Diversity in the workplace refers to an environment where employees of different genders, ethnicity, races, religions, ages and abilities work together. Diversity has a number of advantages for companies, but it also leads to some challenges that must be managed within the human resource process.

Diversity Basics

Diversity generally involves any areas of difference among people, including background and experience. As the nation's population becomes more diverse overall, the workplace will naturally follow. A National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education study stated that from 1980 to 2020, the ethnic minority working-age portion of the workforce is projected to double from 18 percent to 37 percent. By 2024, less than 60 percent of the workforce is likely to define itself as "non-white Hispanic," according to a U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics report. As recently as 1994, more than three-quarters of the labor force fell into that category. Breaking it down even further, the proportion of African-Americans in the labor force is projected to rise to 12.7 percent and Asians to 6.6 percent by 2024. The workplace is experiencing diversity growth, which requires effective management and a positive culture for success.


While challenging, diversity is usually viewed as positive on the whole. First, you have a company that is broadly representative of the population it serves, which is good for community relations. You also get a broader range of perspectives, experiences and ideas, which tends to produce better results. Additionally, a diverse organization is better equipped to serve its customers. Language differences, cultural differences and age differences are easily overcome when you have employees who understand the variable needs of the marketplace.


Diversity can produce tension and conflict. Because people have things that make them different, they have areas where conflict and contention can arise. This inhibits effective communication and collaboration and can lead to low morale in the workplace. Coaching and training for tolerance, mutual respect and a value for differences helps overcome these challenges. A key is to promote an open culture where communication is encouraged and people feel free to discuss different backgrounds to learn and grow.


Diversity also creates a greater propensity for prejudice and discrimination. While leaders don't necessarily intend to discriminate, human resources professionals build hiring and employee evaluation systems that are objective and intended to promote fairness. In more subjective employee management and review systems, you run the risk of a disgruntled employee alleging he was mistreated based a legally protected trait. Building a culture of fairness and equality takes time and money.