Skip to main content

15Five acquires Emplify and relaunches human-centered platform Learn more

Litmus Test: Is Your Company Culture Truly Diverse and Inclusive?


Wondering if it’s time to devote more resources to your diversity and inclusion initiatives? Take a moment to consider the biggest takeaway from 15five’s recent series on the subject:

When a company focuses on creating a culture that’s truly inclusive of different backgrounds and perspectives, the potential for higher profits and greater returns can skyrocket.

That means it literally pays to invest in creating a more diverse culture.

Of course, as anyone who’s been charged with diversity initiatives in the workplace can tell you, this is often easier said than done.

Thankfully, by surveying employees and studying companies that are proving to have the most dynamic workforces, researchers have identified several building blocks and best practices to follow.

If you’re wondering how your company culture currently stacks up—and what more you can do to ensure you’re capitalizing on the full potential of your employees—this quick litmus test can help you identify gaps and determine where to focus your efforts.

What criteria do you use to gauge diversity?

a) Ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation
b) Employee experiences
c) Both

If you answered anything other than “c,” it’s time to broaden your definition of diversity.

When many people think of diversity, inherent traits like gender and race come to mind. But while demographic and social identities play critical roles in developing a more diverse culture, simply having a wide array of backgrounds won’t ensure your company culture is inclusive of different ethnicities and sexual orientations.

That’s where employee experiences come in.

Where employees go to school, the languages they learn and how much time they spend working with people of different cultures, backgrounds, and even personalities all influence how well one employee can relate to another.

Researchers refer to this as a “second dimension” of diversity based on life experiences.

According to the experts, a company is much more likely to benefit from “outside the box” thinking when two-dimensional diversity is present.

Deloitte has gone so far as to claim that one of the biggest sources of bias at companies is a lack of diversity in thought. When leaders expand the definition of diversity beyond demographic and social identities, researchers say, they tend to benefit from listening to people who think differently … and thus bring forth some of the most innovative ideas.

What is the gender makeup of your executive leadership teams?

a) Mostly men
b) Mostly women
c) An even mix of men and women

If you want a quick way to gauge whether a company is living out its vision for diversity and inclusion, take a look at leadership. If “c” is an accurate description of gender representation, that’s a sure sign things are headed in the right direction.

Numerous studies have shown how executive-level gender equality leads to higher returns—be it female board directors who spearhead greater financial performance or women-led companies that reap three times the returns of those run predominantly by men.

And according to research from Accenture, “when women rise, men rise, too.” When a work environment takes things like paternity leave and sexual discrimination seriously, the chance that a male employee will advance to a senior role increases by 118 percent. (For women, it’s 280 percent.)

How many different ethnicities are represented in your workforce at large?
a) 1-2
b) 3-5
c) 6+

Research shows that gender equality and racial diversity alone won’t help a company reach its full potential. Instilling an appreciation for different backgrounds impacts employee performance, too.

That’s why the closer you can get to “c,” the better. And not just because higher numbers mean greater diversity. The more exposure employees have to people who are unlike them, the more successful they’re bound to be.

In one five-year study of 2,117 teams representing more than 40 countries, data showed that the presence of multicultural members significantly enhanced teams’ creative performance.

This happened regardless of who shared which backgrounds. “Cultural outsiders,” who shared no common background with the rest of their teams, were found to be just as effective as “cultural insiders” in increasing overall creativity.

So while it may seem more comfortable at the outset to hire like-minded individuals, the impact on a business’s bottom line can be significant.

How long do employees tend to stay with your company?
a) 1-3 years
b) 4-6 years
c) 7+ years

Recruitment and retention may seem unrelated to diversity and inclusion. But this is a reliable indicator of how well your diversity initiatives are working.

In one examination of tech workplace cultures, a significant number of surveyed employees cited workplace culture as a driving force behind their decisions to leave—with problems like offensive and stereotypical racial or sexist jokes often to blame. Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in their decisions to quit. And while LGBTQ and employees of color were most impacted, an astounding 78 percent of employees reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment.

The reason? It’s not enough to hire for diversity or introduce an initiative focused on gender, ethnicity, or age. You have to create a culture where diversity is embraced at large.

As one executive noted in an interview with Google, initiatives and schemes to introduce diversity aren’t the same as maintaining a culture of inclusiveness. “We see very little being done to create environments and roles that keep that brilliant talent in the business,” the chief executive said.

Another expert quoted by Google went so far as to encourage leaders to “focus more on values and community” than on culture and diversity. Focusing on the former allows you to create a more intentional environment where diversity can grow, whereas the latter can have the unintended effect of making everything seem contrived and inauthentic.

So … how is your company performing in these areas? If you still have a long way to go, you’re not alone. Even though 87 percent of organizations surveyed by PwC prioritize diversity and inclusion, 42 percent of employees at those companies still feel diversity issues are a barrier to progress.

The key is to ensure leadership is continually armed with the right knowledge, such as internal employee engagement data, that can help identify gaps and allow you to address small problems before they become big issues.

Unlock the true potential of your people.

Get Started