What Does Diversity Mean to You? Insights from 400 U.S. Workers

By Seamus Roddy / 23 September 2020

Most employees think their company is diverse, but even more say their company’s diversity has not improved in the past year, according to our survey of 400 full-time U.S. employees. Employees want diversity to improve at their company so they can learn from their coworkers and feel a sense of belonging at work.

Vickie Pierre remembers the disappointment.

She started her career as a television journalist excited about working in diverse, collaborative environments. As a Black woman, she found a largely white industry, and questioned whether she and other people of color had ample opportunities to advance.

More than worries about advancement nagged at her, though. Without diversity at work, what kinds of ideas, perspectives, and opportunities was she missing out on?

For Pierre, those concerns are in the past. In her current job as a videographer at a large school district in Florida, she frequently works with people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and socioeconomic status – and she’s never been more excited about going to work.

Pierre’s experiences are especially timely: since the death of George Floyd, diversity, inclusion, and racial equity have become bigger concerns for American businesses and workers.

We surveyed 400 U.S. employees to learn what diversity means to American workers, and found that it broadly means that workers have colleagues with different backgrounds and experiences.

We found that employees usually think their company is diverse but haven’t noticed increases in their company’s diversity in the past year. Young employees, in particular, think that diversity helps them learn from coworkers and feel a sense of professional belonging.

Businesses can use this report to understand employee sentiment regarding diversity and inclusion.

Our Findings

  • 66% of employees consider their company to be somewhat or very diverse. To employees, diversity means having coworkers with different attributes and backgrounds.
  • 78% of workers did not notice any changes in their company’s diversity over the past 12 months. In 2021, employees will expect their workplace’s diversity to increase.
  • 59% of employees say that a diverse workplace helps them learn from their coworkers, suggesting that employees consider diversity a professional benefit.
  • 57% of millennials say that workplace diversity helps provide a sense of belonging. Diversity is important for young employees to feel comfortable at work.

1. Many Employees Think Their Company Is Diverse

Employees mostly believe their company is diverse, and consider their personal experience and the attributes of their coworkers when making that determination.

Roughly two-thirds of employees (66%) believe their company is somewhat or very diverse.

66% of employees say their company is diverse

In comparison, only 15% of workers do not believe their company is diverse at all.

Experts say that when employees judge whether their workforce is diverse, they consider whether they:

  1. Feel personally comfortable at their company
  2. Work with colleagues from different backgrounds and experiences

Jane Flanagan, lead project engineer at Tacuna Systems, a load measurement engineering company, draws on her personal experience when assessing her company’s diversity.

“I’m quite positive that my company is diverse, because I’m a female lead project engineer,” Flanagan said.

Employees who have jobs in which their race or gender is traditionally underrepresented may consider their very employment evidence that their company is diverse.

Employees also are likely to look at their coworkers when deciding if their office is diverse.

Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at Nextiva, a telecommunications company, says that for employees, diversity means having coworkers from different backgrounds and with different opinions.

Diversity in race, gender, age, geography, economic status, and other attributes naturally leads to a diversity in opinion, Masjedi says.

“A company that’s not diverse discourages minorities from sharing their thoughts,” Masjedi said.

Masjedi believes that employees recognize that without a diverse workplace, fewer perspectives and ideas will be voiced.

Overall, employees measure their company’s diversity through their own experiences and the attributes of their coworkers.

2. Workers Saw Little Change in Their Company’s Diversity in the Past Year

The recent spotlight on diversity and inclusion at work has not yet caused employees to notice more diversity in their own workplace.

More than three-quarters of workers (78%) have seen no change in their company’s diversity in the past 12 months.

78% of employees say their company's diversity did not change in the past year

Experts believe that employees are going to expect a more diverse workforce in the future.

Bisma Farrukh, marketer for One Day Event, an insurance company, says that events such as the death of George Floyd happened so recently that companies are still creating strategies to increase their diversity. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced hiring, making it more challenging to quickly diversify a workplace.

Still, Farrukh believes that employees will observe more diversity in the future. She says that companies will eventually make more diverse hires, in part because employees are becoming more comfortable in diverse workplaces.

Polly Kay, senior marketing manager at English Blinds, a window blind manufacturer, says that she has witnessed gradual but slow progress regarding diversity. The changes might not always be noticeable every year, but are evident when she considers her 10 years at English Blinds.

Kay attributes increases in diversity to hiring workers born in the 1980s and 1990s who come from a more racially diverse generation.

Employees accustomed to diversity likely expect to work at a company that mirrors their life experience and will anticipate more diversity in the workforce as their careers progress.

3. Diversity Means Employees Learn From Their Coworkers

Employees expect that as their companies become more diverse, they will experience a range of benefits. They are especially excited about how diversity gives them a chance to learn from coworkers.

In fact, more than half of employees (59%) believe that diversity helps them learn more from their coworkers.

top benefits of a diverse workplace

Employees believe diversity also provides other benefits:

  • Increased creativity (46%)
  • Better sense of belonging (45%)
  • Increased pride company (44%)
  • Feeling safe at work (34%)
  • Increased productivity (33%)

The ability to learn and collaborate from coworkers is an especially valuable opportunity for employees.

Julia Spence is the business development manager for LivaFortis, a biotech startup. LivaFortis is a women-owned business, and each of its 5 employees are from a different country.

Spence believes that LivaFortis’s diversity allows for employees to learn from each other and solve problems through innovation.

“In meetings, we all have unique experiences to draw on,” Spence said. “We can take the best ideas from different countries and continents and be highly innovative.”

We can take the best ideas from different countries and continents and be highly innovative.

Diversity means the LivaFortis team can learn from each other and provide global solutions to healthcare issues.

Strong Workplace Diversity Means Employees Are Proud of Their Company

Workforce diversity also is becoming essential for maintaining a company’s reputation and boosting employee pride in where they work.

Already, nearly half of employees (44%) say that workplace diversity provides them increased pride in their company.

44% of employees say diversity increases their pride in their company

Jay Scott, human relations lead at Pugsquest, which provides advice and tips about caring for pugs, says that employees feel a sense of loyalty when their workplace is diverse.

Scott believes that employees are more likely to stay at a company in which they feel represented, and are more likely to feel passionate about the company’s mission if the workforce is diverse.

Having a diverse workplace gives employees a reason to be proud of their company. When employees are proud of where they work, they are more likely to do their jobs well.

4. Workplace Diversity Provides Millennial Employees a Sense of Belonging

The stereotypical young employee is looking for a job that provides them a sense of belonging and purpose. Workplace diversity does just that: Diverse companies are more likely to provide millennial employees a strong sense of belonging.

In fact, close to 6 in 10 millennial employees (57%) say workplace diversity improves their sense of belonging.

Sense of belonging is a benefit of workplace diversity across generations

Fewer than half of baby boomer (48%) and Generation X (45%) employees say the same.

Experts say there are multiple reasons that diversity helps young employees feel comfortable at work:

  1. Globalized society: Millennials, more than previous generations, came of age in a global, interconnected society, says Nikolina Jeric, content manager of 2Date4Love.com, a site that provides users information and statistics about romantic companionship. Jeric believes that young employees likely have an appreciation for different cultures and want to have diverse experiences at work.
  2. Desire to grow: “Millennials desire diversity in the workplace because they have a desire to learn from others,” said Beth Cooper, director of marketing at KNB Communications. Cooper says that young employees are at the beginning of their careers and feel primed for growth. They want to learn from teams with diverse experiences.
  3. Diverse colleges and universities: Diane Gayeski, a professor of strategic communications at Ithaca College, says that colleges and universities have become far more active in creating diverse and inclusive spaces in the past decade. Students graduating from college into the workforce are more likely to be accustomed to diversity and may expect their companies to demonstrate a similar commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Millennials desire diversity in the workplace because they have a desire to learn from others.

Diversity may seem uncomfortable or unfamiliar for older generations, but for young employees, working in a diverse office means an improved sense of belonging.

Employees Consider Diversity an Essential Part of Their Work Experience

Employees recognize benefits to working at a diverse company.

Workers generally believe their own company is at least somewhat diverse, though they mostly haven’t noticed improvements in their company’s diversity over the past year.

Employees especially value diversity because it allows them to learn from their coworkers. Strong workplace diversity also increases the amount of pride employees feel for their company.

For millennial employees, a diverse workplace provides a stronger sense of professional belonging. Young employees are more likely to come to the workforce with strong expectations regarding diversity and inclusion.

Workers value diversity and notice whether their company is committed to creating diverse, inclusive workplaces.

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 400 full-time employees in the U.S.

Thirty-four percent of respondents (34%) live in the South; 33% live in the Midwest; 19% live in the West; 15% live in the Northeast.

Forty-six percent of respondents (46%) are male; 44% are female; 11% did not identify their gender.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents (29%) were born between 1981 and 1996; 32% were born between 1965 and 1980; 20% were born between 1946 and 1964.

Sixty-four percent of respondents (64%) describe their ethnicity as White or Caucasian; 4% are Black or African American; 3% are Latino or Hispanic; 3% are Asian; 3% are Native American Indian or Alaska Native; 2% are native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; 22% are a different ethnicity or chose not to identify their ethnicity.

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