The downside of diversity

I have a feeling people are kind of tired of hearing about diversity.

On the one hand, I think I get it. The Great Recession has claimed a lot of victims, and many of us are struggling to maintain our status as members of the Middle Class. We don’t want to hear about someone else’s problems—we’ve got our own.

On the other hand, the bell has rung, the ship has sailed, the cat’s out of the bag—whatever. We’re all in this thing together, and we’ve gotta learn how to get along.

Because when we don’t, we quickly begin to experience the downside of diversity.

Diversity and workplace conflict

I heard the most amazing story the other day. A friend told me she once attended a company diversity workshop where things got so heated, the facilitators packed up and left! (My friend said the facilitators claimed they weren’t needed, but I’m totally not buying that.)

At some point, all the people of color decided to sit together as a show of solidarity (yes, it was that bad), and  … well … let’s just say this action did not go unnoticed.


Of course, differences in color aren’t the only kind of differences that can fuel conflict in the workplace. Generational differences, gender differences, cultural differences, religious differences, and even socioeconomic differences can be the source of severe conflicts at work, including complaints of harassment and discrimination.

No man is an island …

John Donne famously wrote:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man  is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;”

How true. I’m hard pressed to think of anything that can be accomplished at work without teamwork—whether the teams are formal or informal makes no difference. The point is, none of us can get anything done without relying to some degree on someone else. Differences that get in the way of teamwork, and therefore productivity, are definitely to be considered a downside of diversity.

It’s all good

However, conflict is not the only downside of diversity. Complacency is another.

Complacency happens when diverse employees are hired but never made to feel a part of the workplace. The complacent employer says to himself  “We’ve employed some diverse staff, and now we’re diverse! It’s all good.”

Um … not really.

Consider, for example, a patent attorney hired for diversity and then basically placed in a corner and not assigned any work. (True story.) That attorney eventually protested and negotiated a separation agreement.

And while this example is particularly dramatic (and particularly foolish, I might add), other examples can surely be found of employers wasting money and talent by failing to practice inclusion of diverse staff.

I’ll say it again

Numerous studies have proven that diverse teams make better decisions, and that, coupled with the fact that we’re a diverse nation getting more diverse all the time, is an excellent reason to actively manage diversity on the job, thereby reaping the benefits and avoiding the downsides.

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1 year 10 months ago

Poignant, relevant and well writtent! Thank you.

9 months 4 days ago
It is January 2016 and I have just happened to come across this article. There is no downside to diversity; there is only a downside to discriminatory behaviour that reflects fear and privilege. I’m hoping that since a year has passed since this article was published, the views of the author have evolved. We can stop talking about diversity in the workplace when the playing field has been equalized and every employee is valued for the skills and contribution they provide. Payscale, I’m disappointed that you published this article on your site and it doesn’t align with the fundamental principle… Read more »