Diversity encompasses the qualities and characteristics that distinguish individuals from one another. Some common characteristics that signify diversity in the workplace might include gender identity, race and sexuality — but there are many more characteristics and experiences that people can bring to their work that employers and HR teams should be aware of.
The number of factors that define diversity is truly unlimited. Throughout an individual’s life, the unique biological and genetic predispositions, experiences and education alter who they are as a person. These experiences are what diversify and evolve communities, allowing individuals to connect and learn from each other.
DEI experts offer solutions to create a radically inclusive workplace.
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
Why prioritize a diverse workplace? For starters, it’s good for employees. Diverse teams add a richness to the workplace experience; employees like collaborating with people from a range of backgrounds and experiences. Diverse teams work better together, which fosters workplace satisfaction and the feeling of team unity.
Secondly, it’s good for business. Diverse employees bring different skills, talents and lived experience to their work, boosting creativity and innovation. Diverse leadership reaps financial rewards: Companies in the top 25 percent for gender-diverse executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to 2019 McKinsey research.
With how diversity can be fostered and reshape organizations in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into the distinct characteristics that make us unique from one another.
39 Types of Workplace Diversity
1. Cognitive Disabilities
Cognitive disabilities, also known as intellectual functioning, are recognized by the EEOC when an individual meets these criteria:
- Intellectual functioning level (IQ) below 70-75
- Significant limitations in adaptive skills — the basic conceptual, social and practical skills needed for everyday life
- Disability began before age 18
Different functioning may affect an individual’s memory, problem-solving abilities, attention, communication, linguistics, as well as verbal, reading, math and visual comprehension. However, having an intellectual disability does not mean the person is not capable of great success as an employee.
Intellectual functioning can be difficult to notice, understand and communicate for both employees and employers, so it’s important to provide employees with a variety of tools and resources that can help them function optimally at their job. The Job Accommodation Network provides a list of possible accommodations employers can provide to support employees of all abilities.
2. Physical Abilities and Disabilities
Hiring individuals with varying disabilities and experiences will help your team build a more diverse and inclusive environment and bring unique perspectives and ideas to help your company reach a wider market of customers and clients.
Start by checking how your company stands against the national Disability Equality Index. Also, consider some of these simple ways to boost disability inclusivity at your office and throughout your hiring process:
- Establish an Employee Resource Group (ERG)
- Partner with disability advocacy groups
- Design your website and application process with accessibility in mind
- Create an internship program for people with disabilities
Additionally, ensure your office is ADA compliant and make available ramps, automated doors, visual aids, telephone headsets, screen readers as well as accommodations for service animals, so if a job seeker or employee requires an aid of some sort, you are prepared to support their needs.
3. Mental Health
Without the support and resources to seek and receive the help employees need, companies may see an increase in absences, work-family conflict, increased mental health and behavioral problems and even higher turnover rates.
To combat the stigma around mental health in the workplace, employers are improving resources, like insurance benefits, to cover mental health services and build a more inclusive company culture that supports mental health.
Neurodiversity, as defined by the National Symposium on Neurodiversity, “is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autism spectrum, Tourette syndrome, and others.”
While certain stereotypes and stigmas might surround neurodiverse individuals, research shows that some conditions, like autism and dyslexia, enhance an individual’s ability to recognize patterns, retain information and excel in math — all critical skills for any job.
5. Behavior and Ethnodiversity
Everyone has their own unique mannerisms and behavior patterns they develop throughout their lives. Such behaviors are a result of an individual’s upbringing, family, friends, culture, and they can be interpreted in different ways. This is an important element of diversity to recognize because while a behavior may seem ordinary or unremarkable to you, to someone else it may seem rude, odd or inappropriate.
Behavioral diversity or ethnodiversity can be highly specific and subtle between individuals. It’s important to remember that behavior is a result of a person’s unique experiences, and if something feels odd, rude or inappropriate, consider politely asking them about why they do what they do rather than reacting negatively or being judgmental.
6. Personality and Thought-Style
Bringing a variety of different personalities and thought-styles into a workplace can create both stressful situations and genius creativity. To avoid the former, companies opt for hiring for culture fit, which consequently halts the latter. Instead, companies should hire for culture and in pursuit of diverse personalities that work well together and challenge one another’s ideas and thoughts.
It’s difficult to know someone’s personality and thought-style by their resume or even interview, which is why 76 percent of organizations ask job candidates to complete personality tests. Doing so helps companies understand their strengths, weaknesses and gaps and build a company culture that supports extroverts, introverts and everyone in-between.
While a number of companies boast about their team’s vast “diversity of thought,” it shouldn’t be the only metric by which your team measures its diversity. By hiring individuals with a wide range of diverse traits, you will naturally acquire people with diverse personalities and thought-styles.
7. Cultural Background
A number of factors, including food, language, religion and customs, make up different cultures.
While many people enjoy learning about other cultures, it’s an entirely different experience to work with people who come from different cultures.
Cultural differences can bring a wealth of learning opportunities as well as some complicated challenges among employees unfamiliar with someone else’s culture.
It’s important to educate your team about different cultures and celebrate the differences. Additionally, creating a culture that encourages open communication will help employees explore each other’s cultural differences without creating a hostile work environment.
8. Geographical Location
Geographical location plays a major role in the culture, language, education, social roles, socioeconomic status, beliefs and ideologies with which a person is accustomed. Keep in mind that just because an individual lives in a particular location now, doesn’t mean they’ve always lived there. It’s important to get to know your candidates’ and colleagues’ rich history to better understand their unique experiences in life prior to working with you.
9. National Origin
No matter where your company is headquartered or how many remote employees your company has on staff, it is likely that you will work and interact with people who were born in a different country than yourself.
Regardless of where a person may currently be located, the country where one is born within can provide a set of cultural traits that one may carry with them for their entire life. From religious beliefs to personal ethos and much more, a person’s national origin can define many things about them that they may carry with them for life.
10. Language, Linguistics and Accents
Reports from the United States Census Bureau found that at least 350 languages are spoken in the homes of Americans. Unlike most countries, and contrary to popular belief, the United States does not have an official language. However, language, linguistics and accents can play a significant role in an individual’s ability to get and keep a job.
If a job description or recruitment materials are available in only one language, for instance English, some job seekers might find it difficult to apply for a role or make it through an interview process. While it is not feasible for any company to translate all of their recruitment materials into hundreds of different languages, it can be helpful to provide a few additional translations for common languages in your community and workplace. You may also consider utilizing an online translation service or in-person interpreter for roles that don’t require individuals to be fluent in a language to work.
Additionally, accents — the different ways individuals pronounce certain words within a language — can lead to accent bias or perception, where people judge or discriminate against an individual’s intelligence and abilities by the way they pronounce certain words. Individuals might also have an affinity for people who have a similar accent to their own. Understanding different accent biases will help you and your team to identify your own biases and challenge them when you meet people from different language backgrounds.
Ethnicity is different from race, which is covered in the section below. Rather than biological factors, ethnicity is based on learned behaviors. Ethnicity is associated with culture, history, nationality, heritage, dress, customs, language, ancestry and geographical background. Common examples of ethnicity include: Hispanic or Latinx, Irish, Jewish or Cambodian.
Unlike ethnicity, race is biologically determined. Examples of race include white, Black or African American, Indian or Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander and more.
13. Citizenship Status
The Immigration Reform and Control Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against candidates and employees when recruiting, referring, hiring or firing individuals based on their citizenship or immigration status. Even with such laws in place, citizenship status alone can play a significant role in foreign-born workers’ ability to get a job or break past stereotypes related to immigrants and citizenship status.
Gaining citizenship is certainly a challenging feat, and for those that do, the vast majority participate in the American workforce. For example, the unemployment rate for foreign-born persons in the United States was 5.6 percent in 2021, while native-born workers were unemployed at 5.3 percent in 2021.
At any given time, several generations are employed in the workforce. Each has its own distinct differences defined by the time people were born and the unique social, political and economic changes that occurred during their upbringing.
In the workforce, such differences can pose challenges for individuals among generations. These challenges can turn into an unconscious bias known as ageism. Ageism in the workplace is defined as the tendency to have negative feelings about another person based on their age.
Stereotypes of different generations contribute to this bias. For example, Baby Boomers are seen as workaholics, Generation Xers are risk takers, Millennials care about meaningful work and Generation Zers ghost employers and seek job security. Such stereotypes can lead employers and colleagues to believe there are skill gaps and life milestones — like having children or retiring — may affect certain age groups from excelling at their company.
While ageism can affect any member of the workforce, 62 percent of workers over the age of 50 believe they face age discrimination and 93 percent think ageism is common in the workplace.
15. Family and Upbringing
Family affects every individual’s life. It plays a role in a person’s upbringing and provides support throughout an individual’s life. While some families are biologically related, others are chosen.
No matter what an individual’s family situation is, as an employer, it’s important to understand that everyone has obligations outside of work to the ones they love. By providing perks and benefits such as family medical leave, flexible work hours, child and elder care benefits, you will help employees foster close relationships with their family, thus enhancing their work-life balance and satisfaction.
Ideologies are the conceptions an individual, group or culture have about different aspects of life. Most people have distinct economic, political and religious ideologies that are influenced by the people in their family, their upbringing, geographical location and education. Ideologies play a part in how often and comfortable employees share their opinions with colleagues. Vastly differing ideologies may make individuals more cautious to start a conversation with a coworker if they know it could lead to a heated debate.
Morals reflect an individual’s beliefs for acceptable thoughts and behaviors. Morals tend to reflect an individual’s upbringing, family, life experiences, income, ideologies, cultural background, citizenship status, privilege, personalities, socioeconomic status, social roles, as well as social, religious, political and worldly beliefs.
Most companies seek individuals whose personal morals, values and ethics align with the company’s core values. For employers, shared morals can alter how a company prioritizes its work and the impact it makes on the industry, local community and the world at large.
18. Social Roles
Social roles are constructs that are influenced by certain demographics of an individual, such as age, behavior, gender and culture. A common example is that of gender roles, which are assigned to individuals the moment their sex is identified and have unique precepts that vary by culture. Stereotypes are often correlated with social roles held about a particular demographic and can affect an individual’s ability to move into certain professional roles and industries and overcome barriers, which is evident between men and women with the glass ceiling.
To truly support diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s important to become acutely aware of social roles and stereotypes unique to your culture, community, industry and workplace. Your team can help to break down barriers and open opportunities for people regardless of perceived social roles by attracting a diverse employee base in your recruitment materials. This trucking company did just that when they launched a recruitment campaign about women truckers to attract more female candidates.
19. Gender Identity
Gender roles are social constructs that vary by different cultures and are assigned to individuals at birth based on their biological sex. Once a child is assigned their gender, they are more or less segregated into either the male or female gender binaries.
Rather than these distinct binaries, spectrum of gender identities may or may not correspond to the individual’s sex assigned at birth. A few common gender identities include non-binary, transgender, gender queer, gender fluid and demigender. However, there is a long list of other non-binary identities you should learn about. There are also ungender identities, such as agender, non-gendered, genderless and gender-free.
Such identities are defined by the individual and how they view and expect others to view themself. Keep in mind that individuals may identify differently from how you perceive their identity, so it’s courteous to ask for people’s preferred pronouns as well as share your own.
20. Gender Expression
Gender expression, which may differ from an individual’s sex or gender identity, refers to the external appearance of an individual’s gender identity. Gender expression may be interpreted through clothing, hair, makeup, voice, behavior, mannerisms, interests and pronouns. Again, because you can not assume an individual’s gender even based on their gender expression, it’s important to ask for their pronouns. For more information on how to become an inclusive workplace for all gender identities and expressions, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s guide to gender identity and gender expression in the workplace.
Unlike gender identity and gender expression, sex refers to the biological and genetic differences between male and female bodies. More specifically, women are born with two X chromosomes and men are born with one X and one Y chromosome. Typically, once a child is assigned their gender based on biological sex, they are more-or-less segregated into either the male or female gender binaries.
However, contrary to popular belief, biology of sex, similar to gender, has a spectrum of differences that cannot be classified simply as man and woman. Some people born with a combination of sex characteristics and reproductive organs are classified on the genetic sex spectrum called intersex.
22. Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation is also different from gender identity, gender expression and biological sex. Sexual orientation is defined by the Human Rights Campaign as “an inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.” Common sexual orientations include heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual and questioning.
Fewer than half of U.S. states have laws in place that protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That doesn’t mean employers can't create a diverse and inclusive workplace by:
- Educating your team about different gender identity terms.
- Asking candidates and employees about their gender pronouns.
- Creating an Employee Resource Group to support the LGBTQIA+ individuals at your workplace.
- Checking out these 50 ideas for building an inclusive workplace.
- Utilizing executive bonuses t o support diversity goals.
- Learning about current issues and laws related to LGBTQIA+ employees.
- Implementing unconscious bias training, but also learning about some of the critiques of unconscious bias training.
Education varies greatly by location, school and teacher, and can be heavily influenced by national, state and district laws and requirements. This means that no single individual will have the exact same education. Not only that, but high-level education can be extremely expensive and unattainable for a significant part of the American population, and for upper-level jobs — or even entry-level jobs — post-high school degrees are often required.
The average cost of a four-year college degree continues to rise, leaving recent grads who took out loans an average of $40,780 in debt, as of 2022. Not surprisingly, many talented young professionals are looking for alternative career paths that don’t require such exorbitant spending.
On the flip side, employers are creating opportunities to help such professionals bypass college in exchange for applicable experiences.
Some companies no longer require candidates to complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to compete for a role. Instead, companies are focusing on experiences, as well as hard and soft skills to qualify candidates. Additionally, removing education requirements allows candidates with more diverse, non-traditional backgrounds to apply.
Income plays a major role in every individual’s life starting from the day they are born and throughout their upbringing, professional career and into retirement. Income can be affected by geographical location, taxes, family, education, skills and socioeconomic background. Unconscious biases related to an individual’s age, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and privilege can also affect their income.
- It prohibits employers from asking candidates how much they previously made.
- It allows employees to share their pay with work colleagues.
- It requires employers to disclose all pay information with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Other income-based laws you should know about include the the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits pay discrimination based on gender and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination and allows workers to sue for discrimination.
25. Socioeconomic Status
Socioeconomic status is the measurement and categorization of people based on their education, income and occupation. It is also a strong indicator of privilege, as well as the opportunities and resources an individual has access to in order to excel at school and work.
Additionally, SES is found to correlate significantly to one’s mental health, physical health, stress, performance and functioning both in the workplace and in life.
To support candidates and employees of all SES, consciously create and distribute recruitment content that will reach and resonate with individuals of varying SES. As an employer, make sure to provide adequate salaries, benefits and resources to help individuals who are impacted by their own SES.
26. Life Experiences
Life experiences encompass all of the unique work, education, military, private and public occurrences an individual undergoes throughout their life that contributes to who they are, how they view the world and how they interact with others.
Privilege refers to social power that can be inhibited or compounded based on an individual’s sex, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, age, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, social role, cultural background and disability status. Privilege can affect a person’s ability to obtain certain levels and quality of education, jobs, higher income and opportunities throughout life.
For employers, it is important to consider an individual’s privilege and the opportunities they may or may not have access to due to their personal demographics. Let’s not forget the college admissions scandal, where parents were able to influence undergrad admission decisions, which shows how privilege and opportunity — rather than merit — can provide some individuals with more highly regarded experiences than others.
28. Marital Status
Marriage is a major event for many people. Getting married, divorced, separated or losing a spouse to death can alter an individual’s beliefs, geographical location, income, parental status, family, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, privilege, family and behaviors.
Similar to gender bias, marital status bias can prevent highly qualified individuals from getting a job or excelling in their career. And while national laws prohibit employers from discriminating against an individual’s gender, sex and sexual orientation, only a few states have specific laws prohibiting marital status discrimination in the workplace.
Marital status can especially affect an individual in the workplace if their partner also works in the same place. Some companies have an anti-nepotism policy in place to prevent a family member from working on the same team or in hierarchy to one another.
29. Parental Status
While parental status can affect both mothers and fathers, pregnant people, working mothers and people of childbearing age face a motherhood penalty or maternal wall. Stereotypes related to a woman’s role and needing time off after childbirth and for childcare often place women at a disadvantage in their careers compared to men and fathers.
Women candidates are more likely to be asked questions about their parental plans and responsibilities during an interview. Even though discriminating against parents and pregnant people is illegal, inquiring about a job seeker’s parental status technically isn’t illegal.
In addition to working mothers, mothers with children under six are less likely to work with just 65 percent being in the labor force. Meanwhile, 75 percent of men with children 6 to 17 are likely to have a job. For individuals who take a large chunk of time off to fulfill caregiving needs, it can be extremely difficult for them to explain the gaps in their resume and find employers willing to support them as they reenter their career.
Employers can support working parents by reducing unconscious bias against them and by providing benefits like flexible work hours, childcare benefits, parental leave and adoption assistance to ease the challenges that working parents face and keep top employees in its workforce.
30. Military Experience
Military veterans offer a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience, making them exceptional contributions to any role or company. However, many employers are unfamiliar with military culture, experiences or common military language, which may make it difficult for them to understand the value such individuals can bring to a company. A number of resources are available to help employers better understand how military skills are relevant to a specific role, such as this military skills translator and this skills matcher.
31. Criminal Background
The unemployment rate for people ages 25 to 44 who have formerly been incarcerated is more than five times higher than the national average. These individuals are in their prime working age but struggle to find a company that will hire them with a criminal background.
And while some states provide incentives by offering tax breaks for companies that hire candidates with felony convictions, other states allow employers to require criminal history on job applications, perpetuating issues of social bias. Today, it’s still up to employers to decide whether or not they will allow an individual’s past to prevent them from excelling in a rewarding career in the future.
DEI experts offer solutions to create a radically inclusive workplace.
32. Political Beliefs
Opinions differ on how, when and if politics should be allowed in the workplace. For some, such discussions are a great way to connect with and engage in stimulating conversations unrelated to work. However, when colleagues have radically different political affiliations and views, controversy can erupt, making the workplace uncomfortable at best and unbearable at worst.
Not only that, but bringing politics into the workplace can lead to issues around political affiliation discrimination. And while no national law prohibits employers from discriminating against a candidate or employee based on their political affiliation, a few states do.
All that being said, it can be extremely difficult to eliminate all traces of politics from the workplace. A lot can and is assumed about an individual’s political affiliation based on their resume and personal interests. But is eliminating all politics really the answer? Just like every other element of diversity on this list, political diversity is also important for providing unique ideas, morals and beliefs to the workplace and fostering a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
33. Religious and Spiritual Beliefs
Whether or not people discuss their religious affiliations at work, it’s important to create a workplace that is understanding and accepting of everyone’s beliefs, even if they are different from one another.
Employers can do this by offering floating holidays so that employees can take time off for religious holidays and celebrations when they need. It’s also important to respect individuals who wear religious clothing at work and ensure they are treated fairly and equally by their cohorts. Depending on your office and building layout, consider creating a space for private religious and spiritual practice so employees have a space to go during the day, and don’t have to leave work or disrupt colleagues.
34. Union Affiliation
A form of both organizational and functional diversity in the workplace, union affiliation can be a hot topic in many workplaces. Employees of an organization may either choose to or may be required to join a local union based on the rules of a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and the union, dependent on if their state has a right-to-work law prohibiting labor unions and employers from entering into contracts in which only unionized employees may be hired.
Labor union membership is intended as a way to protect employees from rights violations in their workplace, such as discrimination, overtime without pay, retaliation, privacy and whistleblower rights, however, many employees may be opposed to joining a labor union for a variety of reasons. Regardless of union status, all employees are still responsible for fulfilling their individual job requirements.
35. Work Experiences
Every workplace is different. Every company has their own unique mission, core values, policies, culture and benefits, which vary by region, industry, size and employer. Each time an employee moves into a new role, industry or company, they bring their previous work experiences and skills with them.
For employers, it’s often beneficial to attract talent with diverse work experience, even hiring out-of-market candidates. Such experiences can help your team better understand different aspects of your own industries or reach new customer markets, so don’t count candidates out just because they have different workplace experiences.
Skill set is a less obvious type of diversity, but one that is hugely important to the recruitment process. Depending on their professional history, candidates will have a particular skill set. However, based on their personal experiences and background, they’ll have a vastly different set of strengths that can benefit your business and culture. Suss out individual skills — emotional intelligence, budding leadership abilities and the like — to create a positive culture that allows employees to excel.
While some skills are innate, others are learned. In the workplace, we tend to focus on the skills that directly apply to one’s specific role. However, other skills an individual picks up through their personal interests and experiences can make them excellent at their job. If you are able to home in on these unique skills and encourage employees to bring them to work, your team will surely excel in innovation and creativity.
Workplaces change over time; however, many employees will remain with a company for several years and gain seniority as their roles develop and new employees are welcomed into the workplace. Different levels of seniority at a company may lead to varying sets of opinions or values about how the company operates and may also be influenced by factors like age and personal beliefs.
Some newer employees may carry a sense of inferiority to a senior employee, or in some cases may be asked to report to senior employees. All employees within an organization are guaranteed the same rights and are expected to complete the duties within their job description.
38. Management Status
Similar to seniority, management status is a form of organizational diversity that is present in nearly every workplace. The vast majority of employees at every organization has somebody to report to and has a say in how their day-to-day time is spent at a company, as well as a set of expectations for the reportee.
Organizational hierarchy ensures that an organization is able to function appropriately and scale over time. Employees of varying management styles may have different sets of expectations applied to them but all employees are guaranteed the same rights while performing their duties.
39. Job Function and Department
Regardless of management status or seniority, job function and departmental placement are forms of organizational diversity that affect how people perform in the workplace. Different jobs place different expectations on people, meaning that experiences among employees of the same workplace, as well as the backgrounds that have brought them into the same workplace, will vary greatly.
Remember that individual differences make each of your team members unique. Providing a workplace that allows for individuals to excel will only help your team grow and innovate. Individuals of all types of diversity on this list will experience different types of bias, which can affect their ability to excel in the workplace. When building out a diverse and inclusive workforce, continuously educate your team on why diversity and inclusion matters so everyone is on the same page.
DEI experts offer solutions to create a radically inclusive workplace.