts ambitious, talented and globally minded professionals giving them a chance for both personal as well as professional growth. It is seen that working across cultures allows others to learn about various traditions and perspectives thereby giving them a truly enriching experience. Moreover it makes you a global citizen by bonding over the differences and similarities that abandons prejudices and the concept of ethnocentrism. This also helps to develop a strong international network exposing them to new approaches towards work.

3. A business becomes more competitive and profitable with local market and cultural insight and knowledge

A multicultural workforce can give an organization a new tangent to enter new markets. Understanding a culture’s local regulations, laws, customs, competitive landscape helps a business to thrive overseas, gaining more profit. To add to this, local connections, cultural understanding and native language skills, boosts an international business and helps them to develop exponentially. Recent research from McKinsey highlights the fact that diversity is good for a business’s bottom line. Ethnically diverse companies showed a 35% spike above the nation industry median in their financial returns.

In addition to the local market knowledge, cross-cultural understanding helps to come up with better effective marketing strategies. Brand Taglines are a classic example of this. Their meanings often tend to get lost in translation. KFC in China marketed chicken with tasty that you’ll “eat your fingers off!”,  an inefficient translation of their actual tagline, “Finger lickin’ good.” Another example is  McDonalds print ad in Finland, which although was considered clever locally, was seen as grotesque and confusing to foreign audiences.

4. A diverse talent pool attracts and retains the best talent

A Glassdoor survey concluded that two thirds of job seekers portrayed diverse, multicultural and inclusive environments important while evaluating job offers and selecting companies. Such a recruiting process broadens talent pool of prospective employees. In fact, this has shown to improve retention thereby reducing the employee turnover costs. Respected and valued for their unique contribution, fosters mutual respect among employees. 

However along with benefits come several challenges of working across various diverse cultures, and languages.


1. Professional communication is often misinterpreted across cultures and languages

Language barriers are one challenge. Quality translations can also be a real communicational risk that gets lost among multicultural colleagues in translation. In professional workspaces where English is the medium, understanding accents, or comprehending the use of idioms by a native-speaker can be cumbersome. Non-verbal communication is another nuanced and delicate concept of cultural interaction that can cause offense between team members from different countries. Comfortable levels of physical space, gesturing and eye contact, are vastly different across cultures.  Business Insider has highlighted the differences in professional greetings around the world.

2. Conflicting working styles across teams

Working styles across different cultures also vary which if not accounted or recognized can result in conflicting work approaches thereby hindering the productivity. For instance in Asia and Central America, value collective consensus is taken into consideration while working towards a goal. On the other hand, in Germany and America, independence of an individual is emphasized on. Likewise, spontaneity can also reflect the underlying cultural values.

3. Visa requirements, accommodation costs and can be difficult

Despite the numerous benefits stated above, hiring overseas talent presents an HR challenge as it involves the complicated process of navigating both employment laws and visa requirements for international workers. Regulations are diverse in between countries, and change frequently. Apart from this,  accommodations for a culturally diverse workforce is another challenge. For instance, having a quiet place in an organization for prayer purposes will show acceptance for colleagues with different religious beliefs but can be a logistic challenge. 

To sum it all up, Cultural Diversity plays a very important role in a workplace. Today, companies like Kellogg’s, Google, Johnson & Johnson, KFC, Starbucks, show true company-wide approaches to cultural diversity. Although it has its own threats, the benefits overshadow this and have shown major success rates. Thus from diverse domestic workspace, to globalisation, cultural diversity plays a very important role and highly recommended for a prosperous organization. 


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