A culturally diverse workforce can be more creative and innovative than a homogeneous workforce. However, it's not automatic. Just having a bunch of people from different races, cultures, ages, etc., does not automatically result in innovation and love and happiness in the organization.

Here are three potential problems with a diverse workforce that need to be addressed. The solutions are not complicated, and taking the right actions can result in breakthrough innovation.

1. Your workforce is visibly diverse, but people aren't talking to each other.

You have a diverse workforce, but employees stay in their own groups and don't talk to each other. People are making assumptions and talking about each other, but not talking with each other or interacting in a productive way.

Reason: Employees in the organization are used to primarily being around people from the same background when they are not at work or when they've worked in other organizations. They are in their comfort zone with people who they think of as "just like them."

Your workplace is one of the first times they've interacted with people from different cultures. They know little about people from different backgrounds except what they've heard from other members of their community or the media.

There may be discomfort and even tension between groups. They're hesitant to ask people from other groups for help or share resources. Communication styles and ways to express disagreement or resolve conflict are may be different. No one wants to say the "wrong thing."

Solution: They need to learn to see people who are different as individuals and not as a monolith. In order to work well together, they have to be comfortable with each other.

Process: Bring people together for problem-solving meetings. Break employees into small working groups with people who are different from each other and even across functions. Before they begin working, engage them in a dialogue process where they get to know a little about each other as people.

Then, give them a real problem they need to work on in their groups.

2. People are in departmental or functional silos by demographics. You don't see a cross-section of people interacting and working together.

If you measured success by numbers alone, you might conclude that this was a culturally diverse organization.

However, accounting is primarily people from one cultural group, research and development from another group, and customer service another. It looks good in the company photo, but there is no culture of real inclusion, and people stay in their comfort zone silo.

When people choose to stay in their comfort-zone silos by demographics and departments, they are reticent and slow to help other people from other groups and departments. It's easier for conflict to arise. Rather than work together to resolve conflict, people blame the problem on the fact that the other person or people involved are from a specific culture or department.

Reason: When managers of each department make all the hiring decisions they recruit from their own cultural network. They only hire people with whom they feel most comfortable and it’s easier for them. This creates cultural silos by department.

Solution: There are three ways to resolve this issue:

  • Change the recruiting and hiring process, involve more people in decision-making, and eliminate unconscious and conscious hiring bias.
  • Create an environment where employees interact with other departments, and help them become more comfortable working with people who are different.
  • Develop the CEO and leadership team to become stronger leaders, spend more time with employees, and get to know them as individuals.

Process: There are also three steps in the process:

  • Provide executive behavioral coaching for the CEO in inclusive leadership, cultural intelligence and communication.
  • Develop a diversity and inclusion training program for employees, which included cross-cultural and cross-functional dialogues.
  • Where possible move employees to different departments temporarily or permanently.

3. You have a demographic cross-section, but almost all of visible diversity is at the lowest level. Each level higher gets more monocultural.

Although the CEO and members of the executive suite support the idea of diversity and inclusion, they don't have a good grasp of diversity management and innovation in practice.

Reason: It's as though the leadership team was looking out the window of the top story of a skyscraper and viewing all of the employees at once. They see visible diversity but don't understand the impact on innovation diversity at all levels can have. They're still thinking affirmative action.

This is a limited vision and does extend to the overall culture of the whole organization, and the necessary change in mindset they need to undergo. They may need help to see how bringing more diversity of people, thoughts and ideas to the leadership team can be to their benefit and to the whole organization.

Solution: Work with the CEO to develop a broader vision and redefine diversity and inclusion. Review and make changes to the hiring and promotion process for senior management.

Process: Research shows that people tend to hire people most like them, and with whom they are most comfortable. Comfort does not automatically equal innovation, and consistent sameness and comfort often equal stasis.

Look for unconscious and conscious biases in hiring and promotion decisions, and differentiate between requirements and subjective criteria that do not determine how well someone did their jobs. Create a new process to inform everyone about opportunities to advance. Don’t just provide the information to only a select few.


If you can fix these diversity problems, the organization will increase its profit and become known as one of the best places to work. Employees will rave about your company on social media. Customers will feel the love and inclusion and spread the word.

These solutions may seem simple, or you might think they'll take too much time to implement when everyone has so much work to do. You'll actually save time, money and energy.

The sooner you get people talking, sharing information and interacting, the more comfortable they will be working together, sharing ideas and resources. You will see a rapid growth of innovation, creativity and discover their hidden genius.

And as always, you the leader must set the example.