A Different Kind of Diversity

Diversity in the workplace.  By no means a new concept, and certainly one worth our attention as HR and business professionals.  Plain and simple, diversity makes our workplaces better, serving as a catalyst for different types of thinking, ways to approach problems, and perspectives/frames of reference.

Most often when we talk about diversity in the workplace it’s generally in the context of racial/ethnic or gender diversity.  However, here’s what Dictionary.com has to say about diversity:

  1. The state or fact of being diverse; difference, unlikeness: diversity of opinion
  2. Variety; multiformity
  3. The inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.: diversity in the workplace
  4. A point of difference

Only #3 encompasses our traditional view of diversity in the workplace.  But what if we expanded our definition of workplace diversity to encompass some of the other elements of this definition?


Earlier this year I found myself involved in a discussion on Facebook regarding the pros and cons of open office environments, both from an office vs. cubicle perspective as well as high walls vs. low walls in a cubicle only environment.  Various opinions and preferences were offered in the exchange, but in a vast generalization, it seemed that introverts tended to prefer closed environments and extroverts shouted the praises of open environments.  I classify myself as an “extroverted introvert” – I do enjoy being around people, but I appreciate my alone time just as much.  So to me, I don’t mind a cubicle environment, but I like my walls….I work in a pretty “chatty” environment that makes it hard to concentrate at times, and the walls certainly help.  You can say that’s what conference rooms and “private spaces” are for, but the reality is that when you’re in an office of several hundred people, it’s just not logistically possible to provide enough of those spaces to accommodate everyone.  The moral of the story is that different people have different preferences for how they need and want to work.  And if we make assumptions that everyone thrives in the same type of environment, we may be missing the mark and sacrificing productivity and achievement.

Many corporate cultures may have a bias towards the extrovert.  They’re loud.  They talk a lot.  They make sure you always know what they are up to (whether it’s because they tell you directly or you overhear them….did I mention they are loud?).  Does that mean they are accomplishing more than introverts?  Does that mean their ideas are better than introverts?  Not necessarily.


“May You Have the Courage to Speak Softly”

Renowned TED talk speaker and New York Times bestselling author Susan Cain is an advocate for the power of introverts in the workplace.  In a world that too often rewards the loudest voice, she presents a case for the value of creating a workplace culture that does not shut down introverts, employees that very often have excellent ideas but may find themselves in environments that aren’t conducive or where they aren’t comfortable offering them up.  Because let’s face it, most of our modern office environments are designed with extroverts in mind: open cubicle or even completely open work spaces, meetings where you have to be loud and first to be heard (by the way, did you know that in a typical group, 3 people tend to do 70% of the talking?), and group work and brainstorming.

But guess what?  This type of environment just doesn’t work for everyone.  And research shows that it’s not even overall the most effective and productive way to approach work.  Susan cites that people who brainstorm alone and then come together to discuss tend to have more and better ideas than those generated in group brainstorming. And for truly effective companies and leadership, we need people who boldly jump into things as well as those who quietly take in all of the small details.  We need to get beyond the cultural belief that all great leaders need to be alpha, bold, and gregarious.


Introverts vs. extroverts in the workplace is just one example of what could be an extended view of diversity.  But diversity, or lack thereof, can manifest itself in several other ways.  It can appear through offhand comments and workplace vernacular, “He’s a good guy.”  It can show up in a bias towards a certain personality style or profile, such as an assumption that one needs to be aggressive or direct to be successful in a certain type of role, just because the majority in that role have those traits.  There’s a difference between establishing a success profile for various roles, and making the assumption that certain personality traits makes a person more successful.  That could be a whole other blog post.


About the Author

Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, has nearly two decades of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, learning & development, and employee communications, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders, principal writers, and current editor of the Women of HR blog. Payne has blogged for WorkHuman, numerous SHRM Annual Conferences, and is part of the “HR Tech Insiders” for the HR Technology Conference

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