What Types of Diversity Are Found in Workplaces?

Diversity is a big issue, and an important issue, in today’s workplaces. What types of diversity do we find in those workplaces? Exhibit 3–4 lists several types of workplace diversity.

Exhibit 3–4

Types of Diversity Found in Workplaces

A diagram presents types of diversity found in workplaces



Race and Ethnicity





Age. The aging of the population is a major critical shift taking place in the workforce. With many of the nearly 85 million baby boomers still employed and active in the workforce, managers must ensure that those employees are not discriminated against because of age. Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibit age discrimination. The Age Discrimination Act also restricts mandatory retirement at specific ages. In addition to complying with these laws, organizations need programs and policies in place that provide for fair and equal treatment of their older employees.

Gender. Women (49.8 percent) and men (50.2 percent) now each make up almost half of the workforce.50 However, gender diversity issues are still quite prevalent in organizations. These issues include the gender pay gap, career start and progress, and misconceptions about whether women perform their jobs as well as men do. It’s important for managers and organizations to explore the strengths that both women and men bring to an organization and the barriers they face in contributing fully to organizational efforts.

Race and Ethnicity. There’s a long and controversial history in the United States and in other parts of the world over race and, as recent events have shown, how people react to and treat others of a different race. Race and ethnicity are important types of diversity in organizations. We’re going to define race as the biological heritage (including physical characteristics such as one’s skin color and associated traits) that people use to identify themselves. Most people identify themselves as part of a racial group, and such racial classifications are an integral part of a country’s cultural, social, and legal environments. Ethnicity is related to race, but it refers to social traits—such as one’s cultural background or allegiance—that are shared by a human population.

The racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population is increasing and at an exponential rate. We’re also seeing this same effect in the composition of the workforce. Most of the research on race and ethnicity as they relate to the workplace has looked at hiring decisions, performance evaluations, pay, and workplace discrimination. Managers and organizations need to make race and ethnicity issues a key focus in effectively managing workforce diversity.

Disability/Abilities. For persons with disabilities, 1990 was a watershed year—the year the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations so their workplaces are accessible to people with physical or mental disabilities and enable them to effectively perform their jobs. With the law’s enactment, individuals with disabilities became a more representative and integral part of the U.S. workforce.

In effectively managing a workforce with disabled employees, managers need to create and maintain an environment in which employees feel comfortable disclosing their need for accommodation. Those accommodations, by law, enable individuals with disabilities to perform their jobs, but they also need to be perceived as equitable by those not disabled. It’s the balancing act that managers face.

Religion. Hani Khan, a college sophomore, had worked for three months as a stock clerk at a Hollister clothing store in San Francisco.51 One day, she was told by her supervisors to remove the head scarf that she wears in observance of Islam (known as a hijab) because it violated the company’s “look policy” (which instructs employees on clothing, hair styles, makeup, and accessories they may wear to work). She refused on religious grounds and was fired one week later. Like a number of other Muslim women, she filed a federal job discrimination complaint. A spokesperson for Abercrombie & Fitch (Hollister’s parent company) said that, “If any Abercrombie associate identifies a religious conflict with an Abercrombie policy . . . the company will work with the associate in an attempt to find an accommodation.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion (as well as race/ethnicity, country of origin, and sex). However, you’d probably not be surprised to find out that the number of religious discrimination claims has been growing in the United States.52 In accommodating religious diversity, managers need to recognize and be aware of different religions and their beliefs, paying special attention to when certain religious holidays fall. Businesses benefit when they can accommodate, if possible, employees who have special needs or requests in a way that other employees don’t view it as “special treatment.”

Glbt—Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The acronym GLBT—which refers to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people—is being used more frequently and relates to the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity.53 Sexual orientation has been called the “last acceptable bias.”54 We want to emphasize that we’re not condoning this perspective; what this comment refers to is that most people understand that racial and ethnic stereotypes are “off-limits.” Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to hear derogatory comments about gays or lesbians. U.S. federal law does not prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, although many states and municipalities do. However, in Europe, the Employment Equality Directive required all European Union member states to introduce legislation making it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.55 Despite the progress that’s been made in making workplaces more accommodating of gays and lesbians, obviously much more needs to be done. One study found that more than 40 percent of gay and lesbian employees indicated they had been unfairly treated, denied a promotion, or pushed to quit their job because of their sexual orientation.56

Photo of Debbie White

Increasing gender diversity in senior management is a top priority of Sodexo, a global food and facilities management services firm. Sodexo nurtures high-potential talent like Debbie White, CEO of Sodexo in the United Kingdom and Ireland, through initiatives that include training, mentoring, women’s networks, and visible job assignments.

Jane Hobson/Alamy

As with most of the types of diversity we’ve discussed in this section, managers need to look at how best to meet the needs of their GLBT employees. They need to respond to employees’ concerns while also creating a safe and productive work environment for all.

Other Types of Diversity. As we said earlier, diversity refers to any dissimilarities or differences that might be present in a workplace.

Other types of workplace diversity that managers might confront and have to deal with include socioeconomic background (social class and income-related factors), team members from different functional areas or organizational units, physical attractiveness, obesity/­thinness, job seniority, or intellectual abilities. Each of these types of diversity also can affect how employees are treated in the workplace. Again, managers need to ensure that all employees—no matter the similarities or dissimilarities—are treated fairly and given the opportunity and support to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.