Types of Diversity in the Workplace You Need to Know
In a previous article, we covered the basics of 'what is diversity?' with a brief definition, list of diverse characteristics and a few quotes from companies on what diversity means in the workplace. Now we're taking a deeper dive into the distinct characteristics that make each and every one of us unique from one another.
Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list. While diversity encompasses the spectrum of infinite dissimilarities that distinguish individuals from one another, there are a few areas that are more commonly discussed in the HR and recruiting realm. That being said, we are focusing on the top 34 types of diversity characteristics.
Top 34 Types of Diversity in the Workplace
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 nature versus nurture interactions are what diversify and evolve the human race, allowing individuals to connect and learn from each other.
While such idiosyncrasies are infinite, there are a number of factors commonly discussed, considered and tracked. If you're looking to better understand the topic of diversity, you should know the following individual differences that are commonly considered when discussing diversity in the workplace.
Cognitive disabilities, also known as intellectual functioning, are recognized by the EEOC when an individual meets this 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.
Some of the most famous and successful people in the world have cognitive disabilities ranging from Dyslexia, ADHD and Dyspraxia. To name a few: Satoshi Tajiri, the creator and designer of Pokemon, has Asperger's Syndrome; Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has Dyslexia; Emma Watson, famous actress and activist, has ADHD.
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 to 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.
Physical abilities & disabilities
Hiring individuals with varying disabilities and experiences will not only help your team build a more diverse and inclusive environment, but 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)
- Offer comprehensive health benefit packages
- 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.
Employee wellness is becoming a major trend in the HR space, but too often mental health is left out of the conversation. Without the support and resources to seek and receive the help employees need, companies may see an increase in absenteeism, 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, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.”
While there may be certain stereotypes and stigmas around neurodiverse individuals, research has found 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.
Behavior & ethodiversity
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, etc., 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.
For example, let's say you are on the elevator and your colleague doesn’t start a conversation with you. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are being rude, it may simply be uncomfortable or uncommon for them to converse in such close and brief quarters.
Behavioral diversity or ethodiversity 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.
Personality & thought-style
Bringing a variety of different personalities and thought-styles into a workplace can bring both stressful situations and genius creativity. To avoid the former, companies opt for hiring for culture fit, which consequently halt's the latter. Instead, companies should hire for culture add in pursuit of diverse personalities that work well together and challenge one another’s ideas and thoughts.
It's difficult to know a person’s personality and thought-style by their resume or even interview, which is why 22% of companies ask job candidates, as well as employees, 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 is measuring its diversity. Know that by hiring individuals with a wide range of diverse traits listed in this article, you will naturally acquire people with diverse personalities and thought-styles.
There are a number of factors that make up different cultures, including traditional food, language, religion and customs. The United States alone has several different cultures within each region, state and even town.
While a lot of people enjoy learning about other cultures for short time periods, it’s an entirely different experience to work with individuals on a daily-basis who come from different cultures.
Cultural differences can bring a wealth of learning opportunities as well as some complicated challenges and barriers among employees who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with one another’s unique cultures. For example, cheek kisses are fairly common in French culture, and if you have a colleague or candidate who practices such behavior, they may view a cheek kiss as a friendly hello, whereas you may find that quite inappropriate at work.
Above everything, 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.
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.
Language, linguistics & 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.
For job seekers, if a job description or recruitment materials are only in one language, like English, it may be difficult for them 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 350+ 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 reflect the different ways individuals pronounce certain words within a language and such differences can lead to accent bias or perception, where people judge or discriminate against an individual’s intelligence and abilities simply by the way they pronounce certain words. Individual’s may 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.
For starters, ethnicity is different from race, which we will cover in an upcoming section. 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, which we discussed earlier in this article, race is biologically determined. Examples of race include: White, Black or African American American, Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
Nadra Kareem Nittle provides a clear example of race versus ethnicity for Thought Co. stating that, “Race and ethnicity can overlap. For example, a Japanese-American would probably consider herself a member of the Japanese or Asian race, but, if she doesn't engage in any practices or customs of her ancestors, she might not identify with the ethnicity, instead considering herself an American.”
In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passed, making 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.
In 2017, immigrants made up 13.6% of the U.S. population. Of those immigrants, 77% were lawful immigrants, 27% lawful permanent residents, 23% unauthorized immigrants and 5% were temporary lawful residents.
Gaining citizenship is certainly a challenging feat, and for those that do, the vast majority participate in the American workforce. In fact, foreign-born persons had a significantly lower unemployment rate at 3.5% in 2018, compared to native-born citizens at 4%.
At any given time, there are several generations employed in the workforce. Each generation has its own distinct differences defined by the time period 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 now Generation Zers ghost employers and seek job security. Such stereotypes can lead employers and colleagues to believe there are skills gaps and life milestones (like having children or retiring) that may affect certain age groups from excelling at their company.
While ageism can affect any member of the workforce, 58% of workers notice age bias when people enter their 50s. On the other hand, people under 25 years old are 2x less likely to experience age discrimination.
Family & upbringing
Family has a significant impact on 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. Not only that but 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 who share the same personal morals, values and ethics to 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.
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, industries and face barriers, which is evident between men and women with the Glass Ceiling.
To become a true equal opportunity employer and 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.
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, popular belief finds that there is a spectrum of gender identities that may or may not correspond to the individual’s sex assigned at birth. A few common non-binary gender identities include: non-binary, transgender, gender-transition, 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. It’s important to 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.
Gender expression, which may be different 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 preferred pronouns. Again, because you can not assume an individual's gender even based on their gender expression, it's important to ask for their preferred 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 & 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 who are born with a combination of sex characteristics and reproductive organs are classified on the genetic sex spectrum called intersex.
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.
As of yet, less 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 to 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2015 that the correlation between the level of education and unemployment rate is quite startling.
The average cost of a four-year college degree continues to rise, leaving recent grads who took out loans to pursue their dreams with on average, $29,800 of debt as of 2018. Not surprisingly, many talented young professionals are looking for alternative career paths that don’t require such exorbitant costs.
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. While these acts are certainly steps in the right direction, there is still work to be done. Just check out this graph below for discrepancies in pay based on gender, race and ethnicity in the United States in 2018.
Socioeconomic status (SES) 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 contribute 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, it’s important to 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.
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 recent college admissions scandal, which is an excellent example of how privilege and opportunity — rather than merit — can provide some individuals with more highly regarded experiences than others.
Marriage is a major event for many people. Not only that, but getting married, divorced, separated or becoming widowed can alter an individual’s beliefs, geographical location, income, parental status, family, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, privilege, family and even behaviors.
Similar to gender bias, marital status bias can prevent highly qualified individuals from getting a job or excelling in their career. And while there are national laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against an individual’s gender, sex and sexual orientation, only some 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.
While parental status can affect both mothers and fathers, in particular, pregnant women, working mothers and women 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.
Not only that, but female 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, 54% of women with a young child leave their job because they need to care for their child. 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.
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. There are a number of resources available to help employers better understand how military skills are relevant to a specific role role, such as this military skills translator and this skills matcher.
The unemployment rate for people ages 25-44 who have formerly been incarcerated is more than five times higher than the national average. These individuals are in their prime working age but are struggling 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. In recent years, politicians from both sides have made efforts to support incarcerated individuals, from Obama’s Fair Chance Business Pledge (2016) to Trump’s First Step Act (2018). Today, however, it’s still up to employers to decide whether or not they will allow an individual’s past prevent them from excelling in a rewarding career in the future.
There are a lot of different opinions 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 there is no national law that 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.
Religious & 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.
There’s no doubt that every single 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, there are a number of other skills an individual picks up on through their personal interests and experiences that make them excellent at their job. If you are able to hone in on these unique skills and encourage employees to bring them to work, your team will surely excel in innovation and creativity.
It’s important to remember that individual differences are what make each of your team members unique and 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 you are building out a diverse and inclusive workforce, make sure to continuously educate your team on why diversity and inclusion matters so everyone is on the same page.