What Is Diversity?

Diversity is any characteristic, dimension, or view that can be used to differentiate groups of people.

Diversity can range from things that make us unique, like physical abilities, to things that shape how we view the world, like culture, race, gender, or beliefs. In contemporary conversations, diversity is often discussed in the context of embracing a broad range of experiences.

Diversity is frequently used in parallel with the terms equity and inclusion. Used in conjunction with the terms diversity and inclusion, equity means recognizing that not everyone starts from the same place and that we can make accommodations to help account for imbalances. Inclusion, as it relates to diversity and equity, refers to a sense of belonging created by a safe and welcoming environment.

In a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, everyone has access to opportunities—to safely speak, disagree, and contribute—as well as resources they may otherwise be excluded from, especially by circumstances they can’t control.

7 Key Forms of Diversity

While “diversity” tends to be regarded as a catchall phrase, there are different types of diversity in the workplace. Here are some of the major categories of diversity that have been recognized and affected by laws and public sentiment.

Keep in mind that every individual’s experience spans many facets of diversity. For example, an individual might be a member of a minoritized racial group and the LGBTQ+ community, or they might strongly identify with both their cultural heritage and religious identity.


A culture is made up of the shared characteristics—including norms, values, beliefs, and language—of a particular group of people. Examples of different cultures that have their own distinct characteristics include Latine, Italian, or Indian cultures. Culturally and ethnically diverse organizations are adept at welcoming people from different cultural groups.


Race is a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Widely accepted as a social construct, this demographic information is typically self-reported, and racial classifications have changed over time.

Currently, the US Census uses the following five racial categories:

Individuals may identify with more than one racial category, and additional racial identities may be added. Individuals who identify themselves as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be part of any of these racial groups.


Within your workplace, employees may embrace a wide range of religious practices, which can include beliefs, rituals, and celebrations. Some examples of world religions include Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Since religious identity can often overlap with cultural identity, cultural practices and folk traditions should also be considered when examining issues of religious diversity and inclusion.


In a multigenerational workplace, different generations and age groups work together. Different age groups often have shared experiences and similar understandings of cultural norms and sentiments, and an age-diverse workplace embraces and celebrates these unique contributions. Some examples of age groups include Gen Z, Millennials, persons 65 years and older, and octogenarians.


Gender is a social identity referring to the behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that a particular culture associates with perceived differences in biological sex. While the term “sex” is a reference to biological status, gender is a personal identity held by each individual, and a person’s gender identity and expression may not align with the binary gender typically associated with their biological traits.

Some examples of genders include cisgender, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals. Gender diversity in a workplace usually refers to people of all gender identities and expressions receiving equal treatment, opportunities, and representation.

Sexual Orientation

A person’s sexual orientation refers to their romantic, social, and sexual attractions to particular genders and the behavior and affiliations that may result from those attractions. Some examples include asexual, bisexual, gay, and heterosexual identities. Diversity and sexual orientation at work involves creating an environment where people feel welcome, respected, and valued regardless of their orientations.


Understanding and embracing disability diversity in the workplace is about providing the right accommodations for employees with disabilities, so they can successfully perform their duties and have equitable access to opportunities as those without disabilities. Some examples of disabilities that may need accommodations in the workplace include mobility impairments, intellectual disabilities, or psychiatric disabilities.

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Why Is Diversity Important in the Workplace?

Diversity in the workplace means companies hire, promote, and include people with diverse characteristics, worldviews, job functions, and experiences. Diverse organizations go beyond just checking boxes for particular characteristics—they actively embrace and include diverse viewpoints in both day-to-day interactions and business decision-making.

Sometimes, diversity in the workplace gets conflated with hiring people of varying races, but this is far too narrow and reductive a focus for workplace diversity. Not only does this attitude do a disservice to a company’s diversity efforts, but it also tokenizes and isolates employees.

In the past, conversations about diversity in the workplace often focused on legal protections and requirements, such as being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). More recently, diversity in the workplace has become a point of value, with many companies emphasizing the benefits and positive impacts of a diverse workforce.

The most important reason to have diversity in the workplace is so that everyone, regardless of their background or characteristics, deserves to feel welcome at work and have equitable access to professional opportunities.

Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Aside from ethical imperatives, there are additional reasons diversity is important in the workplace. A 2023 report by McKinsey found that gender and ethnic diversity brings key business advantages:

Embracing a diverse workforce makes an organization better overall. When employees bring different life experiences and worldviews to the table, teams are better able to find creative solutions to challenges and drive innovation.

What Are the 4 Types of Diversity?

There are many ways to observe and define diversity. However, in general, diverse characteristics fall into one of the following four types of diversity.

Internal Diversity

Internal diversity refers to characteristics or identities that people are either born with or cannot change. Some examples include age, assigned sex, cultural identity, ethnicity, gender identity, neurodiversity, national origin, physical ability, race, and sexual orientation.

External Diversity

External diversity includes characteristics that may change over time and can have a significant impact on a person’s life. Some examples include aesthetic appearance, citizenship status, education, familial status, life experiences, location, relationship status, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status.

Organizational Diversity

Organizational diversity generally means diversity in job functions, roles, and experiences. It’s how people differentiate themselves within an organization and department. These characteristics are typically assigned by the organization. Examples include employment status, job function, management status, pay type, place of work, seniority, and union affiliation.

Worldview Diversity

Worldview diversity refers to a diversity of opinions and experiences, often influences by one’s internal, external, and organizational characteristics. Some examples of diversity in worldview include cultural perspectives, moral beliefs, life philosophies, travel experiences, and political affiliations.

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How to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

A diverse workplace doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s something that HR leaders must actively work to build. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ways your organization can promote diversity and inclusion.

Open-Door Policies

In order to build a culture that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), you must ensure that all employees have a sense of psychological safety. Everyone needs to feel they can bring their authentic selves—along with their unique attitudes, beliefs, and opinions—to the workplace.

Make sure all of your employees have someone to talk to who will receive their honest communication with an open mind. Employees shouldn’t have reason to fear that respectfully sharing their views will negatively affect them in the workplace.

Unconscious Bias Training

An unconscious bias is a stereotype or belief that a person holds about a certain group without being aware of it. If managers and leaders are acting on their unconscious biases without realizing they’re doing so, this can negatively affect employees across your organization.

For this reason, investing in unconscious bias training is important. This helps raise awareness and helps all of your employees recognize when they have unconscious bias. The training gives them concrete tools and strategies for addressing the problem.

Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups that focus on supporting people who share one or more characteristics, such as gender, age, culture, or sexual orientation. These groups have proven to be a wise investment for many prominent companies, including corporate giants like Walmart.

Being able to communicate and build camaraderie with others who share similar personal and professional experiences can help employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. ERGs are voluntary but should always have buy-in and support from senior leadership. This way, employees always feel that they have someone advocating for their needs.

Policy Audits

Workplace policies affect everyone, so it’s important to review yours for exclusionary practices or language. For example, requiring someone of a particular sex or gender to wear skirts and heels to work can make employees feel uncomfortable and open the door to discrimination.

Always be careful to avoid language and practices that may present unfair disadvantages to particular groups, exclude any group, or make people feel unwelcome.

Cultural and Religious Accommodations

Communicate to your employees that their cultural practices are welcome in the workplace and make accommodations for them wherever you can. Some examples of accommodating cultural practices include offering vegetarian, halal, and kosher options in the employee cafeteria and having flexible PTO policies for religious holidays.

Keep in mind that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to accommodate an employee’s religious practices if it does not create undue hardship. Going above and beyond for employees in this regard can make them feel cared for and welcome, improve their quality of work-life balance, and boost their morale and engagement.

Multilingual Communication

US employers are sometimes required to post official notices in both English and other languages. This is yet another area where going above and beyond for employees can promote a culture of inclusion in the workplace.

Offering written and spoken communication in employees’ native languages can go a long way in helping them feel comfortable at work and allowing them to be more productive and efficient. The same goes for making communication accommodations for disabled employees, such as posting signs in Braille, hiring a sign language interpreter, and utilizing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.

Employee Surveys

Workplace surveys are a common method of helping HR leaders understand the best ways to create a positive working environment. When conducting these surveys, you may consider inviting employees who are comfortable doing so to complete anonymous self-identification questions about race, ethnicity, gender, or disability status.

Once you have this information, you can then segment employee satisfaction surveys according to these groups. This can help you gain insight into how well you’re meeting the needs of a particular group of employees and how you can improve your policies, procedures, and culture to ensure everyone feels welcome.

Technology Considerations

When selecting new technology for widespread use in the workplace, have your IT team consider the needs of all employees. This can mean investing in applications that have native features like screen reading and magnification, sound amplification, or voice assistants.

These features can help meet accommodation needs and make it easier for employees with disabilities to do their work, which in turn boosts inclusiveness and productivity.

Diversity and Inclusion Can Improve Your Organization Across the Board

Embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace not only decreases compliance risk but can also increase your organization’s performance. It can help you attract top talent and enhance your brand’s perception in the public eye. Most importantly, it ensures that all people feel welcome and have an equal opportunity to thrive in the workplace.

DEI initiatives and other efforts that promote diversity and inclusion represent a worthy investment in the future of your business. While it may take time to see results, the benefits of diversity in the workplace will be felt by your employees, your future candidates, and the world around you for a long time to come.

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